The Historic Los Angeles Library Fire Sparks a Bigger Story: What Libraries Are to Us

Book review: The Library Book, by Susan Orlean All the things that are wrong in the world seem conquered by a library’s simple unspoken promise: Here is my story, please listen; here I am, please tell me your story. Journalist and author Susan Orlean began her latest book by investigating the devastating 1986 fire at Central Library in Los Angeles. By the time the fire was … Continue reading The Historic Los Angeles Library Fire Sparks a Bigger Story: What Libraries Are to Us

The Epicenter of Silly: Light Looks at Modern Magic and Magical Thinking

Book review: Not in Kansas Anymore, by Christine Wicker (Book Depository) Forty years ago, when the current occult revival was beginning to gain strength, the wisest thinkers in the land predicted that faith in the supernatural was shriveling and would soon die back to insignificance. The scientific worldview demanded such a shift. Who could possibly withstand it? Organized religion, mystical meanderings, and magical ideas could … Continue reading The Epicenter of Silly: Light Looks at Modern Magic and Magical Thinking

A Reporter’s Cold Case Obsession

Book review: Amy: My Search for Her Killer, by James Renner (Book Depository) How long does it take a crime to become legend? Does it vary based on circumstances, on affluence? If the Bay Village police charged someone in Amy’s death after sixteen years, would anyone really believe it? Or has so much time passed that the residents of this quiet suburb will stick to … Continue reading A Reporter’s Cold Case Obsession

Writing Her Grandparents’ Lives and a Memoir of Childhood

Book review: On Sunset, by Kathryn Harrison Never mind that we live in Los Angeles and that I was born in 1961; my childhood belongs to my mother’s parents, who, in the way of old people, have returned themselves to their pasts, taking me along. Author Kathryn Harrison writes a memoir of a slice of her childhood, a well-adjusted one considering some of the troubling … Continue reading Writing Her Grandparents’ Lives and a Memoir of Childhood

Worldly Writing from the Kitchen to Machu Picchu, and All the Life Lived in Between

Book review: Eat, Live, Love, Die, by Betty Fussell Before she started writing, Betty Fussell, who’s now over 90, was married to author Paul Fussell. Her marriage and family life, and the problems therein, became the subject of her memoir My Kitchen Wars, which also focused on her divorce and issues of domesticity. She’d started editing some of her husband’s work before embarking on her own writing … Continue reading Worldly Writing from the Kitchen to Machu Picchu, and All the Life Lived in Between

Undercover Reporting and the Disturbing History of For-Profit Prisons in America

Book review: American Prison, by Shane Bauer The United States imprisons a higher portion of its population than any country in the world. In 2017 we had 2.2 million people in prisons and jails, a 500 percent increase over the last forty years. We now have almost 5 percent of the world’s population and nearly a quarter of its prisoners. This book focuses on one … Continue reading Undercover Reporting and the Disturbing History of For-Profit Prisons in America

The Working Poor of the Heartland

Book review: Heartland, by Sarah Smarsh Journalist Sarah Smarsh is a fifth generation Kansan who grew up with her family life centered around a wheat farm in the countryside, with Wichita being the closest big city. In her memoir, she chronicles generations of her family, particularly the strong but troubled women in her lineage, and puts their struggles and choices into clear economic and cultural context. … Continue reading The Working Poor of the Heartland

The Story Lolita Forgets, and Nabokov at Work

Book review: The Real Lolita, by Sarah Weinman Even casual readers of Lolita…should pay attention to the story of Sally Horner because it is the story of so many girls and women, not just in America, but everywhere. So many of these stories seem like everyday injustices – young women denied opportunity to advance, tethered to marriage and motherhood. Others are more horrific, girls and … Continue reading The Story Lolita Forgets, and Nabokov at Work

The Pseudoscience of Personality Typing and its Eccentric Mother-Daughter Developers

Book review: The Personality Brokers, by Merve Emre Only the smallest fraction of those who encountered the indicator knew anything about Isabel, Katharine, or the origins of type. If asked about the indicator’s provenance, most people would have assumed that Myers and Briggs were the last names of two collaborating psychologists – two men, naturally… Almost everyone’s familiar with the Myers-Briggs personality indicator, a personality … Continue reading The Pseudoscience of Personality Typing and its Eccentric Mother-Daughter Developers

The Interstate and the Murderer

Book review: Killer on the Road, by Ginger Strand America became more violent and more mobile at the same time. Were they linked? Did highways lead to highway violence? Yes and no. More highways meant more travel, more movement, more anonymity—all conducive to criminality. Highway users could become easy victims: stranded motorists, hitchhikers, drifters, and truck stop prostitutes were vulnerable to roving predators. But most … Continue reading The Interstate and the Murderer

Living Through Scientology’s “Fair Game” Policy

Book review: The Unbreakable Miss Lovely, by Tony Ortega Journalist Paulette Cooper survived the Holocaust but she almost didn’t survive Scientology. That thought lingered while reading this biography and account of her years of harassment by the cultlike religion for daring to write honestly and critically about them. Her parents suffered persecution as Jews in Second World War Europe and Paulette was lucky enough to … Continue reading Living Through Scientology’s “Fair Game” Policy

Coming of Age in Cold War America

Book review: A Girl’s Guide to Missiles, by Karen Piper Karen Piper, a professor of literature and geology and author of several books on environmental issues, writes a personal memoir about her life, including scenes from her childhood growing up in the 1970s in China Lake, a secretive missile range in the Mojave Desert. Her narrative as she walks readers through her life folds in … Continue reading Coming of Age in Cold War America