Title: Down Among the Dead Men: A Year in the Life of a Mortuary Technician
Author: Michelle Williams
Page Count: N/A
Publishing Date/Publisher: Soft Skull Press
Review: The dead deserve respect, and this author says as much, and then promptly calls the body of an obese person a ‘monstrosity’ and then writes a whole chapter about all the laughs they got out of a man who died while dressed as a woman. Absolutely unacceptable. It also serves no purpose in the grand scheme of things. It doesn’t teach anyone anything and it’s basically just the sticky-note version of what happens in a morgue. I couldn’t finish this book, nor do I want to, and I wouldn’t recommend to to anyone. That half star is me being generous.
Title: Ordinary Girls
Author: Jaquira Díaz
Page Count: 336
Publishing Date/Publisher: October 29, 2019 by Algonquin Books
Review: Every so often I get in the mood to read memoirs. I am especially interested in coming-of-age stories, so this one immediately appealed to me when I read the synopsis. I did enjoy the book, especially the parts that took place in Puerto Rico, but I found that Díaz jumps around too much in the chronology for my personal taste. As a reader I found myself getting frustrated by the tangents she would go on in the midst of telling a story. I find that a lot memoirs take place in snapshots of a life; however in this case it was just too many things at once and it was difficult to get a clear picture.
At the conclusion of this book, I couldn’t help but feel that it was unfinished. It is clear that at some point Díaz pulls herself out of the cycle of poverty and self-loathing she grew up in, but this is not really explored in this memoir. Each time I thought she was going to make it out of the tunnel of darkness, she would throw herself back in. Clearly she achieved her goal of becoming a writer and I just wanted to know more about that journey. I wouldn’t consider this book uplifting or particularly inspiring, but it was very real and didn’t sugarcoat anything. Díaz seems to have a lot of self-awareness in writing this memoir, so it was overall an interesting and revealing read.
Author: Tara Westover
Performer: Julia Whelan
Length: 12 hrs, 15 min, 32 sec
Publishing Date/Publisher: 2018 by Random House Audio
Review: This memoir was truly fascinating. I thought the audiobook version was incredible. I have greatly enjoyed this performer for other books, and she really does a fantastic job with this one.
It is hard to believe this is a true story. The fact that someone can go to college and excel without a formal education is a concept I had never considered. As a librarian, I am a huge proponent of books, but this story really puts into perspective how powerful literacy, books, and internet access can be.
The physical, emotional, and psychological abuse in this book is difficult to stomach, so this is a serious trigger warning. It is incredibly frustrating to see the cycle of abuse perpetuated on so many different levels, and it demonstrates how difficult it is to truly cut ties with an abuser, especially one that you love. This story is a powerful example of how one can break the cycle and move forward in life. My heart broke for Tara on so many occasions, and some of the choices she had to make for her own mental health and wellbeing brought tears to my eyes. She is an incredibly resilient human being and I have great admiration for all she has accomplished.
I highly recommend this memoir. I think it provides important insights into a world that few know about, and it tackles issues, such as mental illness, that have a lasting impact on more people than we realize.
Title: In the Name of the Children
Author: Jeffrey Rinek and Marilee Strong
Page Count: Unavailable
Publishing Date/Publisher: 17 July 2018, BenBella Books
Review: While it deals with a very difficult subject matter, this book is extremely well written. Rinek and Strong are natural story tellers, making you feel like you’re sitting down with them and just talking and listening to Rinek’s tales of the FBI.
I would give this 5 stars, but the topic gives me pause. It doesn’t feel right, considering it’s about kidnapped children. However, it’s so, so well written. I can’t stress that enough. Rinek expertly describes the processes he went through and the people he dealt with. He shows a lot of respect for his fellow law enforcement officers, stating that many of them became friends over the years, which makes sense; not many people go through what they go through and that forms bonds.
This book is clearly not for everyone, however, if you think you can handle it, I highly recommend giving it a try.
Title: I’ll Be Gone in the Dark
Author: Michelle McNamara
Page Count: 352
Publishing Date/Publisher: 1 Mar. 2018,Faber & Faber
Format: Print, hardcover
Review: This is a masterfully written book, and you can tell that a lot of hard work went into it, both by Michelle McNamara and by her two researchers who picked up the task after her untimely death.
Even though I grew up in the relative area of the crimes, I had never heard of the Golden State Killer prior to this year. Once the news came out about the arrest, I became interested in how someone that prolific could evade the police for so long. Thankfully, I was not alone in that; McNamara was obsessed with the case and trying to find out who the killer was. Amateur detective and novice writer, she wove an amazing tale not only of the crimes but of her own search for answers.
The book is compiled of articles she’s written previously and chapters she had mostly written before her death. Her researchers dutifully took up the task of finishing off the book, making footnotes where needed and marking where her work left off. It is a brilliant way to preserve her memory and I highly recommend reading it.
Title: The Fact of a Body
Author: Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich
Page Count: 352
Publishing Date/Publisher: 3 May 2018, Pan
Format: Print, paperback
Review: This is a hard book to read but also so worthwhile. It’s not hard because of the author or anything like that; it’s hard because it’s based on the murder of a little boy and the author’s own past abuse. Marzano-Lesnevich weaves the two traumatic pasts masterfully, never focusing too much on one at a time. She details the reasons behind why she thinks Ricky Langley, pedophile and murderer, did what he did, while also coming to terms with what was done to her and the mess that leaves behind. She discusses her family and their reactions to what happened in their own home, their legal professions that led her into the same field, and the horrible loss they went through at a young age.
While reading the lead up to her own story, I knew what was about to happen to her and a surge of emotions came out. I almost couldn’t deal with it. Marzano-Lesnevich’s writing is so unique and engaging that I felt her anger and horror so acutely. I think it is important that I felt these things for her because this sort of thing happens so often and it’s horrific and disgusting and we need to do better to protect our children. Her telling her story and about the PTSD that came afterwards is incredibly brave, and we need to acknowledge this and try to stop it from happening again.
The same goes for Ricky Langley’s story. From the circumstances of his birth to his subsequent imprisonment, it is important to understand what led to his crimes.
This book is a very compelling, interesting tale of two separate people with commonalities woven into their lives. Marzano-Lesnevich’s debut work is intense, yet worth the read.