Monthly Archives: January 2014

A Fancy Title About the Books of 2013

I did not meet my full-Cannonball of 52 books, but I knew that was going to happen.  This year had some challenges and at times reading was just too much.  When your brain isn’t happy, sometimes books just don’t work.  When you’re a reader, this sucks.  You already feel bad and you can’t even escape in a good book.

Happily, the last few weeks of 2013 were awesome and the year ended on some lovely and incredibly well needed high notes.  Here’s hoping that 2014 continues on this positive path, and this includes lots of good books.

My three favorite books from this year, in no particular order:

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson  OK, I lied.  This one is in particular order because it was my absolute favorite this year.  The plot and structure of this book kills me because it’s so good.  The entire thing is a puzzle and I wanted to know why things kept happening.  It is completely deserving of all the praise that was heaped on it this year.

Jim Henson: The Biography by Brian Jay Jones  This one made my favorite list because of how lovingly and respectfully it was written.  I already loved the subject, but Jones’ skill as a writer made me love the book.  His research and care come across on every page and I felt like this book was a gift.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews My favorite YA book this year.  It was hysterical and sad and I loved the narrator’s voice.

Three books I wish I hadn’t read this year:

Digital Fortress by Dan Brown  I will NEVER forgive my book group for this choice.

Clown Girl by Monica Drake What the fuck, I don’t even.

Canada by Richard Ford A book about…  is this book about anything?

 

OK readers, we’re already in 2014!  I’ll be posting soon.  And who knows?  I might end up doing a full-Cannonball after all!

#37: Love Him or Leave Him, But Don’t Get Stuck With the Tab: Hilarious Advice for Real Women by Loni Love

Love Him or Leave HimThis was a really nice way to end 2013.

I discovered Loni Love on Chelsea Lately.  I loved how she doesn’t put up with any of Chelsea’s shit and her stories always make me laugh.  She seems like a hot mess, and yet she totally has it together.  She always comes across as super confident and you can tell that she has too many important things to do than deal with stupid people.  She’s the friend you’d go to when you want to know the truth, not get complimented.

Apparently women approach her all the time like they are BFFs.  There’s something about her that makes people think they know each other.  After standup shows, they wait for her in the bathroom or hang out at the meet and greet and then ask really personal questions.  Lots of TMI.  But they know Love isn’t going to bullshit them, so if they spill the details, she’s going to speak the truth.

When you have this much power, you write a book.

I for real lol’d several times when reading this.  She covers all aspects of dating and love.  First dates to throwing a man out of your house.  Recovering from dating disasters to dealing with his baby momma.  Figuring out how to handle an unexpected hook up to dealing with your man’s stupid friends.  It’s all in here.  The best part is that there are seriously out there questions, like can I sleep with my mom’s ex-husband (No.  Unless you trade her one of your exes.) and then there are things just about all women deal with like what to do when you don’t think you want to get married.  Or do want to get married.

The absolutely best part of this book is that Love has a story for everything.  Either she’s dealt with it herself or has a friend or family member who has been through it.  She details her own disasters and lays everything on the table.  You really do feel like you’re BFFs.  This book feels like you’re hanging out with a hysterical and honest friend.  Yeah, she’s going to tell you to stop fucking around, but she’s going to help you get drunk while you discuss it.  Also, there will probably be pancakes.

If you’re looking for a quick and fun read, grab this book.  If you’re a fan of Loni Love and haven’t read this yet, you will not be disappointed.  Although she had help writing it, it is 100% her voice.  I didn’t need the audio version to feel like she was reading it to me.

I couldn’t be happier with this being the last book I read in 2013!

#36: In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

Cold BloodBook groups are the best because not only do you get to pick books that have been on your To Be Read list since forever, but you also get to read books that you wouldn’t have otherwise picked up on your own.  In Cold Blood is the latter.  It’s one of those books that I’ve probably thought “Huh.  I should read that some day.”  Happily, a book group member had access to a ton of copies, so here we are.

I had very little background knowledge of this story.  I know the book itself is considered a great work and is often found on Books You Must Read list.  It also helped create a genre of fictionalized journalism where Capote took nonfiction and added in the details.  We don’t know what really happened, but Capote interviewed people and filled in the blanks with his own details.  This, of course, bothers some people who think it creates fiction.  Once you muddy the waters, it’s no longer a truthful account.

In November 1959 in a town in Kansas, four members of the Cutter family were murdered.  This was a place where things like this don’t happen.  There was no motive, no reason for the family to have been targeted and it looked like whoever had done it was going to get away with it.

Dick Hickock and Perry Smith didn’t choose the Cutter family randomly, but they should have gotten away with the murders.  They were careful and left only one clue behind – a bloody boot print.  The two planned to disappear from the States and live a rich life where they’d never have to work again.  Hickock had learned about the Cutter family from a fellow prisoner who had worked for Mr. Cutter.  He told Hickock that Mr. Cutter kept a safe filled with money and the house was isolated.  Hickock held on to this information for years, and when he hooked up with Smith he decided it was time to create a plan.  From the beginning, they both knew they were going to murder anyone involved.  They kept repeating that they would leave no witnesses.

The problem was that Mr. Cutter kept no cash in the house.  He rarely kept cash on his person, making a point of writing checks for everything so he’d have a record of what he had spent.  When Hickock and Smith arrived, they tied up Mrs. Cutter and Kenyon and Nancy, the two youngest Cutter children.  Mr. Cutter tried to tell them that there was no money and convince them to leave.  Frustrated, the men took a few things from the house and shot and killed all four family members.

The police were stuck.  No one could figure out a motive.  The entire family was well respected.  There were only a few incidents where someone came against Mr. Cutter, and these men were quickly dismissed as potential  suspects.  Mrs. Cutter had been mentally unstable for years, so there was some talk in the community that she finally snapped and killed everyone, but once details came out about how she was tied up, people let this trail off.  The community quickly turned on each other, and this was one of the most fascinating parts of the book for me.  Rumors  were everywhere and people found themselves suddenly suspicious of people they had known their entire lives.  If the Cutters could be murdered, then anyone could be.  Locks were changed on doors and people shut themselves off from people they didn’t know well.  Everyone was desperate for a reason so that they could convince themselves that it couldn’t happen to them, and if that meant quietly supposing that maybe a certain person should possibly be watched, then so be it.  It’s human nature to want a reason and to feel safe.

Hickock and Smith were not criminal masterminds.  The two had a strange relationship.  Smith at times was besotted with Hickock and his ability to make plans and take charge.  Hickock liked Smith’s nonchalant attitude about crime.  He thought Smith would be a great accomplice because he had gotten away with murder before and liked the idea of cashing in and starting a new life.  The problem was that Hickock was never content in the moment and was constantly looking for the next thing.  He also spent money faster than he could take it in and Smith watched him quickly lose what little they had.  Smith began to suspect that Hickock wasn’t interested in spending his life with Smith as a treasure hunter and Hickock began to resent that he had chained his life to Smith by committing the crime together.

Hickock’s boredom and greed was their downfall.  He convinced Smith that they needed more money and it would be simple for them to return to Hickock’s hometown where he could pass a series of bad checks.  They’d leave with piles of money and be on to the next thing, and this would be a permanent place.  Smith disagreed, but went along with it.

By this time, Hickock and Smith were suspects in the murders.  The prisoner who had told Hickock about the Cutter family was able to pass the information on to the warden.  He remembered Hickock asking lots of questions about the family and the house and he realized that he must have been the one that killed them.

When Hickock and Smith were in Mexico, Smith realized he was going to have to get rid of some of his things.  He was a collector and hoarded things that were important to him.  He chose a few things he couldn’t part with and sent them to Las Vegas to be held at the post office until he could pick them up.  He figured at some point they’d be able to slip over the border, once they were set up for good in Mexico.  This was before Hickock decided to go home to make money from his bad checks.  The detectives on the case were quickly notified that the men were back in the area, almost on the other end of the state from the Cutter’s town.  Hickock passed all the checks in his own name and would have been easy to pick up, except they somehow left town before the police in the area realized it.  Once again, they could have gotten away with the entire thing.

When they got to Las Vegas, they didn’t change cars.  The local police quickly noticed the car and followed them to the post office.  The picked up the two men as Smith was walking out with his box of belongings that he had sent from Mexico.  In the box were the boots he wore to the Cutters – the ones that left the bloody boot print.

It was almost like they were trying to get caught.

They were tried and convicted in the Cutter’s town.  There was talk of moving the trial, but the lawyers for both men decided they had a good chance of avoiding the death penalty if they kept it there.  There were a lot of churches in town and informal polls showed that many were against the death penalty.  The case had gotten a lot of media attention, so moving the trial would have been difficult.

Both men were sentenced to death by hanging.

Capote spent six years working on this book.  Once the men were convicted, he realized the only way his book could end was when they died.  He started his research about two weeks after the murders were committed.  He had been friends with Harper Lee since they were kids, and she came with him.  She was able to convince the women in town to persuade their husbands to talk to Capote.

When the men were in jail, Capote spent a great deal of time with them.  He wanted to know who they were and how their life led to this moment.  Smith comes across more sympathetically in the book and a few people in my book group thought that he was gay and he and Capote had some sort of relationship.  Smith had been violently sexually abused as a boy and was disgusted by any type of deviant sexual activity.  Hickock planned on raping the Cutter daughter, but Smith stopped him.  I thought he was completely nonsexual, but others do think the two men had a relationship.

Hickock, on the other hand, comes across as cold and uncaring.  He wants what he wants and he will take it.  However, he had a good childhood and a loving family.  His father tried to convince the jurors that the only reason he was in trouble was because of a bad car accident.  He said his son was a decent boy until something happened to his brain.  The prosecution pointed out that Hickock started committing crimes before his accident and the jury dismissed the car accident.

There were several years of stays and they spent five years on death row.  Capote spent massive amounts of time with the men.  Between their stories and the research done in the Cutter’s town, he amassed some 8,000 pages of notes.  This was no longer just an article to him and the two men had become people, not just names in a newspaper.

The genre of nonfiction novel is tricky.  There were several times when I forgot I was reading about something that actually happened because Capote’s writing is so strong.  He described the farm and Mr. Cutter’s last day in vivid detail and it read like a novel.  I wanted to know more about the family, and then I’d realize that it’s possible he tried to interview the surviving members and they didn’t want to have anything to do with it.  I had to keep reminding myself that he wasn’t making things up and if someone didn’t want to talk to him, he couldn’t put them in the book.

He of course drew criticism because of this.  When people read the book, they denied certain parts.  Follow up visits from other writers led to accusations that Capote should not have published the book as a true account.  Still, it remains a celebrated book in the true crime genre.

I saw the movie Capote many years ago and I don’t remember much about it.  I do remember talking to my stepmom about it and saying that I was really uncomfortable with how Capote “befriended” the men in order to get their stories to write his book.  I understood why he had to do it, but it made me feel icky.  Capote knew he had the subject to write something amazing, and of course he was going to do what he had to in order to get their stories.  At the same time, the way he did it made me almost feel bad for these guys.  I knew they had murdered the Clutter family, but it felt like Capote was then taking advantage of them for his own gain.  I want to watch the movie again now that I’ve read the book to see how my opinion has changed, or if it has changed.

Capote was an incredibly gifted writer and this book is a great mix of beautiful descriptions and simple and cold fact.  Parts read like interviews and parts read like a novel.  It was not a quick read, but I enjoyed it.

#35: Self-Inflicted Wounds: Heartwarming Tales of Epic Humiliation by Aisha Tyler

WoundsI like Aisha Tyler.  I liked her on Talk Soup.  I liked when they brought her in to Friends so they could have a black friend.  I like her on Archer, which I don’t watch enough of.  I love love love her podcast, Girl on Guy.  I was super excited when she announced that she’d be hosing the return of Whose Line Is It Anyway?.  She’s super funny, and even better, she’s really smart and geeky.  She’d been talking about her book for a while on Girl on Guy and I was really looking forward to reading it.  I wish I had gotten the audio version though.

Tyler ends Girl on Guy by asking her guest to share a self-inflicted wound.  These are stories of things that are just bad and you have no one to blame but yourself.  Wrecked credit, getting an STD twice from the same girl when you know it’s going to happen the second time, punched in the face by a jealous boyfriend… usually these are super embarrassing stories and the most cringe inducing part is that you can’t blame it on anyone else but yourself.  These are the moments where you look back and wonder “What did I think was going to happen???”  But hopefully they’ve made you a better person.  Or not.  Who cares, as long as it’s a good story.

Tyler turns her question on to herself for this book and creates a memoir of sorts where she retells her own self-inflicted wounds.  Some are hysterical, some are learning experiences, some show her path to success.  It’s a good mix, like anyone’s life should be.  There are some that I sort of flipped through and others that I completely related to and took my time with.  I think most people will find at least one story that they will cringe along with and think “Oh god… me too.  I did this.”

One of my favorite stories is The Time I Almost Seared My Flesh to My Dad’s Motorcycle.  When she was ten, she decided that the best way to distinguish herself from her classmates was to dress like a ballerina all the time.  Not a frilly pink tu-tu’ed ballerina, but a girl who was serious about art.  She decided she needed leotards and tights with ankle length wrap skirts.  Everything had to match.  She decided that brown tones would convey this serious vibe, so there she was: ten years old, draped in shapeless brown.  No matter where she went, this was her outfit.  People had to take her seriously because she was committed.  This was a girl who thought deep thoughts and she had clothing to match.  Of course, she was also a girl who was ten and wanted to be able to walk.  Or play, climb trees, run, and participate in other activities that ten year olds do.  Apparently when you have a skirt wrapped tightly around your legs, you fall down a lot.  But she managed to keep it together until her dad’s motorcycle ended the look.

She loved her dad and loved that he loved motorcycles.  The problem was that when she was on the back she wanted to read or sleep.  Her dad finally figured out a way to strap her in so she wouldn’t pitch backwards into oncoming traffic.  However, there was no way to construct a harness to strap down a ten year old’s mind or skirt.  Paying such serious attention to how her skirt moved and how a true artist must hold her body, she forgot about the exhaust pipe.  Climbing behind her dad, her skirt melted to the pipe and there was immediate burning and freaking-the-fuck out.  Happily, only her skirt was burned, but she realized that maybe ballerina skirts weren’t the best idea.

This story killed me because I remember being in elementary school and wanting to Be Serious.  I was convinced that if you carried a notebook around all the time to write in, people would marvel at how advanced you were.  Surely cameras would show up at some point and you’d find yourself famous with a TV show or a movie career or something.  You don’t see a ten year old with a notebook and think they won’t become famous!  I mean, come on!  That ten year old has a notebook!  There is no commitment like an elementary school kid with something to prove.  Well, until something happens where you realize it’s a total pain in the ass to carry around a notebook and pencil all the damn time and it’s taking way too long for your famous career to kick off.  Or, you know, you almost set yourself on fire on the back of your dad’s bike.

Tyler continues with stories of growing up, dealing with boobs, then starting her standup career.  There was a huge time span in between those two things.  Her college years, while cringe worthy, also show that she was headed for greatness.  This was a woman who was going to create a space for herself, no matter how much it was going to hurt.

Her adult tales are just as good.  She finds herself not feeling funny anymore and questioning her career.  She accidentally spits on an audience member.  She falls asleep at a party.  She’s older, but still self-inflicting.

I will argue that not all of these tales are actual wounds, but the are definitely self-inflicted.  Tyler is someone who makes decisions and follows through, no matter what.  Sometimes there are tragic endings, but overall, she’s had amazing payoffs.  Sure, she’s performed in front of a crowd with her fly down and she once wore a see through dress to an event, but she also was named the 2011 best new comedy podcast on iTunes, she has amazing fans, she’s got a book and a talk show and she gets to perform all over the place.  She get to rock her nerd self while playing video games and greeting fans at various cons.  She swears more than I do.  I totally want to hang out with her.