Nonfiction November Week 2: (Nov. 5 to 9) – Fiction / Nonfiction Book Pairing (Sarah’s Book Shelves): This week, pair up a nonfiction book with a fiction title. It can be a “If you loved this book, read this!” or just two titles that you think would go well together. Maybe it’s a historical novel and you’d like to get the real history by reading a nonfiction version of the story.
I have to be honest: for almost a decade, with very few exceptions, I haven’t read fiction. I’ve read hundreds of novels, but it’s tough to draw comparisons now when aside from longstanding favorites, nothing is fresh in my mind.
So I’m going to take some liberties with this week’s prompt and do (mostly true crime) podcast pairings with nonfiction titles referenced on the shows or connected to topics covered. “If you loved this podcast, read this!” is the best I can offer here!
Plus I consume too much true crime in all formats, but here’s a chance to at least share more of it. Consume some with me, won’t you?
My Favorite Murder: Although I’m slightly less enamored with it lately, it’s still a thoughtful, sensitive, sometimes uproariously funny true crime/banter podcast. In their haphazard, occasionally inaccurate way Karen and Georgia cover lots of good stories, leading to a treasure trove of nonfiction ideas.
Pair it with:
The Cases That Haunt Us: From Jack the Ripper to JonBenet Ramsey, the FBI’s Legendary Mindhunter Unravels the Mysteries That Won’t Go Away, by John Douglas: The Mindhunter, FBI profiler John Douglas, examines infamous unsolved historical murders and applies his profiling expertise to come to a conclusion about who or what kind of person is responsible. He explains and analyzes some MFM favorites like JonBenet, Zodiac, and the Lindbergh baby.
The Vienna Woods Killer: A Writer’s Double Life by John Leake – Austrian Jack Unterweger’s story is a wild, and frustrating, one. Unterweger was jailed for one murder, became the poster boy of a massive rehabilitation campaign, and was released only to go on a sex worker murdering spree in Europe and the US. The details defy belief and the book is page-turning. Karen covered his story on episode 66.
The Axeman of New Orleans: The True Story, by Miriam C. Davis – Another Karen story, on episode 60. Davis’s recent look at the still unsolved axe murders of Italian grocers around New Orleans (weirdly specific) is an info-packed analysis of what happened and, like Douglas’s book, a profile of the type of person who would’ve done it, since his identity remains unknown. She also debunks some of the myths that tend to linger around historical crimes.
Lost at Sea: The Jon Ronson Mysteries by Jon Ronson: Karen talked about reading this and really sold it. After finishing it, I read through investigative journalist Jon Ronson’s entire back catalog, which has provided some highlights this year. Lost at Sea collects long-form journalism pieces. They’re not all murders, some don’t address crimes at all, like one about medium Sylvia Browne – just mysteries, odd or question-raising social stories, and strangeness, like the title story about people who have mysteriously disappeared from cruise ships. Ronson has a nose for true stories you never realized you wanted to know more about.
The Michigan Murders by Edward Keyes, and The Red Parts: Autobiography of a Trial, by Maggie Nelson: Georgia covered the Ypsilanti Ripper, the serial killer behind a string of co-ed murders. The Michigan Murders is a page-turning narrative about those crimes and how the killer was caught. The podcast also touched on the inconsistencies and oddities surrounding one victim, Jane Mixer. Mixer was the aunt of author Maggie Nelson, who wrote The Red Parts, a memoir/true crime/total literary delight about the trial of a different man later convicted of her aunt’s murder and how the revelation affected her life and family. It’s the benchmark by which I judge all “true crime memoirs”.
Last Podcast on the Left: It rubbed me the wrong way when I first listened, which I think is worth mentioning because it did eventually win me over. The guys hosting do such extensive research, even when telling stories on the more ridiculous end of the spectrum, like about UFOs and alien abductions, conspiracy theories, and poltergeists. And of course, true crime. I love their wide range of nonfiction stories and irreverent humor.
Pair it with:
The Best Land Under Heaven: The Donner Party in the Age of Manifest Destiny by Michael Wallis: They used a different book about the Donner Party for their recent telling of history’s most notorious trek westward, but I’ve read and highly recommend this narrative history from last year.
Remembering Satan: A Tragic Case of Recovered Memory by Lawrence Wright: An episode about alleged Satanic ritual abuse reminded me about this one. I’ve written already about my love of Wright’s journalism and his incredible writing. This is earlier work but similarly strong in writing and research, about a case of recovered memories and wild accusations that wrecked a family during the Satanic Panic. Wright also looks at the psychology, community effects and legal repercussions.
Pale Horse Rider: William Cooper, the Rise of Conspiracy, and the Fall of Trust in America by Mark Jacobson: They did an amusing Bill Cooper episode. Conspiracy theories are one of my favorite topics on Last Podcast, and Cooper was responsible for some wild ones.
102 Minutes: The Untold Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers by Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn: What I love about Last Podcast is how they can tie together a horrible, tragic story with an informative narrative, myth-busting, and elements that showcase whatever bit of shining humanity can be found in such an event, and still, somehow, manage to be hilarious. That’s not something I thought possible with 9/11, but how wrong I was – one of their best, in my opinion. (I can’t think of Henry’s impression of a Florida stripper who thought one of the hijackers had been her client without laughing.)
The detailed narrative in this book covers why and how we were so unprepared for terrorism on American soil and hones in on what transpired inside the towers between the planes hitting and their collapse. It’s tearjerking but the heroism shown during those 102 minutes is truly extraordinary.
The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and Peoples Temple by Jeff Guinn: How Jim Jones amassed a cultish following, nearly 1000 of whom died with him in the jungles of Guyana, is a disturbing but entrancing story. Guinn tells Jones’s biography and the Peoples Temple story so well in an engrossing narrative, but be warned, it’s just as disturbing as the episodes covering this mess of a story were.
Real Crime Profile: I love this underrated podcast from former FBI profiler Jim Clemente, Scotland Yard behavioral analyst and victim’s rights advocate Laura Richards, and Criminal Minds casting director Lisa Zambetti. They cover cases and stories in-depth and analytically. The crime professionals have such interesting perspectives, and Zambetti asks them all the questions us non-professionals are thinking. They analyze lots of headliner cases, including Oscar Pistorius, OJ Simpson, Netflix hits like The Staircase, Evil Genius, Making a Murderer, etc.
Pair it with:
The Forgotten Killer: Rudy Guede and the Murder of Meredith Kercher by Douglas Preston, John Douglas, et al.: RCP’s coverage of Meredith Kercher’s murder / Amanda Knox’s conviction is intense. They stress facts and the failings of the Italian prosecution over occult fantasy, while emphasizing that her actual murderer, Rudy Guede, was convicted with a heap of incontrovertible evidence – a fact that maddeningly often is ignored in favor of hysteria over Knox. Clemente gets pretty angry about this, but he also did something incredible: he offered for anyone in Kercher’s family who’s confused or uncertain about Knox’s innocence/Guede’s guilt to reach out to him and he’d explain the evidence, crime scene, behavior, etc. that the Italian justice system ignored and that make this sad case unambiguous. I thought that was exceptional of him.
The Forgotten Killer is a Kindle single with essays by several authors, including Douglas Preston, and specialists that drives home the truth about Guede’s guilt and the fallacy of ignoring it. It’s a worthwhile quick read, especially for anyone still buying into the media fanfare around Knox. A Death in Italy: The Definitive Account of the Amanda Knox Case by John Follain provides a straightforward but thorough narrative overview of the entire story.
Incendiary: The Psychiatrist, the Mad Bomber and the Invention of Criminal Profiling by Michael Cannell: They interviewed the author of this atmospheric, richly descriptive book about a bomber who prolifically targeted New York City landmarks in the 1950s. It’s an excellent work of narrative nonfiction and interesting for its exploration of an early foray into profiling.
Sin, Shame and Secrets: The Murder of a Nun, the Conviction of a Priest, and Cover-up in the Catholic Church by David Yonke: RCP does a fascinating, deeply personal arc about the Netflix documentary The Keepers. This account of a bizarre, ritualistic murder of a nun and a priest’s conviction delves into territory surrounding abuses in the Catholic church, has more detailed examples of church coverups, and lies and denials eerily similar to those in The Keepers.
Have you read any of these? Do you listen to any of these podcasts, or are there any others you use for reading inspiration?