The Road Out of Hell

I have a guilty pleasure. My guilty pleasure is reading and watching any sort of story about serial killers. Criminal Minds is one of my all time favorite shows. I absolutely love the psychological analysis involved in these shows and books that speak of serial killers. Serial killers are a terrible phenomenon within our society, and I think that understanding how these people come to be is essential to understanding human nature. According to one of the books I have been working on (sometimes some books just take years to finish…), humans were not designed to kill each other. This book, “On Killing”, speaks specifically of the psychology of killing within the context of the military. However, regardless of the context, the ideas in “On Killing” can be applied generally. We are not designed to kill each other, and in order to be able commit great violence against another human, we must find someway to detach ourselves for them. Or you have to have psychopathic/sociopathic tendencies like serial killers, which the condition within itself detaches you from the normal human condition; no empathy.

“The Road Out of Hell” is written from the perspective of Sanford Clark who was the nephew of Gordon Stewart NorthCott, the serial killer. The author, who recounts this story from information from Sanford’s son Jerry, does an excellent job of placing you there with Sanford in this hell. In this chicken farm hell, in the middle of nowhere, you begin to understand, how anyone, particularly a child, could be susceptible to the manipulations of a master manipulator like Gordon.

What was most striking, at least for me, was the author’s recounting of how Sanford attempted to learn the many facets of his uncle’s personality in order to better protect himself. It is amazing that at such a young age, Sanford realized that the best way to survive was to respond appropriately to his uncle’s terrifying mood changes and give him what he wanted. I do not think many children would have had the tenacity and intelligence necessary to make it through being assaulted and raped by Gordon, as Sanford did. It is true that Sanford was primed by his mother, who had a comparatively less volatile personality than her brother Gordon. So Sanford was used to reading people’s moods and behaviors for day-to-day survival.

I also appreciated the story’s focus on exploring and sharing the guilt that Sanford felt throughout his life. It truly shows that these sort of atrocities cannot be committed without consequence by a normal human. Furthermore, the mere fact that Sanford believed that he was equally responsible for the murders of all those boys, gives insight on the differences in psychology between Sanford and his murderous uncle.

There were two things about this story that took me most aback, of course apart from the sheer number of boys who were murdered by Gordon. Firstly,  the part that Sanford’s mother played in all this. She is not mentioned often in the story but she was the catalyst to Sanford being sent away with his uncle in California. She must have known about her brother’s illicit activities, but that did not seem to phase her. Even I would argue she was complicit in providing her brother with a new play toy. The other part of this story that left me aghast was the condoning by Gordon’s mother (Sanford’s grandmother) of her son’s violent and illicit behavior.

For those of you who are die hard fans of exposés on serial killers and learning new insights about their behavior and psychology, I would highly recommend this book. It is not for the faint of hearts, not because there is any gore, but mainly because it is hard to imagine a child having to experience any of this.

 

The Round House

My lovely cousin, who is doing a bike tour in South America, recommended I check out the author Louise Erdrich. Following her recommendation I searched Amazon for my potential next ebook buy and realized I had already purchased one of the her books. My cousin and I seem to have very similar taste in books 🙂

“The Round House” was a magnificent book, and really hit home with me. I was fortunate enough to go to school in New Mexico, which is home to the largest reservation in the U.S. (Navajo Nation). Thanks to living in New Mexico I was exposed to the complicated nature of the sovereignty of reservations and the laws that go with it. One of the most startling things I learned, besides the high rates of obesity and diabetes within the Native American population, were the high rates of violence against women on reservations. Even more disconcerting is how much of it is perpetuated by white men. There is an unfortunate loophole where if a white man sexually assaults a tribal woman on reservation land, he can (almost) always get away with it. The tribe doesn’t have jurisdiction over him. The local authorities that are not tribal police, have no jurisdiction on tribal land where the crime is most often committed. So the case falls into the hands of the FBI, where it is almost always forgotten. Indigenous women never get justice.

I attended a TEDxABQ Women event back in 2013 and will always remember the poem that was written and recited by this indigenous woman (to my great dismay I don’t remember her name and can’t seem to locate her information online). Her poem was centered on violence against women like her, and one of her most striking lines was “For a Native woman it’s not a matter of if you will get raped, it is a matter of when.”

Louise Erdrich did fantastic job of displaying the consequences this sort of violence has for not only the victim, but the family as a whole. Sexual violence is a tool used by the patriarchy to control women and the psychological ramifications are not something one can just get over (“Vagina” by Naomi Wolf is a good book to read in regards to the effects of sexual assault).

I felt the choice of experiencing this story through the eyes of Joe, rather than his mother, to be very well chosen. Sexual violence against women is not something that just effects them, it can negatively impact all who are connected to the woman who was the unfortunate victim. I also felt that hearing the state of his mom after the rape through his eyes was all the more poignant.

Joe is a very lovable character, and incredibly real.  He isn’t perfect, he is reckless, he is sometimes an awkward teenage boy, he does things he shouldn’t. At the same time though, you feel how much he loves his parents and his friends. You feel him wanting to be good and to support his family however he can, while also being self-preserving.

The author did an amazing job constructing all the characters and interweaving them all together. Every single character was their own entity but they all somehow related back to each other. No character was created without connecting back to the bigger picture, no matter how small. You didn’t always find out immediately how a certain character was relevant, which kept the mystery alive.

 

The Beauty Myth

Audiobooks take so long to finish sometimes, and by so long I mean almost a year for this one. But I finally finished “The Beauty Myth” by Naomi Wolf on my commute the other day.

Naomi Wolf is most well-known for this book, although I enjoyed her other book “Vagina” just as much, if not more than “The Beauty Myth”.

“The Beauty Myth” is definitely a must read in the spectrum of feminist works. It explores the creation of the beauty myth as a reaction to the shattering of millennial old chains that kept women in their place within society. In other words, as women gained more and more freedom and rights, something had to be created by the patriarchy in order to ensure that we were still controllable. And so the birth of the beauty myth.

The book is extensive and covers many topics, from eating disorders, to plastic surgery, to pornography, to the every changing face of the beauty myth. Naomi Wolf dives into this conception of beauty and what it represents not only for women, but for men as well. I particularly enjoyed the part of the book that was devoted to exploring the ill effects of the beauty myth for even men. It resonated with me that heterosexual relationships (and homosexual relationships, although she did not explore this aspect of the beauty myth) are deeply affected by this myth and that it is to it’s advantage that heterosexual relationships, and in that vein, any male and female relationships always have this facade; a certain disingenuousness. That they always lack a certain intimacy and understanding between the two parties, that men always feel separate from women. I would go so far as to say that Naomi Wolf was illustrating the revolutionary act that is men loving REAL women; male and female romantic relationships that are filled with mutual understanding, friendship, and most of all authenticity. This quote from the book illustrates this idea so well: “Women who love themselves are threatening; but men who love real women, more so.”

True feminist works have to expose the ill effects of the patriarchy on more than just the female body. They have to include a discourse on how men are also negatively impacted by the cultural and systematic patriarchal ideas that plague all aspects of our society. This is key as well in enabling people to better understand what feminism is. Feminism is not supposed to be male hating, feminism is supposed to be inclusive to all. The goal of feminism is to destroy the gender norms that chain both women AND men. The goal of feminism is to create equality between the sexes, and promote the idea that your gender does not determine who you can be, who you should be, or how you should be.

I do have to make a pointed critique on “The Beauty Myth”, particularly in regard to my earlier statement that feminism must be inclusive. I acknowledge that the book covers a breadth of topics, which potentially makes it hard to cover everything. However, I do not think that is a valid excuse to forget that the female experience is not the same across the board, and Naomi Wolf writes as if it was. A trans woman has a very different experience than women born biologically female. Just like a woman of color has a very different experience than a white woman. When writing feminist work one cannot forget the idea of intersectionality. The female experience is not universally the same. Writing as if it was, does the movement as a whole a disservice, and, most importantly, ensures that the lived experiences of most women are ignored and irrelevant. We should be using femaleness as a means to unite us, but we shouldn’t be using it as a means to equate the lived experience of all women. Doing so silences and disenfranchises the very women whom feminism should be serving.

 

 

 

 

Leave of Absence DONE

I unfortunately failed at keeping up with my book reviewing with the end of the semester and other life things occurring. Always breaks my heart when personal life goals get sidelined for other life things, namely graduate school life things for me at this present time.

Now that I have acknowledged that, it is time to renew my vigor with this and continue to work on maintaining a steady flow between both reading and reviewing…they do go hand in hand.

Cheers to accepting that sometimes life does get in the way and that it is okay. Double cheers for not letting life get in the way for too long.

**Also this is my post for officially unveiling my LOGO! Hurray for graphic designers at school who can help you with this stuff.

No Land’s Man

One of the hardest things to navigate on this book reviewing journey are those books that just don’t necessarily inspire you but they are feel good books. Simple, easy reads, after long weeks that give some relief from the daily dramatics of life. They are the books I read to give me energy to read the harder, more emotionally draining books. “No Land’s Man” fits exactly this bill.

Through this feel good book, Aasif is able to take the reader through the intricacies of his own life and how they formed his journey to achieving his career goals. Aasif Mandvi also have a very interesting story and background that make his experience growing up rather unique. He speaks of the struggles that face actors everywhere, particularly actors of color who are cast only into very specific roles. Goes to show that stereotypes reign strong still and that breaking out of them is particularly hard. Can we not all just be humans? A silly question to ask of course, given that would require the dismantling of a structure of oppression that has been going strong for so long now. Regardless, it begs the question as to why people of color cannot just be themselves? Why must their identity and their story be so chained to the color of their skin? Why can’t an actor like Aasif not just play a “normal” role? Why must he always play the middle eastern man? Why must he always have an accent? Why must he be the spokesperson for all muslims? White people are seen as individuals, people of color are seen as part of a group of people.

All in all, I wouldn’t necessarily go out of my way to tell someone to pick up this book, but I do respect the fact that this book adds voice to the otherwise homogeneous narratives that are offered on the struggles of making a career out of acting.

 

Thursdays are for Wishing it was Friday

I did not realize my last blog post was so long ago and that brings me much sadness since it means I am behind in my reading! The end of the semester always has a knack of doing this, but I am looking forward to its end since it will mean I will have more time to do what I enjoy.

For today’s amusement, I have made a meme to speak of the wonders of our dear VP and his amazing way of dealing with the North Koreans.

 

Mike Pence

Breaking Out of Bedlam

As many of you may be aware, the baby boomer generation is going to be the longest living generation as of yet. We are about to face the largest geriatric population we have ever had, and we do not have the necessary infrastructure in place to appropriately respond to this impending public health issue.

“Breaking Out of Bedlam” is very relevant to this broader discussion of living while aging. Too often, in this ableist society, we write people off the moment they become disabled in anyway. This happens across all age groups, but it disproportionately occurs with individuals who are older since aging does usually cause a loss of ease and function. And because of our ableism and ageism we have a tendency to think that once you are considered old, you can’t live life; you just live to live, until death comes knocking at your door.

“Breaking Out of Bedlam” is a perfect example of a book that challenges the notion that life stops once you are over the hill. Through the main character, you get to experience the renewal on life that occurs once you let go of the past.

Cora, the main character, is quite a treat and I appreciated the author’s ability to make her into a real person. Cora does not fit the stereotypical idea of what a “grandma” is. She is not sweet, she is not quiet, and she is not complacent. Although she has lost a lot of agency in her life, due to her addiction and health conditions, she musters the strength to regain this agency and demands (rather connives) to get what she wants.

I know that I do not regard my grandma to be a real person at times. What I mean by that is that I forget she has thoughts, feelings, wants, needs, desires, etc. outside of being my grandma. She has a past that I don’t know about, and can’t hope to ever understand, and she continues to have wants and needs as she grows older that should be respected.

With the destruction of the extended and nuclear family unit, the care of the elderly is being shifted to private and public entities, rather than the family unit. There is nothing necessarily wrong or right about this pattern, it is just where society seems to be heading. However, given that seems to be where the progression is, we need to re-conceptualize our ideas of the elderly. If we are not willing to take responsibility for them, and we leave them to fend for themselves (with some help), then we need to continue to allow them to make decisions for themselves.  Allow them to maintain some independence, agency, and self-dignity.

“Breaking Out of Bedlam” hits the nail on the head on the discourse of how do we care for our aging family members while respecting their wishes. I appreciated that this book was written from the perspective of Cora, instead of maybe her daughter or other children. The older generation still have a voice, and too often, their voice and perspective is forgotten. I believe that is a huge reflection of our culture’s tendency to want to hide the elderly away and forget about them.

The author’s inclusion of the dynamics of her relationship with her children added an additional dimension to the story, that I very much appreciated. Cora’s relationship with her children wasn’t perfect, which she was fully conscious of it. The insight provided as to why Cora was disconnected from her children helps the reader to sympathize with her. Too often mother’s are harshly judged on their capabilities at being a “good mother”. At the end of the day our mothers are just people too, with their own failings and shortcomings. Not every mom is going to be perfect, and some women will fit into the role better than others. Just like any job, some people have more of an aptitude for it than others, and there is nothing wrong with it. Cora is a perfect example of this. Does this mean she couldn’t have tried to be a better mom? Of course not. But I think it is important to understand why she couldn’t be the best mom she could be, and Leslie Larson does an amazing job of revealing the reasons to the reader.

Reading this was just generally fun, so if you are looking for a nice, easy read, I highly recommend. I also, obviously, appreciate that this book is a commentary on very relevant issues; not only impeding public health issues but interpersonal issues.

Book Bargains for April 11th

I would be lying if I said that I hadn’t bought books before today. I will have to be better about sharing when I buy specific books given that these book deals usually only last a day.

However, regardless of my ineptitude of sharing on a consistent basis, today there are some exciting book deals!

  • A Death in the Islands: The Unwritten Law and the Last Trial of Clarence Darrow
    • My dear friend will be going to graduate school in Hawaii so this was quite a timely book deal to appear. I know little of the tumultous history of Hawaii, but I hope that this book will help garner me some insight
  • Three Days in April
    • I had not bought a science fiction book in awhile and this one stood out to me purely because of the tagline of genetically engineered elites versus the unmodified masses. This is something, as someone who studies genetics, that gives me great cause for concern. Excited to see what sort of dystopia this will turn out to be.
  • Freakonomics
    • I actually had already purchased this book but given that it is a very popular book, I thought I would share this opportunity to purchase it for cheap!

Happy Reading!

 

A Long Way Gone

“A Long Way Gone” is actually the second book by Ishmael Beah that I have had the pleasure of reading. I initially fell upon his book “Radiance of Tomorrow” at the beginning of my book journey, and it definitely helped to set the tone in regards to my book choices.

Like many things in the news, boy soldiers was something I heard and read about, but it was such an abstract concept to me. It didn’t sound real, it didn’t sound possible. Furthermore, I lacked the necessary background knowledge on the context of these conflicts that were creating these boy soldiers.

It is a privilege to have been able to sit back and just hear about children being trained to be soldiers by not only rebel groups but the governing bodies of countries. It is a privilege to have been almost totally unaware and uneducated on the plight of people in countries like Sierra Leone. It is a privilege that I try to be aware of and recognize, and books like “A Long Way Gone” and “Radiance of Tomorrow” are instrumental in checking my privilege.

Through “A Long Way Gone”, Ishmael Beah takes boy soldiers out of the abstract and into the realm of reality, giving the term “boy solider” the human faces that have been wiped by such an umbrella term.

There was a bit of controversy regarding this book, primarily because people were skeptical to the actuality of this story. “A Long Way Gone” is intended to be a memoir of Ishmael Beah’s own journey as a child soldier, and there were supposedly conflicts in the timeline. However, regardless of whether or not this story was the true experience of Ishmael Beah, it cannot be denied that he shares with the world a story that must be exposed and shared. He also raises many ethical questions in regards to child soldiers and how they are dehumanized.

Ishmael takes you through the full scope of what being a child soldier entails, including the aftermath. More specifically the rehabilitation that is required and the re-entry into mainstream society.

A lot like “The Memory of Lost Skin”, this book challenged my perceptions of criminality and rehabilitation. With child soldiers, society condemns them and takes away their status as children because of the atrocities they are brainwashed to commit. Nevertheless, at the end of the day these children are STILL children, and if we are to ensure that they do not continue on a violent life course, we need to believe they can be rehabilitated and take the necessary measures to do so. The human brain is most plastic at younger ages, so making efforts to rehabilitate children will help to mitigate the creation of a whole generation of adults that perpetuate violence due to the residual effects of these conflicts.

This is definitely not an easy read, particularly when you realize these are real events that have occurred to thousands of boys in Sierra Leone and other countries. However, if you want to understand what it means to be a boy solider, this would be a good place to start. A good read to accompany “A Long Way Gone” is “What is the What” by Dave Eggers. Compliments well the story of “A Long Way Gone”, and gives a differing perspective, i.e. what happens if you are “fortunate” enough to escape being taken as a child solider. Keep in mind “What is the What” covers an entirely different topic (The Lost Boys of Sudan), but it is essential in helping one realize that all these things are connected and not just isolated events.