Six nonfiction titles I’ve read and esteemed so far this year

August 1, 2015 at 11:01 pm (Best of 2015, Book review, books, France, True crime)

51CgK5tPG2L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_  My nonfiction reading this year was heavily influenced by the presence of the true crime class in my life. Among other readings, I finally got around to reading The Stranger Beside Me, Ann Rule‘s classic account of her strange and curiously compelling friendship with serial killer Ted Bundy.

And so this seems like the appropriate time and place to acknowledge Ann Rule’s recent passing and pay tribute to her remarkable achievements in the field of true crime authorship. Several of Rule’s family members were involved in law enforcement and various other aspects of the criminal justice system. Thus her interest was piqued at an early age. Among her earliest achievements, she became the youngest policewoman ever hired by the Seattle police department. she also obtained a degree in creative writing from the University of Washington. Thus, in regard to her future career, the stage was set.

And yet…What were the odds that while volunteering at a crisis hotline in Seattle, a woman with a background in both law enforcement and creative writing would find herself seated next to an apparently congenial, unquestionably nice looking young man who ultimately proved to be one of the most terrifying serial killers of all time? That chance juxtaposition determined the course of Ann Rule’s professional life.

Truly, in the lives of certain people, the workings of the hand of Fate seem clearly discernible. Of course, it helps greatly when the individual in question recognizes the unique set of circumstances and is prepared to act on them.

There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune…



Ann Rae Rule October 22, 1931 – July 26, 2015

The other true crime classic I read that  directly related to the class is one that I had read once before, when it first came out in 1976. I had a feeling Thomas Thompson’s Blood and Money would be worth revisiting. Boy, was it ever. (See the link above to the true crime class.) blood_and_money_dj

So far  this year, I’ve read two additional books in the  true crime genre: This House of Grief by Helen Garner and Ghettoside by Jill Leovy.. Both were gripping narratives replete with tension and heartbreak. Beautifully written, too – that’s true especially of the Garner title. I’ve reviewed both in this space; click on the titles to read those posts.

thishouseofgrief_12  a1mftpympl-_sl15001_

I used Harold Schechter’s True Crime: An American Anthology as the basic text for the true crime course. In preparation for teaching the class in February of this year, I read nearly all of the selections in this 772 page tome, including Schecter’s helpful and illuminating introduction.  Although I’d completed this reading by late fall of 2014, I found that as February drew near, I had to reread everything I’d chosen for the syllabus in order to refresh my memory. (This is part of what made the course prep seem so labor intensive.) So perhaps this particular book does not rightly belong on this list. Yet it so dominated my thought processes over the winter and early spring that I can’t omit mentioning it in this context.  truecrimea1

Two biographies round out my list of great reading in nonfiction: The Death of Caesar by Barry Strauss and Joan of Arc: A Life Transfigured by Kathryn Harrison.

deathofcaesarjacketimage1  51rddlpwhal-_sy344_bo120420320012_

So, what’s up next for me in nonfiction?  joanofarccastor1 What can I say? I’ve been mesmerizedby this woman’s life story since I was a girl. I date that fascination from the time I first stood before this painting in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. (I was eight years old; my mother could hardly wait to show it to me.)


Joan of Arc, by Jules Bastien-Lepage, 1879 [Click to enlarge]


1 Comment

  1. southernfrances said,

    Fascinating interpretation of a mystical experience. Or is it the artist’s foreshadowing of a young girl dreaming of the future’s fate? Art leads to such moving speculation. When God touches a person nothing is ever the same. Yet, in the end, what is lost is found and much, much more.

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