Arthur Conan Doyle, Harry Houdini, and the Promise and Ruin of Spiritualism

Book review: Through a Glass, Darkly, by Stefan Bechtel and Laurence Roy Stains Book Depository What had come to be known as “spiritualism”—the conviction that those who have passed over had the ability and the desire to make contact across the veil of death with those they’d left behind—seemed to have bewitched the Western world.  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, forever linked with his character, Sherlock … Continue reading Arthur Conan Doyle, Harry Houdini, and the Promise and Ruin of Spiritualism

Elegies for the Dead She’s Known

Book review: The Baltimore Book of the Dead, by Marion Winik Book Depository People do not pass away. / They die / and then they stay. Poet and author Marion Winik opens this second volume of creative short elegies to departed people she’s known, tinged with personal memoir, with those lines from Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem “Voices in the Air”. I couldn’t imagine a more fitting … Continue reading Elegies for the Dead She’s Known

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

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

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

Nonfiction Titles Celebrating Women in Translation Month

August is Women in Translation month, an annual celebration of writing by women translated into English. I’m late to be sharing anything about this, but in case you can still catch something, bookstores often spotlight titles and hold sales, host special events and readings, and many publishers offer discounts on titles by women in translation. Maybe there’s still time to catch some sales and events, … Continue reading Nonfiction Titles Celebrating Women in Translation Month

Scenes from a House in Ekaterinburg in July, 100 Years Ago

Book review: Last Days of the Romanovs, by Helen Rappaport Russian historian Helen Rappaport writes a tightly focused, streamlined account of the last two weeks that the family of Nicholas Romanov was alive, held captive at the Ipatiev House in Ekaterinburg in Siberia, a building known by its very Soviet name as the “House of Special Purpose”. 100 years ago last month, the Romanov family … Continue reading Scenes from a House in Ekaterinburg in July, 100 Years Ago

Eloquent Arguments Against Mass Incarceration, Capital and Excessive Punishment, and Mercy Above All

Book review: Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson Proximity has taught me some basic and humbling truths, including this vital lesson: Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done. I avoided reading Just Mercy, to some extent, because I knew it was going to be a painful book to read. And now I’ve avoided writing about it because I knew how hard … Continue reading Eloquent Arguments Against Mass Incarceration, Capital and Excessive Punishment, and Mercy Above All

From the Did-Not-Finish Files

I’ve been abandoning books left and right this year. Maybe my patience is getting thinner or my attention span shorter. Or maybe I’m always getting better at knowing if I’ll like something and what topics or style issues will put me off a book. I hope it’s the latter. Most of the books I abandoned weren’t terrible, they just weren’t for me. I could see … Continue reading From the Did-Not-Finish Files

Zora Neale Hurston Curates a Life Story Spanning Africa, the Middle Passage, and the Jim Crow South

Book review: Barracoon, by Zora Neale Hurston Though the heart is breaking, happiness can exist in a moment, also. And because the moment in which we live is all the time there really is, we can keep going. It may be true, and often is, that every person we hold dear is taken from us. Still. From moment to moment, we watch our beans and … Continue reading Zora Neale Hurston Curates a Life Story Spanning Africa, the Middle Passage, and the Jim Crow South