missoula

As a big fan of his work, I’ve been waiting for Missoula by Jon Krakauer to come up available through my local library’s Overdrive on audio since it was released this past April, and finally got to it last week. Edited from Goodreads:

Missoula, Montana, is a typical college town, with a highly regarded state university, bucolic surroundings, a lively social scene, and an excellent football team with a rabid fan base.

The Department of Justice investigated 350 sexual assaults reported to the Missoula police between January 2008 and May 2012. Few of these assaults were properly handled by either the university or local authorities. In this, Missoula is also typical.

A DOJ report released in December of 2014 estimates 110,000 women between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four are raped each year. Krakauer’s devastating narrative of what happened in Missoula makes clear why rape is so prevalent on American campuses, and why rape victims are so reluctant to report assault. Acquaintance rape is the most underreported crime in America. In addition to physical trauma, its victims often suffer devastating psychological damage that leads to feelings of shame, emotional paralysis, and stigmatization. PTSD rates for rape victims are estimated to be 50 percent, higher than for soldiers returning from war.

In Missoula, Krakauer chronicles the searing experiences of several women in Missoula—the nights when they were raped; their fear and self-doubt in the aftermath; the way they were treated by the police, prosecutors, defense attorneys; the public vilification and private anguish; their bravery in pushing forward and what it cost them.

As you can imagine, Missoula is a difficult book to get through. Krakauer is a relentless, dutiful researcher, and his work on Missoula is no exception. The subject matter is intense, very real, and a very real problem everywhere—Krakauer uses the single example of Missoula to illustrate the epidemic crisis that rape/sexual assault has become across the country.

I fully admit I was a bit shocked with the depth and detail of the descriptions of rape and assault—not for the faint of heart. But it’s completely necessary to the book and respectful to the victims for not sugarcoating what they went through. I was completely incensed at the perpetrators, the justice system for frequently failing these women, and even some citizen bystanders for heartless victim blaming. The cards are so stacked against women in this society that accusing a man of rape—especially a young man on a popular football team—more often than not is an exercise in futility. I can’t imagine being doubted, mocked, and shamed for a violent atrocity committed to YOU, and having to recount and relive this traumatic life-altering experience over and over again to police officers and lawyers.

One reason I gravitate to Krakauer’s books is that he maintains a clear-eyed perspective throughout. His tone is fair and without judgement, though you can usually tell which “side” he’s on. Missoula is an important, informative book for our times, and I suspect will go down as one of Krakauer’s more controversial works.

Listened to audiobook from November 17 to 21, 2015.

modern romance

On our anniversary road trip to Denver a couple of weeks ago, my husband and I (ironically) listened to Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari on audio. Edited from Goodreads:

At some point, every one of us embarks on a journey to find love. We meet people, date, get into and out of relationships, all with the hope of finding someone with whom we share a deep connection. This seems standard now, but it’s wildly different from what people did even just decades ago. Single people today have more romantic options than at any point in human history. With technology, our abilities to connect with and sort through these options are staggering. So why are so many people frustrated? In Modern Romance, Ansari combines his irreverent humor with cutting-edge social science to give us an unforgettable tour of our new romantic world.

Modern Romance wasn’t quite what I expected… I guess I was thinking more along the lines of humorous personal anecdotes and silly “dos and don’ts” to dating. Turns out this book is more scientific, but not overly in-depth—Aziz does inject his brand of funny commentary throughout making it accessible. A lot of the book talks about how advancing technology has changed options and communication in dating, compared to how seemingly simple it was to find a mate just a few short decades ago.

I met my husband in grad school, neither of us had smartphones (we did text), and we did flirt a bit on Facebook, but our relationship was in-person right from the start. I never experienced dating in the modern technology age, really. I don’t think I’d even know where to begin with all the avenues Aziz and his writing partner Eric Klinenberg go over in Modern Romance. They focus on online dating sites and mobile apps, statistically successful profiles and awkward texting (and sexting), timing and mind games, and more.

Aziz does explain right at the start that Modern Romance covers mostly middle class heterosexuals, saying that delving into the romantic processes for homosexuals and other economic classes would be enough material for several other books in and of themselves. I liked the sections on the dating scenes of Japan, Brazil, and France, and also the interviews with people on their dating techniques and options in the 50s, 60s, and 70s. I was pretty shocked (mostly at myself) at how “old fashioned” I guess I am—I can’t imagine being dumped via text, while apparently that has become an acceptable norm for people just a few years younger than me.

The audio was great; Aziz’s narration is hilarious as expected, but you do miss out on images and graphs. It was fun to listen to this one with my husband, several really good discussion starters in here for us!

Listened to audiobook from October 15 to 18, 2015.

columbine

April 20 was the 16th anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre, and the headlines online were the impetus for me to finally read Columbine by Dave Cullen, one of the books on my TBR Pile Challenge this year. Edited from Goodreads:

On April 20, 1999, two boys left an indelible stamp on the American psyche. Their goal was simple: to blow up their school, Oklahoma-City style, and to leave “a lasting impression on the world.” Their bombs failed, but the ensuing shooting defined a new era of school violence—irrevocably branding every subsequent shooting “another Columbine.”

In this revelatory book, Dave Cullen has delivered a profile of teenage killers that goes to the heart of psychopathology. He lays bare the callous brutality of mastermind Eric Harris, and the quavering, suicidal Dylan Klebold, who went to prom three days earlier and obsessed about love in his journal. 

A close-up portrait of hatred, a community rendered helpless, and the police blunders and cover-ups, it is a compelling and utterly human portrait of two killers—an unforgettable cautionary tale for our times.

I was a sophomore in high school when this tragedy happened and I remember it being all over the news, my parents worrying, and my school taking on new policies and procedure measures after this. The next school year, we started having random lockdown and bomb threat drills. It felt kind of strange and slightly surreal, because after a relatively worry-free, safe childhood, all of a sudden there was this shift to a climate of fear and danger everywhere. Of course, this was intensified my freshman year of college when 9/11 happened. It was just a jarring lesson of the “real world,” the first defining moment of “where were you when…?” of my generation, I suppose you could say.

Columbine by Dave Cullen was released 10 years after the event, and examines it from many angles, including the shooters, the families, the police and investigators, and the press. I was completely hooked from the first page and could hardly put it down. I ended up reading 200+ pages alone during the Dewey’s 24-Hour Readathon a couple weekends ago. Reading this one was unsettling emotionally in a way—I knew how this turns out, but deep inside I was oddly hoping the killers would be stopped before reaching the school, they would change their minds, something. Weird, right? Especially with the shocking amount of hints both of them dropped before April 20.

Cullen structures Columbine to read more as a narrative non-fiction, with clearly defined “rules” for how he expresses thoughts and conversations related in the book, with relentless, highly detailed research throughout. It is a heartbreaking and horrifying book, but fascinating. The author seamlessly weaves the backstories of the killers, the school, the authorities, and more leading up to the massacre with what happened afterwards to this community and those personally involved.

As you probably remember, national media directed blame at various factors, which all turned out to be bogus. Remember the Trenchcoat Mafia? Pointing the finger at Marilyn Manson’s music and video games like Doom? Rumors that Harris and Klebold were outcasts targeting jocks who bullied them? Turns out none of these were “reasons” for the carnage.

The killers. I really had no idea about either of them, who Harris and Klebold were as people. That Harris was a psychopath and Klebold was a suicidal depressive are conclusions that Cullen, a journalist, has come to based on exhaustive research. His case is very compelling based on the evidence, though, from their behaviors and actions prior to “Judgement Day” to their journals and videos left behind. There seems to be no question that Harris was manipulative and intelligent, and it appears Klebold was a perfect, vulnerable match for Harris. That, of course, does not excuse Klebold—he was ultimately a willing participant.

I have mixed feelings about Columbine. On one hand, I think it’s an important read as this was a seismic event in contemporary American history, but on the other, does it glorify Harris’s ultimate goal—posthumously giving him the destructive power and attention he was seeking? He wasn’t an outcast. He didn’t “snap,” he meticulously plotted this horrific event. Does it change anything? Does it explain a killer’s motives or make the tragedy any easier to accept? I really admire the families and survivors for their compassion and forgiveness. What have we learned from this?

Since Columbine we’ve seen a sickening surge in gun violence and shooting sprees in public places across the country, events that claimed more lives and caused more damage than Harris’s master plan. So why was it such a pivotal moment in our country’s history? I’m not exactly equipped to provide definitive answers here (and possibly, probably none really exist) or moderate a debate, but my thoughts are that the media speculation and non-stop coverage (and our consumption of it) plays a large part. I took that as the biggest message from Cullen’s Columbine—how we as a society reacted, both good and bad—and I’m grateful to have read this one because it opened my eyes to exactly how complex the whole situation actually was, including and well beyond the two young men who committed such an unspeakable act.

Columbine is my fourth of twelve books read for the 2015 TBR Pile Challenge.

Read from April 24 to 30, 2015.

hausfrau

Last week I raced through the hyped Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum. From Goodreads:

Anna Benz, an American in her late thirties, lives with her Swiss husband Bruno and their three young children in a postcard-perfect suburb of Zürich. Though she leads a comfortable, well-appointed life, Anna is falling apart inside. Adrift and increasingly unable to connect with the emotionally unavailable Bruno or even with her own thoughts and feelings, Anna tries to rouse herself with new experiences: German language classes, Jungian analysis, and a series of sexual affairs she enters into with an ease that surprises even her. Tensions escalate, and her lies start to spin out of control. Having crossed a moral threshold, Anna will discover where a woman goes when there’s no going back.

I’m so glad I got to this before I saw the “Madam Bovary meets 50 Shades” promo line. I would have never picked it up! Hausfrau is already a hot book this year, with tons of great topics for discussion. There’s no “ah-ha!” big reveal moment of the reasoning behind Anna’s behavior, but there is a healthy dose of tension throughout, a few shocking plot points, and the final third of the book—omg. I just couldn’t even hardly put it down by then.

Anna… I felt for her. She suffers. Her actions and indiscretions obviously point to more than sheer boredom. Depression is serious business. And her marriage is depressing. She has few friends and no one really understands her, even her therapist or her super-nice-to-an-annoying-fault classmate Mary. Essbaum’s poetic writing brought out the utter hopelessness in Anna. She’s very humanly flawed, and seemingly ill-equipped to help herself out of the quicksand of lies she herself created. It’s really a bleak whirlpool right up to the end into which I was completely drawn. Ahh, this book broke my heart and I loved it.

If you’ve read Hausfrau, I recommend heading over to the Socratic Salon for an in-depth, SPOILER-FULL discussion. No spoilers here on my blog, but one item that intrigued me over there was the query, “What if Anna had been a man?” Because I agree—it wouldn’t be the hyped, provocative, “shocking” (although I wasn’t particularly shocked) novel that it’s been branded if the main character was a man. Makes you think!

Read from April 13 to 21, 2015.

the silent wife

I received a copy of The Silent Wife by A. S. A. Harrison from a friend several months ago (a year?) and finally decided to read it in March, being a perfect fit for the KC Library Love on the Rocks Adult Winter Reading Program. From Goodreads:

Jodi and Todd are at a bad place in their marriage. Much is at stake, including the affluent life they lead in their beautiful waterfront condo in Chicago, as she, the killer, and he, the victim, rush haplessly toward the main event. He is a committed cheater. She lives and breathes denial. He exists in dual worlds. She likes to settle scores. He decides to play for keeps. She has nothing left to lose. Told in alternating voices, The Silent Wife is about a marriage in the throes of dissolution, a couple headed for catastrophe, concessions that can’t be made, and promises that won’t be kept. Expertly plotted and reminiscent of Gone Girl and These Things Hidden, The Silent Wife ensnares the reader from page one and does not let go.

I know I’m not the first to say it, and I totally agree—the comparisons to Gone Girl are way off. Sure, it’s a messed up marriage, like in Gone Girl. But The Silent Wife is less thriller than Gone Girl, for starters. While the final “act” is set up in the blurb above (and I kind of wish the blurb hadn’t given that away), Jodi and Todd are less conniving and sociopathic  than Amy and Nick, but still pretty awful to each other. Psychology is a huge element in this novel, with Jodi even being a psychologist herself. There were plenty of twists and turns in the story but I saw a few of them coming, and the ending wrapped up just a little too neatly for me.

This was deliciously dark fiction, though, with plenty of sinister moments, and Harrison’s writing style and pacing keeps you turning the pages for more. I loved how she made Chicago another character in the story, mentioning specific locations, however, the language wasn’t quite right for Chicagoans in spots. I didn’t grow up in Chicago but I’ve been many, many times to visit family there, and never once have I heard anyone I know from Chicago say “hell’s bells.” This would make a great book club choice, since there’s a lot to discuss: cheating and what you do or don’t do about it, what a marriage looks like after 20+ years, childhood trauma, and so on. The Silent Wife came out a couple of years ago so I’m sure many have read it already, but I don’t want to give out spoilers!

Basically it was a good book—not quite great, but still an enjoyable read if you’re into dark fiction about marriages and interpersonal relationships. I was sorry to find out later that Harrison died right before The Silent Wife was published, making it her only novel. I would have been interested to read more from her as she developed her style and voice past her debut.

The Silent Wife is my fifth book of five for the KC Library’s Love on the Rocks Adult Winter Reading Program.

Read from March 15 to 20, 2015.

wave

I don’t know, man, but between Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala and the book I read concurrently (We Need to Talk About Kevin, my review) I’m on a very dark depths of parenthood streak (and I’m not even a parent!). From Goodreads:

On the morning of December 26, 2004, on the southern coast of Sri Lanka, Sonali Deraniyagala lost her parents, her husband, and her two young sons in the tsunami she miraculously survived. In this brave and searingly frank memoir, she describes those first horrifying moments and her long journey since. She has written an engrossing, unsentimental, beautifully poised account: as she struggles through the first months following the tragedy, furiously clenched against a reality that she cannot face and cannot deny; and then, over the ensuing years, as she emerges reluctantly, slowly allowing her memory to take her back through the rich and joyous life she’s mourning, from her family’s home in London, to the birth of her children, to the year she met her English husband at Cambridge, to her childhood in Colombo; all the while learning the difficult balance between the almost unbearable reminders of her loss and the need to keep her family, somehow, still alive within her.

Wow. This memoir is gut-wrenching, full of unrelenting pain minute after minute (I listened on audio). I was blown away by the breathtaking account of what happened during the tsunami—knowing that something horrible and dangerous was coming but not entirely sure the full impact, just knowing you have to RUN. I haven’t experienced a loss on this level, so I can only imagine how I might feel, but I completely empathized with Deraniyagala’s profound, debilitating grief. My heart went out to her as she recounts being in a daze immediately after the tsunami, her self-destructive abuse of drugs and alcohol, and her resulting suicidal psyche. The parts where she encounters her family’s material belongings (a pair of shoes, a spoon, the bed she shared with her husband) are absolutely heartbreaking. It does feel like her husband, sons, and parents live on through this memoir—she brought them to life again with her memories and words tenderly and beautifully.

However. It’s hard to criticize a personal memoir about such an unspeakable loss, but I did get pulled away from my empathy a bit whenever things implying her financial and social class levels were mentioned—frequent international travel, nannies, lavish vacations, multiple homes, etc. That of course doesn’t devalue her genuine grief—money cannot buy back her family. But I found myself wondering about the other hundreds of thousands of people that lost loved ones in the tsunami, those that live in extreme poverty and didn’t have the luxuries of time and money like she did. She didn’t mention others that were effected by the tsunami like her, or seek out counseling or support groups with other survivors (or victims’ families). I was reminded somewhat of Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking in this way (another audiobook I tried but DNF—Didion’s extreme privilege I found insufferable to listen to). In fact I was shocked by some of Deraniyagala’s bad behavior, at times seeming supremely ungrateful and downright insane. But then, this is just Deraniyagala’s own personal experience—she wasn’t obligated necessarily to write anything more than what she herself went through. And when you’ve lost the most important people in your life, who make up your whole world and identity, why would you give two shits about what you do or don’t do, or what happens to you? I get that.

Wave is a beautifully written memoir, with affecting language and well-crafted sentences. I hope that in writing Wave Deraniyagala has found a little more peace on her lifelong journey managing her grief.

Read from June 17 to 22, 2014.