The choice to tell this story from the day Willie Sutton was released from prison in 1969 felt like an awkward decision to me right from the start. I know quite a bit about the real Willie Sutton and was looking forward to this novelization. If you don't, have that background though, why would you care about a submissive ex-con? The story jumps back and forth through Willie's history to his journey on Xmas day '69 with a reporter and photographer to the places in New York that were important to him. Unfortunately the reporter is portrayed as a stereotypical straight arrow who can't get with Willie's unconventional manner of doing things, while the photographer is portrayed as the worst kind of hippie with all the hippie stereotype including a fringe jacket, Soul On Ice in his camera bag, and a girlfriend who's a masseuse. Could I make this up? I guess J.R. Moehringer thinks he did.
The story paints Willie Sutton, arguably the most successful bank robber in US history, as a very romantic guy who did everything he is accused of to win the heart of the girl who first convinced him to commit a crime. Main problem being, according to history, the girl in question was with his friend and Willie was probably the brains of the operation. This problem is addressed, albeit bizarrely, at the end of the book.
Moehringer cuts Sutton an awful lot of slack. He implies that the state of New York failed to help the Sutton family transition when the blacksmith trade became obsolete. He shows us that Willie, though clearly of gifted intelligence, was not adequately educated for useful work.He paints a graphic picture of a boy bullied and abused until violence seems like the only alternative to him. He shows us that intelligent people when faced with unemployment will more frequently turn to crime than accept underpaid work. All of these factors are as true today as they were in the 1920s and I'm sure that is Moehringer's point in bringing them to our attention. While they may be true, they seem more significant to the author's message than they do to the story. The late Donald Westlake, who under the pseudonym Richard Stark wrote the Parker 'heist' novels, made many of these same observations unobtrusively while his books were a lot more fun to read.
When all is said, I was pretty disappointed in Mr. Moehringer's speculations. He does point out that Willie Sutton wrote two accounts of his life which do not correspond with each other. I've only read one of these, I, Willie Sutton, and recommend it to interested readers over this present work.
Dylan Baker did an excellent job with pretentious, pseudo philosophical dialog and one stereotypical character after another.
In my estimation, Willie Sutton deserves better.
When I first heard of Amanda Knox or Foxy Knoxy, the name that stuck in my mind and the collective consciousness of the world, I thought she must be a type of female Charles Manson. I've read a lot about this type of criminal personality and I have to say from the beginning something didn't seem right. There have been such women, Judith Ann Neelley for example. But they are abused and neglected children whose criminal behavior starts early and goes from bad to worse culminating in murder. The ideas that Amanda Knox, a college exchange student, one evening, fueled by marijuana (a substance the effects of which I have a more than a passing familiarity) got a couple of guys together and murdered her roommate for a sexual thrill simply did not ring true. The drug was wrong, the perpetrator's background was entirely wrong. But why would Italy, a modern nation and the cradle of Euro/American civilization railroad a young American woman for a brutal crime? Amanda Knox's book is the eleventh book I've read on this case and the answer to that question is still speculative.
I've waited six years to hear Amanda Knox tell her story and she certainly does here in harrowing detail. She is brutally honest and self-critical about her early behavior in Europe. That said, she was a much better behaved young adult than I ever was. There but for fortune... Her analysis of her ordeal in the questura which produced her false confession and named her former employer as the murderer is so vivid and so carefully thought through it was easy for me to understand what was done to her. Her short-lived but dramatic relationship with Raphaele Sollecito, her co-defendant, is carefully explained and detailed. Knox is a journalist in the sense that, like Anaïs Nin, she keeps journals, so the specifics of her experiences is much more vivid than most other memoirs I've read. Her recap of the three years and eleven months almost to the day she spent in Capanne Prison, her contemplation of suicide, her efforts to keep herself busy and sane, those who intimidated her and tried to undermine her perfect record of cooperation, and those who succored and encouraged her are equally given their due in these pages.
The murder of Meredith Kercher is not the focus of this book. As Knox notes they were friends for a few weeks and their relationship was evolving when Kercher was murdered. Although Knox frequently expresses grief and anger at Kercher's fate, the focus of the book is the unusual ordeal of Amanda Knox, an American exchange student who, based on hypothetical logic and intuition was accused and then convicted of murder in arguably the oldest civilization in Europe. The crime as described by the prosecution never made sense, but when it shredded rather than admitting 'mea culpa' they literally conjured evidence which also easily unraveled in the face of modern forensic science. All of this is described from Knox's point of view. It is a vivid and evocative picture.
The pleasure of hearing the author tell the story in her own words added greatly to my enjoyment. Knox has a pleasant speaking voice and her inflections sometimes say more than an entire paragraph. I waited a long time to hear this and the results are everything I could have hoped for. I wish her health, wealth and happiness.
I have more than a passing familiarity with the work of L. Ron Hubbard and the methods of Scientology so I was intrigued to read Jenna Miscavige Hill's book. After a tumultuous two days of listening, I'm amazed she made it out alive.
If you want to understand how false confessions are coerced, or how someone can become completely wrapped up in an improbable belief system I have never read a more explicit description of these processes or a better step-by-step analysis of an experience starting in early childhood than Ms. Hill's.
The amazing thing is she was able to think her way out of it really putting the old adage, "Think for yourself and question authority" to the task. The authorities in her case were impressive: her parents, grandparents, siblings, aunt, and Uncle David Miscavige the undisputed heir to L. Ron Hubbard's legacy.
Removed from her biological family at the age of seven and trained to work at manual labor, medical assistant, animal trainer, and Sea Org auditor while maintaining her Scientology OT levels, foregoing all but the most rudimentary conventional education, Jenna Miscavige was fully indoctrinated into the Church of Scientology by adolescents. Adolescents, though, is where the adventure begins.
The Church enumerates the first four "dynamics:" Self, family, group, and species. Within the Church, however, members are expected to forgo the second family dynamic for "the greater good." Husbands and wives are frequently quite young and even more frequently separated. When they have sexual relations outside of their committed relationships, however, they are considered "Out 2D" and severely punished. For all of Hubbard's wisdom about human nature, his organization has gotten completely lost regarding human biology. The stories Jenna Miscavige Hill tells here would be very funny if they were not deeply tragic. She describes an organization out of touch with reality and hanging on to its focus by a thread. These "leaders" should be encouraged to read Dianetics 55. CONTROL = the ability to start, change and stop. This goes for your thoughts as well as your selves.
Congratulations on your escape, Jenna, but don't you believe for an instant that they are no longer watching you. They contacted me for a $3,000.00 donation after 35 years. I had to change my phone number to stop the calls and the mail keeps right on coming. Stay strong!
Ms. Rustin, by the way, offers an excellent reading. I give her high marks as well.
As with the best of Leonard's stories, Swag is very funny as well as suspenseful. Frank Ryan, a used car salesman catches Ernest "Stick" Stickley stealing a car off his lot. Naturally he calls the police and Stick is arrested but not before he ditches the car and is hold up in a bar. As Frank is the eye witness to the crime the entire case rests on his testimony. Frank Ryan thinks he may have a better use for Stick than letting him sit in a jail for grand theft auto.
Frank Ryan has worked up ten rule for perfect robbery. He declines to recognize Stick at court and the two meet afterwards to discuss a possible working relationship. Initially the reader has the impression that Frank is the brains of the outfit. However as we come to know Stick it becomes clear that Stick has a better grasp of what they're doing and how not to get caught.
There are moment when I laughed out loud at the antics of these two stooges. They rob a fortune, live like airline pilots, and as they become confident start throwing away the rules that brought them success.
When it comes to plotting, dialogue and humor in context Elmore Leonard is in a class by himself. There are certain times when nothing will do but one of his books. Swag is a hoot.
I've read several other so-called biographies of Bruce Springsteen and was amazed at how little factual information they contained of a living, accessible person. Mr. Carlin pretty well resolved that problem for me in this big biography, Bruce. The story starts with the tragic death at a very young age of Bruce Springsteen's aunt, Virginia. It explores the histories of both sides of his family as they came from Europe. It lightly touches on the unusual circumstances around his maternal grandfather's imprisonment, and his father's manic depression. The events that impacted the artist on his way up are well researched and chronicled. The one exception that I hoped Carlin would realize was important was the acquisition of the Telecaster. Mike Appel famously stated that Bruce still played the same $189 guitar he's always had. Well, Bruce's Telecaster is NOT $189 instrument under any normal circumstances. Perhaps Mr. Carlin does not play guitar but that is a story those of us who do are interested to hear.
In the introduction Carlin tells us that during his interviews with Springsteen Bruce advised him if he found warts and wrinkles to print them. Carlin followed this advice up to a point. He certainly addresses Springsteen's mercurial temper, his obnoxious behavior toward his band mates, and his jealousy and disregard often in public of his lovers. Where he holds back, however, is in the transition between Springsteen's two marriages. We get plenty of information about who Julianne Phillips is, that is he tells us all the good stuff. Abruptly they divorce and almost instantly Bruce is a couple with Patti Scialfa. I'm not really looking for gossip. I'm looking to understand a series of songs on Bruce Springsteen's two 1992 albums. Human Touch and Lucky Town.
Carlin explains how these two unusual records were recorded and how slow and how fast the various songs were written. What he leaves out to the distraction of we who follow these things obsessively, is what inspired the specific songs. He offers these insights on other records, so I had hope. On previous albums Springsteen tells stories about plain people, for the most part fictional. On Human Touch and Lucky Town he reveals himself in a much more cathartic way than he ever did before. Songs like Human Touch, Cross My Heart, All or Nothing at All, Man's Job, and I Wish I Were Blind, are not only stunningly beautiful chronicles of heartbreak but for me personally they mirrored real events in my own life and I wondered how "The Boss" could find his psyche in the same place as an underpaid graphic designer. For me buying those two records on the same day was like a Badder-Meinhoff phenomenon. I hoped this long book would give me an inkling. Unfortunately Carlin gives these two brilliant records shorter shift than most. He does point out that they both eventually went platinum.
The other thing nearly ignored is Springsteen's relationship with his wife, Patti Scialfa, herself a brilliant rock singer and a cathartic song smith. This is not out of any fear of impropriety as Mr. Carlin gives us plenty of info about their sexual activity. I suppose he wants to allow the family a buffer but that's hardly the job of a biographer. Both song writers use their relationships powerfully in their work and it would be interesting to explore the intersection between their records. Scialfa's heartfelt contrition (for want of a better word) in songs like Come Tomorrow, As Long As I Can Be With You, and Lucky Girl, the passion and regret of Romeo and Stumble Into Bethlehem, and her anger on Play Around and Black Ladder. Suffice it to say if any two artists should ever do a "Double Fantasy" style album, their's should be a two CD set.
All in all, this is a terrific biography much more detailed than both of Dave Marsh's two books put together and far superior to the other fan-ravings long on opinions but short on facts. When you're finished it you will know the details of Springsteen's history. You will not know the specific details about how he taught himself to play guitar or any mention of early guitar instructors if there were any. That said, you do learn how he became the electrifying performer he is and that is certainly valuable information.
Bobby Cannavale does an excellent job reading and characterizing this book. It would be easy to go too far and he avoids this pitfall elegantly.
The afterwards is told by Carlin himself and in so doing the listener gets some insight into the books shortcomings.
In all, this is a valuable addition to the Bruce chronicles. I'm sure it will not be the last entry however.
Apart from being the funniest woman alive, Sarah Silverman has a Taoist understanding of the combination of opposites. That's why her comedy works the way it does. This book is a beautifully designed example of what I'm talking about. While I was rolling on the floor at some of the stories she tells in her own inimitable voice, the underlying meaning, morally, politically, socially, of what she's driving at cannot be avoided. Silverman is a comic who uses cultural taboos as a method of exposing universal hypocrisy. The poor schmucks who rise indignantly against her inevitably fall before her because unwittingly they're part of the joke.
No doubt there are other comics who get this and use it, too. But they are not remarkably beautiful Jewesses who are charismatic, uninhibited, and flaunt their love of sex, drugs and stand-up. That is only part of what makes this book rise above all the funny though fictitious books written by comedians with TV shows. This book is set apart because I would venture to say all these stories in it are true. It's an old cliche that great clowns have known great sorrow, but in this case challenges are the things that have elevated a kid with a high IQ to a polarizing cultural icon. Sarah Silverman is polarizing because stupid people don't get the joke! She has learned to laugh at the parts of herself she can neither change nor control, and by God that's the lesson she has to teach the rest of us. We're going to learn it, too, because when we're listening to her, and laughing at her self deprecation we don't know we're in class!
This is the stunning story of an 18 year ordeal told frankly and directly by a living victim. The courage and intelligence of this young woman is mind-boggling. The crimes committed against her are terrifying and the value of her insights is beyond computation.
Jaycee Dugard was in a difficult situation before she was abducted. Struggling with low self-esteem and a poor view of male caregivers in her home, she was subjected to abduction, rape, slave labor, mental anguish and torture, and brainwashing at the hands of a male predator and his female accomplice.
In great detail, Jaycee explains what she was forced to endure physically and sexually, how the on-set of Stockholm Syndrome was induced by her captors, her two unassisted births in a tent at the ages of 13 and 15. It reads like a Ruth Rendell novel but it is the documented true account of a child abduction.
Unlike Sabine Dardenne, whose account of her abduction, I Choose to Live, was ghost written, Jaycee Dugard, with a 5th grade education, wrote this account herself and reads it in her own voice. It is all the more disturbing for that. Dugard expresses her anger at her father and stepfather, her abductor and his accomplice, and the system that failed her. But her anger, though palpable to any listener, is tempered by her intelligence, her natural sense of the order of things, and compassion, perhaps her greatest virtue. She also expresses her love for her mother, her two daughters, and the animals who were her only companions for the first two years of her captivity. These animals were given and taken away at the whim of her captors.
I am very interested in this social problem and read most of the books written by victims. Nothing compares to listening to Jaycee Dugard's audible record. It is not always sequential. It is not always on topic. But it is the best example of what actually happens to a human brain that has gone through this kind of ordeal. Jaycee is one of the few who live to tell and she has done a spectacular job of bringing her experience back to the surface. If you have a strong stomach and a need or desire to understand stranger abductions, this book is the most important work on the subject to come along to date.
As Simple As Snow is easily the most addictive novel I've encountered in years. I'd put it on a par with Catcher In The Rye. It starts out like a character driven story that carries you along on the strength of the central characters with whom it's easy to identify. Beneath the surface of the prose, however, there's an ominous sense that something dire is going to happen. About half way through the story it does. From there on the plot runs furiously at full speed. The story revolves not so much around what people do, but what people think that drives their acts. Anna is always telling "G" to pay attention to what she says to him, what she sends to him. Anna is a D student, G is an honor role student, but Anna is the smarter by probably 10 IQ points and G knows it and loves her for it.
The story examines the success of a normal if isolated male plodding forward, doing what's expected of him and accomplishing what's expected of him, and the prejudices he develops through this conventional life style. When he encounters a female clearly better at processing symbols than he is, it first makes him question his values and then opens his mind to a different set of connections.
This story is also about dysfunctional people living in a dysfunctional town. If we saw the story through Anna's eyes instead of G's, an awful lot of detail would fill in. G has a philosophy of just going through the motions, not looking too closely, or asking too much. When we meet him, he'd rather not know the details of his mother's relationship to the town drunk whose son is the local drug dealer and G's best friend. G's relationship with Anna becomes his whole world, but he'd rather not know the details of Anna's relationship to every one else in town. As a listener, this is an annoying characteristic of G. In the plot of the story, it is probably the reason for the success of Anna's and G's relationship.
A number of reviewers have remarked that this story is unresolved. That is the author's point. Life seldom resolves for anyone and even less so for teenagers. Hopefully teenagers go on to college. If not they marry and enter the work force, but whatever was important in 10th Grade is going to be different at 20.
That said, I found comfort in Anna's obituary for G at the end of the book. I think when I listen to this again, I'm going to write out the codes on the short wave, and the meaning in that long, repetitious poem at the end and see if I can figure some of the mysteries out. In the meantime, Mr. Galloway has written far and away the best novel I've read in years, and at the same time offered a completely new twist to the ghost story. I loved this book.
The blurb made me believe this was going to be creepy serial killer story. WRONG! The intro to the main character is all exposition and so positive you get the feeling the writer is having a love affair with old Mac. (Mackenzie Philips? Wasn't that Papa John Philips' daughter, a 70s TV star?) The character's failings are actually extolled as virtues. Even if this wasn't a complete con to get people who enjoy thriller fiction to accept a mystical, improbable view of the world, the writing here is SO bad you have to drive yourself to keep listening. Any writing teacher will tell any student that summarizing is THE most boring way to tell a story. The entire first part of this book is a summary. Then the author inflicts his "poetry" on us. Purple passage follows purple passage until you're just about ready to pull your car off to the side of the highway and scream.
I could forgive the dishonesty of this book, pretending to be a horror story when it is actually a book proselytizing mystical Christianity, if it was done well. If it got me caught up in the world of the characters or if it presented these characters in such a way as they seem real to me, I really could forgive it. I am a conservative thinker. I don't accept things I can't see as "true" or real. But I do enjoy books by Tolkien, William Gibson, Robert Howard, Edgar Rice Burroughs, etc, so I can suspend disbelief if a book of fantasy is well-constructed.
The Shack has an agenda. This author apparently believes that you and I should not be reading secular horror stories. He wants us to join him in his world of make-believe where a giant man lives in another dimension and controls everything that happens on earth and he, the author, is in direct communication with the master of the universe. Mr. Young is not writing to you and me. He's writing to himself and telling himself that this is what you and I need. He is completely deluded in thinking he is a good writer. He is morbidly sentimental, easily convinced of the improbable and he believes you and I will be too.
His characterizations, if they can even be called that, are completely unrealistic. The only conflict in the main character's life is with the weather and his father who used to beat him, and the mailman who doesn't arrive on time in a blizzard. His wife is perfect and joyfully happy with their little life. His children are perfect people who "ask good questions"? Like "why was God so mean that he let Jesus die"? And this all leads up to the main premise and only conflict, the mysterious disappearance of his daughter, Missy, who kept insects together in a box but is not allowed to take them camping. She needn't worry about feeding them while she's away. They'll undoubtedly eat each other. I feel like this writer has never known a real kid, was never a kid himself. There's not a character in this book that has a third dimension. Every one is corny and trite.
If you're looking for a book in which rational thought confronts insanity, this is not it. If you're looking for a book where mystical beliefs overcome reality, maybe you'll love it. As you can tell, I hated it.
I wanted to read a comprehensive, candid biography of Ayn Rand so looked at several. When you face a controversial personality like Ayn Rand's there are a few things to consider: I did not want to read a negative critique of Objectivism masquerading as a biography. I did not want to read a hatchet job of the author by someone who doesn't understand her ideas. Neither did I want to read a paean to Rand nor a whitewash of all her negative characteristics. I settled on Anne C. Heller's book because it sounded as though Heller had read Rand's books and enjoyed their ideas but that she had not drunk Objectivist flavored Cool Aid.
On completing the book, it seems to me that Heller admires Rand's ideals while maintaining the objective view that one cannot expect ideals to translate empirically exactly as outlined. I was most interested in Rand's method of plotting and writing her work. Heller does her best to address these issues by quoting from many of Rand's journals, character sketches and outlines for The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, and to some extent for We The Living. Although all my questions were not answered, I did get a basic understanding of how the author worked and how she maintained her specific theme focus through two works of unwieldy length.
The most interesting part of the books, though, were Rand's personal interactions and relationships. Her absolute rejection of any idea that is not in complete agreement with her own does not come across in her many television interviews during which she is polite if mildly sarcastic when she encounters challenges. In public it seemed to me she was more often attacked than attacking. In her personal life very much the opposite was apparently true. She had no problem dropping people from her society for simply questioning the absolute certainty of her opinions. As I became more and more interested in the book it was quite easy via Google, YouTube, and my public library to verify Ms. Heller's conclusions.
I enjoyed the book immensely. I found that it addressed the dichotomy at the root of modern conservative thought which prevents conservatives from making any progress toward their own agendas, while attempts to slow the implementation of liberal agendas serve only to strengthen and even empower their counterparts. These problems perhaps started with the rational and objective insights issued to conservatives by Ayn Rand in her seminal works.
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