Book Review: “My Friend Dahmer”

My Friend Dahmer, Derf Backderf
originally published: March 2012
finished reading: 29 December 2011 (review copy)




Extremely disturbing. I have this fascination with serial killers and I’m not sure where it comes from. I love watching the shows where they take you into a prison to talk to the prisoners and look into why they committed their crimes. My husband frequently says, “Why do you watch that stuff?” I can’t answer.


My book rep friend had this on his shelf of things I could pick through and of course I snapped it up. As graphic novels go, it’s dark and the drawings are kind of chunky, but I think that adds to the alienation of the subject matter. Backderf actually knew Jeffrey Dahmer in high school and brings a unique perspective to his life.


Dahmer was a complex guy and Backderf shows his high school career through a teenager’s eyes. All of the friends knew something was wrong with Dahmer, but they incorporated his weirdness into their own lives – up to a point. Backderf illustrates how each of his close friends interacted with Dahmer until they had enough, an encounter that felt so wrong they stopped seeing him as a harmless goof and saw a glimmer of the monster he really was.


Interesting book, but deeply, profoundly disturbing. Backderf brings up a point throughout the story – how did all the adults in Dahmer’s life miss what was really going on? Saying that it was the culture of the 70s only goes so far. How does an alcoholic teenage boy who has a thing for taking apart road kill just keep flying under the radar? I have no answers, but what I keep coming back to is, how many more of them are there? It’s been keeping me up at night.

Book Review: “Ladies First”

Ladies First: Revelations of a Strong Woman, Queen Latifah
originally published: 2000
Finished reading: 17 December 2011


I love music, always have. My tastes are all over the board, hard rock, country, even rap. However, have a couple of rules when I listen to music: 

  1. I have to be able to understand what they’re saying 
  2. There’s a no repeat rule (repeat something too many times and they’re gone) 
  3. No misogyny 


Queen Latifah has always followed my rules and she’s frequently in my playlist. I love that she’s a strong woman, doing what she loves, and doing it well. Ladies First is an explanation of how she got to be so strong and the amazing support system she’s built that keeps her that way. 

I want to give this book to all the young women I know. Actually, all the women I know, young and old. Everyone could benefit from Latifah’s wisdom and the way she’s dealt with the tragedies, triumphs, and even the bad decisions she’s made.



I admire her so much for her art. What I’m taking away from this book is her ability to re-evaluate her choices, to learn from her mistakes, and to keep moving forward. A good lesson for everyone at any age.

Book Review: “We Wish to Inform You…”

We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families: Stories from Rwanda, Philip Gourevitch
originally published: September 1999
finished 12 December 2011

I have always felt an obligation to read books like this – books written about the terrible things human beings do to one another. In 1994, I was safe in my little house taking care of my 3-year-old son. Not worrying that we would be hacked to death by our machete-wielding neighbors. People we’d lived next to for years without incident.

I read these books to try and understand why. I know that it’s unlikely I’ll ever be satisfied with the answer, but I continue to try. Gourevitch does an admirable job interviewing people who lived through the genocide in Rwanda – either as victims or perpetrators. He provides a history of the region that includes how the Hutus and Tutsis came to this crossroads, how the colonization of Africa contributed to the divisions, and how the western world was aware, but did nothing to stop the bloodshed. I was ashamed at the time that we did nothing. I’m still ashamed.

Maybe I read books to convince myself that if I had been there, I would have acted differently. I like to think I would have been a righteous gentile during World War II. I like to think I would have been someone who stood up to the interahamwe when they came to kill. I don’t know, I will continue to be grateful that I’ve never been in the position to find out.

Book Review: “Imagine: How Creativity Works”

Imagine: How Creativity Works, Jonah Lehrer
originally published: 13 March 2012
finished: 30 November 2011 (galley copy)


I have a friend whose husband is a book rep – she passes me the books that she thinks I’ll find most interesting, so I lucked into a galley copy of this book. I consider myself a creative type and have often wondered why sometimes the ideas flow easily and other times it feels like trying to squeeze a hammer through a tube of toothpaste. Lehrer gives a good, scientific basis for why the brain works the way it does. Interesting, but I can’t really do anything about how my brain works, can I? 

The genius of this book is the way he explains how other people are creative. How Bob Dylan dropped out and experienced some of the most creative times of his life. Why cities are such hotbeds for new ideas. How the Pixar team created a space where people have chances everyday to “run into” their co-workers and discuss the work. Why Elizabethan England gave us so many great playwrights. Is 3M one of the most creative companies because they give their employees the time and space to “make connections”? By looking at how others are creative, Lehrer provides a kind of road map on how you could make more creative space in your own life. 

Imagine gave me hope that I don’t have to wait for a muse to hit me over the head. I can take steps that will open the tap of creativity in my head and keep it flowing. That it’s not just a matter of talent but a mixture of planning, work, and perseverance that will allow me to create the life I want to live – both professionally and personally. 

This is another of those books that you can’t speed read through. I read it a chapter at a time and let it sink in. I almost handed the book to my boss, he needs to read the chapter on the “Q” factor (the idea that you have to bring in new people every now and again to juice up everyone on the team). I can think of several other people who will get something out of Imagine – they’ll be getting copies as well. Well worth reading.

Prompt of the Day

Okay, it’s almost the end of November and I’m just now looking at the BlogHer site. Apparently there’s a prompt for every day! Who knew?

Today’s prompt is what is the last thing you do before bed?

What a lovely room!*

Since I have insomnia, I try to go to bed at around the same time every night (between 9 and 10 – hey I get up at 4:30, so that’s reasonable). The thing is, I always have to read before I fall asleep – no matter how late it is. So no matter what, the last thing I do is read a couple of pages in my current book.

If I’m in bed and have finished my reading, but then remember that I have to take my pills or brush my teeth…I go do the whatever and come back to bed. Then I have to pick up the book again to get a couple more pages in. I don’t feel right if I don’t read right before falling asleep.

On rare occasions, my daughter has come into my room, removed my glasses, and turned off the light for me. Yes, she’s a good girl.

(*image cribbed from here:  http://houseandgardenningaddicts.files.wordpress.com/2010/06/feng-shui-bedroom-saidaonline.jpg )

Book Reviews – June

I resisted reading this for a long time – mostly because I didn’t know what it was about and I hate to read a book because everyone else is reading it. It came up as a selection in one of my book clubs and I thought, “Oh why not”. I’m so very glad I did. Even my mother, who doesn’t much like crime stories is enjoying it.

I loved the characters and enjoyed their eccentricities (who doesn’t have a crazy friend?). I’m waiting for the second book in the series, but rather sad th…moreI’m printing all my book reviews for June at one time. I’m lazy – sue me.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson, originally published in 2008
I resisted reading this for a long time – mostly because I didn’t know what it was about and I hate to read a book because everyone else is reading it. It came up as a selection in one of my book clubs and I thought, “Oh why not”. I’m so very glad I did. Even my mother, who doesn’t much like crime stories is enjoying it.

I loved the characters and enjoyed their eccentricities (who doesn’t have a crazy friend?). I’m waiting for the second book in the series, but rather sad that there will only be 3.

It’s not a beach read, there are too many things happening. It is a good summer read.

Bicycling Magazine’s Complete Book of Road Cycling Skills, edited by Ed Pavelka, originally published in 1998
This is a collection of articles originally published in Bicycling Magazine. There are sections that cover basics, essential skills, traffic safety, riding stronger and longer, off-season training, how to eat to ride, and medical concerns.

This is the perfect book for a beginning cyclist. There’s so much I don’t know that I didn’t know where to start. Essentially I walked to the sports section of my local book store and started pulling books off the shelf. A lot of them are way over …moreThis is a collection of articles originally published in Bicycling Magazine. There are sections that cover basics, essential skills, traffic safety, riding stronger and longer, off-season training, how to eat to ride, and medical concerns.

This is the perfect book for a beginning cyclist. There’s so much I don’t know that I didn’t know where to start. Essentially I walked to the sports section of my local book store and started pulling books off the shelf. A lot of them are way over my head, but this was fit perfectly. I have a feeling that I’ll refer to it for a long time and eventually pass it on to someone else.

My  Lurid Past, Lauren Henderson, originally published in 2002
The one word I would use to describe this book is filthy. The main character is a food public relations person representing a young chef who’s doing his best to “shag” all the girls, snort all the cocaine, and drink all the alcohol in London. Juliet is doing her best to keep up with him. While I don’t live like this, it was fun to read about other people who do. And as filthy as it was, it was the first book in a very long time that made me wish I was at home reading every second. 
Too Many Blondes, Lauren Henderson, originally published in 1998

There’s is nothing like a good British mystery to keep me reading. The main character of this one is a sculptor who moonlights as an aerobics instructor. Henderson has taken me through the rave clubs of London and I enjoyed every minute of it. Plus there’s quite a good mystery to solve. A fun summer read.

Book Review

The Help, Kathryn Stockett
 originally published in 2009

My friend Jillian has a great library system. I do not. She helps me out by reading voraciously and then passing on the good ones to me. I never would have read The Help if she hadn’t given it to me.

The story is set in the late 1950s early 1960s in the south. The help referred to are the black women who clean the houses and raise the children of southern white women. One of these women, unmarried after college, begins to question the system that she grew up under and decides to write a book about it. She enlists the help of one of her friend’s maid and she brings more maids to tell their stories.

There’s back biting, in-fighting, and cattiness enough for anyone who loves that sort of thing (Bunko party, anyone?). What surprised me was how anxious I was for the characters. They had to keep their meeting and story writing secret and I was turning pages faster and faster as I expected someone to come busting in at an inconvenient moment.

I read it on a business trip – it was perfect airplane and hotel reading.

Book Review & Update

February kicked my ass. I know, it’s the middle of March, what am I whining about? I had a big deadline at work, winter was dragging on and on and on, and I was (still am) a single parent (Peter Pan went to Florida). The last couple of days of sunshine and spring-like weather have me feeling so much better. It’s enough to make me want to invest in one of those happy lights next fall.

Allow me to start out with a book review to ease myself back into the swing of things.

Find Me, Rosie O’Donnell
originally published in 2002

I like Rosie O’Donnell, always have. This book left me a little underwhelmed. Maybe I read it too quickly after Celebrity Detox, too much of a good thing?
 

Find Me was an interesting glimpse into mental illness. How it not only affects those who suffer from it, but those who watch from the outside. I was uncomfortable with the view into Rosie’s head that the book afforded me. I don’t want to go that far into anyone’s head, let alone someone I only know from watching TV and the movies.


The book tells the story of a woman who contacted O’Donnell with a story about being pregnant and having no options. Which turned out to be untrue. It was painful to see how much O’Donnell immersed herself in this woman’s life, almost to the detriment of her own and her children’s lives. I don’t want to know this much about her inner demons. I have enough of my own.

Book Review

U is for Undertow, Sue Grafton
originally published in 2009

I could just say, “the best one yet” and be correct, but that seems a little too simple. I started reading this alphabet series after Grafton had written four of them. I loved her descriptions of everything and felt like I was sitting on a park bench in Santa Teresa. I still feel that way.

I met Sue Grafton at a book signing once. She had spoken about how she received letters from people admonishing her about how much Kinsey swore. She reacted by having Kinsey swear less, b…more I could just say, “the best one yet” and be correct, but that seems a little too simple. I started reading this alphabet series after Grafton had written four of them. I loved her descriptions of everything and felt like I was sitting on a park bench in Santa Teresa. I still feel that way.

I met Sue Grafton at a book signing once. She had spoken about how she received letters from people admonishing her about how much Kinsey swore. She reacted by having Kinsey swear less, but felt uneasy about it. Eventually she decided that Kinsey swore because that’s who she was and Grafton stopped trying to “fix” it.

In the last couple of books, I felt that Kinsey had hit her stride. She is who she is (so to speak) and she’s comfortable with it (and so is Grafton). I loved this book and the only bad thing is how quickly I read it. Now I have to WAIT for the next one.

Book Review

Personal History, Katharine Graham
originally published in 1997

Last year I read Warren Buffet’s memoir and he spoke endlessly of Katharine Graham. I figured she’d be an interesting person to read about – and she was.

Graham survived the curse of living in extraordinary times. I found it endearing that she was so worried about whether she was up to the task – any task (dressing herself, picking out furniture, running The Washington Post). Admittedly, she grew up at a time when women raised the children and decorated the houses, so she didn’t have …more Last year I read Warren Buffet’s memoir and he spoke endlessly of Katharine Graham. I figured she’d be an interesting person to read about – and she was.

Graham survived the curse of living in extraordinary times. I found it endearing that she was so worried about whether she was up to the task – any task (dressing herself, picking out furniture, running The Washington Post). Admittedly, she grew up at a time when women raised the children and decorated the houses, so she didn’t have many role models. However, she was whip smart and applied 100% of herself to everything she did.

She didn’t sugar coat anything in this book. Her insecurities are completely on display as well as how she reacted when her husband left her and subsequently killed himself, leaving her to deal with the aftermath both personally and professionally.

I’ll admit that once or twice her sense of privilege annoyed me, but that’s really the only drawback I found. Graham came through as a woman who met her challenges head-on and usually came out the winner.