Kristen’s Book Club for October 2016

Written by Kristen Lopez

Feel that chill in the air? It’s time to grab a mug of tea and curl up with a good book. Here are a few worth checking out.

Thirty-Eight Witnesses: The Kitty Genovese Case by A.M. Rosenthal

Fifty-two years has passed since Catherine Genovese was viciously murdered as 38 witnesses heard her cries for help, and did nothing. Originally published in the wake of the Genovese murder, New York Times editor A.M. Rosenthal’s landmark text on the case is being republished in light of the recent documentary on the subject (boasting the same name). Rosenthal died in 2006 but in reading Thirty-Eight Witnesses’ new introduction the questions still remain. How did 38 people remain silent as a woman was attacked for several hours to the point that her killer left the scene and returned twice to continue his reign of terror? Rosenthal’s text is very light on answering these questions and reads as an extended series of newspaper essays. The ultimate question Rosenthal leaves hanging is “Would you do the same?” Those looking for any interviews with the witnesses themselves will be disappointed, since many refused to talk in the wake of other’s criticism for their inaction. Thirty-Eight Witnesses works best as a time capsule of the immediate aftermath of a murder so heinous it still resonates with us today.

The Search for the Man in the Iron Mask by Paul Sonnino

One of the greatest unsolved mysteries involves the identity of the prisoner locked away in the Bastille with a metal mask on his face. Was he a political dissident who threatened Louis XIV’s monarchy? Or was he, as Voltaire infamously claimed, the King’s own brother, hidden away for fear of political animosity? Writer Paul Sonnino’s The Search for the Man in the Iron Mask hopes to expose the man’s true identity, as well as detail the tangled web of intrigue within the King’s court that would precipitate the need for such extreme torture. Sonnino’s tome has a tendency to read like a history text, albeit one with a true riddle at its heart. The excerpts he utilizes and conversational tone attempt to dry up the academic quality to his writing, though this is a book purely for history die-hards.

67 Shots: Kent State and the End of American Innocence by Howard Means

It’s been said that if we don’t learn from the past we’re doomed to repeat it, and with the election only a month out many have noted similarities to our current political climate with major cultural movements of the ’60s and ’70s. On May 4th, 1970, four students of Kent State University were gunned down by members of the National Guard. In the days, weeks and months after, trying to ascertain blame was fraught with difficulties. The actual deaths notwithstanding, Howard Means 67 Shots works as an oral history of the event. Kent State students, Guardsmen, and others all recount where they were in the day leading up to the event, as well as when the shooting took place. Each person’s recitation of events is deeply personal and harrowing to read let alone contemplate experiencing. Outside of that, Means deconstructs the public’s reaction to it. Family members, friends and the government’s responses ranged from quiet sympathy to the outright declaration that more students should have been killed. What Means lays down is that the Kent State shooting perfectly summed up the apathy with the growing generational divide post-1968 leading into the 1970s where the new wave and the old guard didn’t get any better. At times a taste slow, 67 Shots will give you a real-world too close to our current one for comfort.

Spoiler Alert: You’re Gonna Die by Korrtany Finn and Jacquie Purcell

Well you can’t say you don’t know how it ends. Actually Spoiler Alert: You’re Gonna Die has an origin story as fascinating as the book itself: co-author Korrtany Finn met coroner Jacquie Purcell during a Reddit AMA. After Purcell’s stories, Finn (rightfully so) thought there was a book there worth telling. Depending on how you approach death Finn’s series of interviews with Purcell are equally parts fascinating and horrifically morbid. She recounts horror stories involving car crashes and heart attacks, as well as how she helps comfort family members in their time of need. Oftentimes you’re reeling from hearing about needles going into eyeballs before immediately tearing up at Purcell’s comforting two small children after their mother dies. Suffice it to say, Purcell’s job is one I know I absolutely couldn’t do. The fact that she recounts these stories with equal parts authority, sensitivity and dry humor makes for a fun, compelling read that will make you fear going to sleep….forever.

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