194 items found for ""
- From the Trenches of Depp-Heard
It's episode 12 of Smoke 'Em If You Got 'Em, on location at the Depp-Heard trial in Fairfax, Virginia From a motel room five miles from the site of Depp v. Heard in suburban Virginia, Sarah describes the fascinating culture around the courthouse: The mother-daughter fans screaming as the star waves from his black SUV; the hard-cores who queue up before midnight in a parking garage to secure a spot at the next day’s trial; the YouTube brand builders; the Depp lawyers who have become online folk heroes; and the lone crumpled figure who could only be a journalist (a French one). But what Sarah doesn’t see is American reporters. She and Nancy have some ideas why. We discuss the suffering extended and inflicted, by the high-profile sobriety coach charging Depp $100k/month even though the star was still smoking weed and drinking wine; by a longtime friend and former band member who encouraged Depp to go to AA but found himself cut off after he testified in the UK trial; of Amber Heard captured on a security camera, canoodling with James Franco in the elevator of Depp’s penthouse. Is Sarah right when she wonders if Depp has much in common with his iconic character, Edward Scissorhands, in the way he “hurts everything he touches”? Is Nancy speaking common sense when she says she finds “people using misery as a commodity to further their own agenda beyond disgusting”? Plus Sarah meets a heroic presence, the one journalist she was hoping to find. Want to talk Depp v. Heard (or anything else?). Head over to Smoke ‘Em’s first discussion thread! Episode notes: “Amber Heard: I spoke up against sexual violence — and faced our culture’s wrath. That has to change.” ACLU-written Opinion piece by “Amber Heard” (WaPo) “Amber Heard and the Death of #MeToo,’ by Michelle Goldberg (NYT) “The ACLU Says It Wrote Amber Heard's Domestic Violence Op-Ed and Timed It to Her Film Release,” by Audra Heinrichs (Jezebel) Johnny Depp slams cabinets while Amber Heard films and asks, “What happened?” Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget, by Sarah Hepola “Digging JFK’s Grave Was His Honor,” by Jimmy Breslin Nick Wallis, “Reporting Depp v. Heard” (YouTube) What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? trailer, 1993 “Undercover on High School’s Ritziest Glitziest Night: It All Goes Down at Prom” by Sarah Hepola (Austin Chronicle) Hot Topic Johnny Depp T-shirt “Ellen Barkin Said Johnny Depp Was a ‘Jealous Man’ During Their ‘Sexual’ Relationship,” by Victoria Bekiempis (New York) Correction: Nancy thought the name of the recent series Barkin starred in was “Animals.” It was in fact “Animal Kingdom.” Management regrets the error. “Who Is Camille Vasquez? 5 Things to Know About Johnny Depp’s Lawyer Amid Amber Heard Defamation Trial,” by Miranda Siwak (Us Magazine) Amber Heard and James Franco Cuddling in Elevator (Law & Crime channel) Scenes from a celebrity trial, including the accidental star James from Court. Clockwise, from top left: “James from Court”; Johnny Depp supporter brings his parrot, Lulu; dog lined up for Johnny’s morning arrival; Depp supporter Outro music: “21 Jump Street” theme song, Holly Robinson
- The Oscars Re-Embrace Their Stupid Rules
You know the dopey old trope "Just because you hang it on the wall, does that make it art?"? The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is again insisting that if you don't show it in a movie theater, it isn't a movie. As awful as the whole COVID thing has been—and make no mistake, it’s been awful—it did force some long overdue changes for the betterment of society, perhaps least among them the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences finally doing away with its anachronistic requirement that a film must be shown in a theater to qualify for Oscar consideration. Now, with the worst of COVID seemingly behind us, the Academy has decided to reinstate its dopey rule. The official press release from the Academy states that “A feature film must have a qualifying theatrical release.” OK, so what exactly constitutes a “qualifying theatrical release”? According to Academy rules, a “picture must have been publicly exhibited for paid admission in a commercial motion picture theater in one of the six qualifying U.S. metro areas [LA, NYC, SF, Chicago, Miami, Atlanta] for a run of at least seven consecutive days with at least one screening a day, prior to public exhibition or distribution by any nontheatrical means. The picture also must appear in the theater listings along with the appropriate dates and screening time(s).” Why? Does being projected on a screen in a theater where tickets for seats are exchanged for money somehow magically confer upon a piece of video storytelling the magical essence that elevates it from mere television to that holiest, most sanctified of art forms, “a movie”? What complete and utter bullshit. This is what economists call a barrier to entry, little more than a ball-ache created by insiders to make it more difficult for outsiders to compete. As though it isn’t already hard enough to make a film that is good enough to be considered for an Oscar, you then have to go out a spend a few extra thousand dollars booking a theater and make sure your movie is in the theater listings. Making this new rule even bullshittier is the fact that a huge portion of Academy Awards voters don’t watch a huge portion of the movies under consideration in a movie theater. Academy members, like the rest of us, do a lot of their movie viewing from the comfort of their home. Do some of them have home theaters with screens bigger than that tiny third auditorium in your local arthouse theater? Yeah, probably. But can they really be considered to have seen the movie if they didn’t pay for their ticket? If their viewing didn’t appear in theater listings? If the film didn’t show in their screening room for seven days straight? And why would the Academy want to force distributors and theaters to give up valuable screen time to movies that often don’t do very well at the theater until after they’ve won something? Films with Oscar aspirations so often get stuck in a theater for a one-week qualifying run, nobody outside of Los Angeles and New York gets to see it, then it wins an award or two, heads back to the theater and finally people are interested. What part of that system is working and what is it accomplishing? This leads to another problem that should concern the Academy: films that are up for big awards that no one has seen. How excited was Middle America going to get about Julianne Moore’s 2015 nomination for Still Alice when none of them had even had the chance to see a commercial for it, much less the film itself? In a perfect world, a movie should be seen on a big screen in a theater with a rapt audience, but that’s not the world we live in. Most folks have their own private film viewing taxonomy, films that breaks down to something like: theater, home, phone (watching a movie on a phone is a garbage move, by the way) and airplane. If a film manages to knock your socks off, who cares where you watched it? Making a great piece of art should be enough, and if the voters want to punish a film for having not been blessed with the cinematic transubstantiation that is the end result of a theatrical run, that’s their prerogative, though it’s tough to imagine a bunch of artists ignoring a fellow artist’s triumph because it wasn’t shown in a theater. Besides, any longtime subscriber to Netflix or Amazon could assure the Academy that these upstarts' forays into film production pose little risk to their little awards fiefdom. And with Oscars viewership having fallen by two thirds in the last 20 years, the last thing the Academy should be doing is discouraging people from coming to their party, lest they hasten their own obsolescence.
How the Duke Lacrosse scandal foreshadowed our current predicament, and why a fraud at "Grey's Anatomy" makes Nancy want to cry On the latest Smoke 'Em If You Got 'Em pod: Sarah goes deep on the Duke lacrosse rape scandal — the complicated true story, the troubled woman who filed the claims, the abdication of due process, and the false narrative promoted by key figures including Duke faculty members calling themselves the “Group of 88.” The goal was to exact justice “regardless of the truth.” A bunch of preppy white athletes needed a historical comeuppance, though it didn’t work out like that. “People who lie endorse lies,” Nancy suggests, before giving a big huzzah to a recent New Yorker piece asking why we valorize trauma and what happens when we do. In her own reporting, Nancy has seen how lies like that result in dead kids. Nancy engages in some mouth-frothing over the Fabulist of the Week, the Grey’s Anatomy writer Elisabeth Finch (in scrubs, above) who faked cancer for years, while Sarah shares a story about her run-in with New York Times fabulist Jayson Blair, and we bond over childhood fibbing. Ten minutes after wrapping, Nancy remembered the phrase she couldn’t quite get during the episode: “Don’t fight for your limitations.” Don’t! Listen here or on Smoke 'Em If You 'Em on Substack! Episode notes: “The Duke Lacrosse Scandal in Retrospect,” by Geoffrey Shullenberger (Wesley Yang Substack) Group of 88 (Wikipedia) “The Readers Strike Back,” by Gary Kamiya (Salon) Things Fell Apart, podcast by Jon Ronson Fantastic Lies, ESPN 30 for 30 episode on Duke lacrosse scandal “Trayvon Martin, 10 Years Later,” Glenn Loury and John McWhorter on The Glenn Show (YouTube) What Killed Michael Brown? documentary by Shelby Steele and Eli Steele “The Case Against the Trauma Plot,” by Parul Sehgal (New Yorker) The Big Book, by Bill W. “Beyond ‘Infinite Jest’” by DT Max (New Yorker) William Langewiesche, author page at the Atlantic “How Childbirth Caused My PTSD,” by Taffy Brodesser-Akner (Salon) “Scene Stealer: The True Lies of Elisabeth Finch, Part 1,” by Evgenia Peretz (Vanity Fair) “To Tell You the Truth: As the journalism world feeds on its own frenzy, SARAH HEPOLA confronts an intimate past with exposed Times fabricator Jayson Blair, and her own history of exaggeration.” (The Morning News) “Blair’s Battle With the Bottle” (NY Post) “No Exit Plan: The Lies and Follies of Laura Albert, a.k.a., JT Leroy,” by Nancy Rommelmann (LA Weekly) “Sacrificing Rebecca: For 14 years, Laurie Recht struggled with her daughter's illness. At least, that's what she wanted people to believe,” by Nancy Rommelmann (Willamette Week) “How ‘Leonardo DiCaprio’ Scammed a Houston Widow Out of $800K by Claiming He Was Trapped in Scientology” by Tony Ortega (Daily Beast) “Who’s the Bad Art Friend?” by Robert Kolker (NYT Magazine) Sam Houston statue in Huntsville, TX Outro music: “Relator” by Pete Yorn and Scarlett Johansson
- ASK A JEW: We Will Happily Replace You!
In episode 24, Yael prepares for the arrival of the great Rebbe aka Chaya Leah, and the girls plan all the Jewy stuff they will do on the Lower East Side. Also: A Jewish version of “the purge,” body shaming, loving yourself, and other lies. Want more Ask a Jew? Sign up on Substack, askajew.substack.com And leave us a review on Apple podcasts if you so please!
- McDonald’s Exits Russia. Russia Shrugs.
Just weeks after shuttering operations across Russia, McDonald’s has announced they are pulling up stakes and shipping out, and that they plan to sell all ~850 locations, and strip them of all branding, a process known as “de-Arching" (yes, with a capital "A"). “The humanitarian crisis caused by the war in Ukraine, and the precipitating unpredictable operating environment, have led McDonald’s to conclude that continued ownership of the business in Russia is no longer tenable, nor is it consistent with McDonald’s values,” read the official press release. The company also said it hoped to sell its entire Russian operations to a single buyer and noted their commitment to continue paying all 62,000 employees, of whom they are "exceptionally proud," until such a sale is complete. On the one hand, hooray for freedom of association and the exertion of soft power; on the other hand, this move may in fact be a net positive for the Russian people. It’s almost like a trolley problem in reverse: a Big Mac is heading toward a Russian artery, but if you pull the switch to divert the Big Mac, the Russians might go murder Ukrainians and try to steal their land. In his 1999 book The Lexus and the Olive Tree, professional thumbsucker Thomas Friedman put forth the Golden Arches Theory of Conflict Prevention, which states simply that “No two countries that both have a McDonald's have ever fought a war against each other.” The thrust of the idea was that any two countries with a middle-class sufficiently stable to support McDonald’s had no need of anything so ugly as war. Forget for a moment that McDonald’s’ international operations only started in 1967 with the opening of a restaurant in Richmond, British Columbia, and thus this theory covered, at the time of it was published, just 32 years of human history. The theory managed to hold up until February, when Russia invaded Ukraine, home to about 100 McDonald’s. Russians seemed to take the news in stride. “I think it’s completely normal given that McDonald’s didn’t bring any health benefits to our people, our population. It’s all for the best. I think they’ll be replaced by some new interesting café, new place, new restaurant,” one man on the street told the BBC. Another was confident that the Russian economy would not falter. Which is all true enough, though the departure of McDonald’s is symptom of a larger problem than where to get 1,500 empty calories for just a few rubles. McDonald’s is a moneymaking machine that tolerates in the name of profits some rather unseemly regimes, with 3,500 Mickey D’s in China, another 300 or so in Saudi Arabia. The real problem is that if McDonald’s—which said the divestment will result in a write-off of $1.2 billion -- has decided that the Russian juice just ain’t worth the squeeze, what outside company or investor is gonna look at the Russian market and see opportunity?
- The SuperMax Anger at Bill Simmons Isn't About Money
Joel Embiid has added his voice to the chorus of NBA stars calling out Bill Simmons for ripping on Houston Rockets rookie Jalen Green, and calling into question the media mogul’s qualifications for voting on NBA awards, and, by extension, effecting the salary prospects of the league’s players. Don’t think for a moment that this is about money. During the April 13 episode (skip to the 22:30 mark) of The Bill Simmons Podcast, Simmons and guests Kevin O’Connor and Wosny Lambre were discussing the upcoming play-in matchups, when O’Connor mentioned his fondness for the New Orleans Pelicans’ Herb Jones. Simmons cut in with “Our guy, Herb Jones,” and Wos chimed in that Jones was the “hipster Twitter favorite, for sure.” Simmons then mentioned that he had Jones on his ballot for First Team All-Rookie. “I put him over Jalen Green. Fuck Jalen Green. I don’t care if you’re scoring 40 points, your team is 19-60—Congratulations. Herb Jones was guarding dudes in real games. Now the Houston people are gonna be mad at me, I’m sorry, I like winning players, I’m sorry. Jalen Green will get there, it’s just, that team was 21-61 this year or whatever.” Golden State Warrior Draymond Green (no relation to Jalen) took to Instagram to grouse about Simmons, saying “How is it that this guy has a voice in deciding if Jalen Green will qualify for a super max deal… What work has he done in this life that qualifies him to have a say in an NBA players salary?” That post appears to have been deleted, but in another post, a clip from The Draymond Green Show, decries voters’ ability to hurt a player’s earning potential and maybe even Hall of Fame candidacy. Jalen Green, for his part, seemed to take things more or less in stride. Asked on Tuesday how he felt about losing out to Nikola Jokic for the MVP Award, Embiid pivoted to his concerns about the voting process, specifically how a man like Simmons could have so much power. “Sounded like he had a grudge against somebody, he’s saying ‘f Jalen Green.’ So, if we gonna allow this type of person to vote on these awards, that’s not fair. What if Jalen Green was in a position to earn a super-max (contract) or an all-star appearance…. I don’t think it’s fair.” Just to be clear, Simmons’ vote has no bearing on Green’s supermax eligibility, because the All-Rookie team has no bearing on it, but they’re appears to be a worry that Simmons will hate on the kid long enough that he can screw up his supermax chances with an All-NBA Team vote or the like. Is it fucked up that Simmons has any direct influence, no matter how minor (Simmons is just one voter out of a pool of 100), on a player’s future earnings? Maybe. But what that argument ignores, and which reveals a glaring hole in it, is the fact that while Simmons may potentially hurt one player’s fortunes, he will inevitably help another’s—he’s gotta vote for somebody, somebody who could potentially benefit from a supermax bump. Also, that bump is a binary proposition, you get it or you don’t. It’s not as though you get more money based on how many votes you get—you get it or you don’t, irrespective of vote totals. Also, who the hell do these guys think should be voting on these awards, if not Bill Simmons and his fellow journalists? The Fans? Coaches? Players? Owners? There isn’t a single demographic that would be free from bias. You could always change the criteria for a supermax, base it entirely on a statistical formula, but if you think your average star athlete has contempt for sportswriters, just get them going on stat nerds. Take Draymond on a tour to meet every teams’ army of quants, the pencil-necked geeks who cook up the formulas that teams use to identify the best players, and he’ll be begging for the return of Bill Simmons. Then there’s the question of whether or not Simmons is correct in his assessment of Green as a basketball player. There were 19 rookies this past season who logged enough minutes to qualify for the scoring title, and among those dudes, Green was second in points per game (17.3), and seventh in both rebounds (3.4) and assists (2.6), which, on the face of it suggests that Green may well have been among the top 5 rookies. But if you drill down into the advanced metrics, Green’s standing looks very different. Among this year’s 19 rookies, Green ranks 14th in Win Shares; 15th in WS/48; 16th in Value Over Replacement Player; 13th in Box Plus/Minus; and 8th in Player Efficiency Rating (PER). If you limit the pool to just the guards in this rookie class, Green only cracks the top 3 in one category, PER. And focusing on advanced defensive metrics really makes Green look bad, as he finished dead last among rookies in Defensive Win Shares, Defensive Box Plus/Minus and Defensive Rating, with the latter estimating he allowed 120 points per possession. In fact, Green ranked dead last among all NBA players who qualified for the scoring title. To Simmons’ point about Greens scoring prowess, Green was on fire over the last seven games of the season, scoring 30+ six times and averaging 29.3ppg, but his team lost all seven games. Maybe the most damning evidence against Green is the fact that the Rockets were 12-55 (.179) with him and 8-7 (.533) without him. All this bitching about Simmons isn’t about money and it’s not about basketball. It’s about feelings, an issue that has been brewing for a while now. At the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in 2019, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver expressed concern for the mental wellbeing of his players. "We are living in a time of anxiety," Silver said. "I think it's a direct result of social media. A lot of players are unhappy." And that was before Covid. Bake in all the sickness, lost loved ones, lockdowns, the lost wages, and you’ve got a generation of young NBA players who are understandably miserable—just like the rest of younger Americans (yes, Embiid is Cameroonian, but he’s been in the States since he was 16). There’s one other thing Draymond and Embiid are overlooking, and that’s the fact that Simmons actually likes Jalen Green. Was Simmons wrong to simply declare “Fuck Jalen Green”? Yeah, probably, but you could hear the laughter in his voice and his colleagues responded accordingly. But he went on to praise Green. After Simmons’ tirade, O’Connor came to the kid’s defense, and Simmons was quick to concede O’Connor’s point. O’Connor: “When I look back at my (All-Rookie) ballot years from now, I think what I might regret most, Bill, even though I love Herb Jones so much, Jalen Green was awesome.” Simmons: “He was! I agree…. I’m pro Jalen Green, I just didn’t think he was one of the best five rookies. But we also had an iconic rookie class. I think that was one of the best rookie classes we’ve had.” It’s clear that the current generation of NBA stars is deep in their feels and has had enough of our bullshit—Simmons’, yours, mine… and who can blame them. The players and the league have finally decided to take a stand against the abuse that comes raining down on them and their families, as fans are getting booted from arenas with some regularity. Players have had enough. Simmons certainly could’ve expressed his preference for Jones over Green without f-bombing the kid, but let’s not pretend this is about money or Simmons’ basketball judgment.
- Hollywood's New McCarthy Era
On latest Smoke 'Em If You Got 'Em pod, Frank Langella and Fred Savage get poleaxed for vague reasons because "intention doesn't matter," while Sarah and Nancy discuss the expanding definition of abuse Nancy and Sarah tackle the curious case of Frank Langella, the celebrated actor fired from Netflix’s Fall of the House of Usher after a young actress complains about an on-set interaction, while Fred Savage gets disappeared from The Wonder Years reboot for “abusive behavior,” though we’re not sure what kind. On the Depp-Heard beat, Nancy and Sarah consider body language in the courtroom, “mutual abuse,” the problem with psychiatric diagnoses, and why women are the most complicated characters. Sexy selfies are discussed, but not enough (future episode!). Meanwhile, the fire over Roe v. Wade keeps raging, but Sarah finds hope and wisdom in another podcast, and Nancy has a message for anyone who thinks motherhood is the end of freedom. Also, Sarah rewatches Citizen Kane, prompting the memory of Orson Welles commercials for Ernest & Julio Gallo wine, though it turns out to be Paul Masson, but we’re not sure Welles remembered that either: Episode notes: Conor Friedersdorf’s The Best of Journalism Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann Orson Welles on Woody Allen, Elia Kazan, Jean-Luc Godard, etc. (twitter thread) Dorothy Comingore, exiled actress from Citizen Kane (Wikipedia) Wanderer by Sterling Hayden “Fired by Netflix, Frank Langella Refutes Alleged Allegations of ‘Unacceptable Behavior.’” (Deadline) “Netflix’s Big Wake-Up Call: The Power Clash Behind the Crash” (Hollywood Reporter) “It's Official: Linguistic Intent No Longer Matters at The New York Times” (Matt Welch, Reason) “The disturbing story behind the rape scene in Bernardo Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris, explained” (Vox) “CBS Studios’ ‘Last Tango in Paris’ Series to Focus on Maria Schneider’s Perspective on Controversial Production” (Hollywood Reporter) Nick Wallis on Depp v. Heard (YouTube) “Johnny Depp, Amber Heard and the harmful logical fallacy of ‘mutual abuse’” (Lux Alptraum, Think) “Legally, Dirty, Blonde” podcast Fleishman Is in Trouble: A Novel by Taffy Brodesser-Akner The Unspeakable Podcast, with Meghan Daum: “The future of abortion: Frances Kissling on Moving Forward in a Post-Roe World” “How Dare They!” Andrew Sullivan, Weekly Dish Christopher Hitchens’ “The Poison Chalice” (YouTube) Corrections: Did Justice Alito perform abortions? Not according to Wikipedia Cheryl Tiegs, Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition Outro song: “Starry Eyes” by The Records Smoke 'Em If You Got 'Em says, subscribe please!
- The Kids Are Not Alright
In episode 1 of See You Next Tuesday, their new (mostly) weekly noon-time (EST) live YouTube broadcast, Nancy Rommelmann and Matt Welch talk about the damage done to kids by terrible pandemic policies, from masking to school closures to officials that sacrificed the well-being of children for political gain and the culture wars. Also! Some Substack news. Audio only? Sure Join us each Tuesday at noon EST for the live broadcast and chat, at the Paloma Media YouTube channel The Fifth Column podcast on Substack Smoke 'Em If You Got 'Em on Substack
- ASK A JEW: Abortions For Some, Miniature American Flags For Others
The girls talk a bit about abortions but don’t worry, they quickly move on to the holocaust. Also, Chaya Leah tries to educate Yael on upcoming Jewish holidays (the next one involves cheese!), Yael talks about Israeli Memorial Day (no cheese), and much much more! Sign up on Substack, askajew.substack.com And leave us a review on Apple podcasts if you so please.
- Thirteen True Crime Books That Get It Right
All stories are worth telling well, but especially the difficult ones, when we need the writer's assurance as we walk down the dark passage It occurred to me this past Saturday, as I was cleaning up after an impromptu gathering of Fifth Column fans that resulted in my place smelling like McSorley's and the coat hooks being ripped off the wall (?), that when I offered up a list of our favorite true crime books, I did not give any hint as to why they were favorites. Actually, that's not true; I realized at the time I should have offered even a capsule something something, but I was impatient, maybe I had some baking to do, whatever the case, I am now on the Amtrak riding north up the Hudson - a trip I highly recommend; grab a window seat - and will tell you why we love these books. One I have not read; Helter Skelter was Sarah Hepola's offering, but I've read the others, some more than once, and they have in common what a listener of my podcast recently said in the comments: "It makes me think and feel without telling me what to think or feel." Yes, exactly, for always, amen. This approach becomes a little tricky when you're dealing with true crime, when there are people doing very obviously terrible things, things we fear and condemn. This leads to a lot of blunt renderings; the literary equivalent of a strobe light flashing HATE THIS PERSON NOW on the killer. While I've read a few of these pulp paperbacks myself (and also admit to having watched maybe every episode of Cold Case Files, mostly while baking and in large part because I have a crush on Bill Kurtis's voice), the indelicacy with which the stories are sometimes handled crosses over into sensationalism, deliberately so, something I cannot have much regard for. (And for more on that, cue up to 52:40 of episode 7 of Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em, at which this essay is cross-posted, to hear some opinionating on the murder-as-snack podcasts out there.) All stories are worth telling well, but maybe especially the difficult ones, when we need the writer's steadying presence, the assurance that it will be worth it to walk down this dark passage. We need them to underplay the hand. To talk of monstrous behavior but not monsters, thus caricaturing people in order to jumpstart emotions, which is beneath the reader and maybe beneath contempt. We are talking about murder here. "We're in Krakauer territory, we need you as our guide," my sister-in-law told me, when I was writing To the Bridge, a True Story of Motherhood and Murder. So yes, you want the writer to, in a sense, hold your hand. But they also have a more primary responsibility, one that begins before one word is on the page, to the people to whom the crime has occurred, and to the dead. This requires figuring out what you are doing here - you will absolutely and 100% be told you are a ghoul, a parasite, that you have absolutely no right, that you will only make things worse. You may, during the writing of these stories, wonder if these things are true. But then you realize what you’re writing is not for you, or not anymore, it’s for the reader, and also for something you didn’t know when you started, or maybe you did, which I wrote about in the essay “Atonement for a Murdered Child.” It becomes a question of how we metabolize the murder of children, and here I qualify, other people’s children. I have not experienced the loss of a child and pray I never do, but I stand close to it and have for a long time. Writing organizes and reframes. We get to work out what our responsibilities are. Earlier this year I envisioned someone asking a room, “Who will accompany these children?” and saw that I raised my hand. All of the books below are engaged in the act of remembering. Shot in the Heart, by Mikal Gilmore: Gilmore was 23 when his older brother Gary was executed by a firing squad in Utah, for the murders of two men he’d never met. His execution was a sensation - the first in the U.S. in ten years - as was its method, which Gary himself petitioned for. Mikal Gilmore writes from the rotted core of the family corpus, tunneling through layer upon layer of deceit, cruelty, alcoholism, murder; it’s jarring and terrifying; we feel as though we’re strapped into a car that we know will crash, and does crash, only for it to pick up speed again. And yet Gilmore possesses so much raw ache for his family, even when he’s bewildered and betrayed by them. He’s also a profoundly good writer, and I could easily name the book the best of the best, but really, it’s in its own category. Lost Girls, by Robert Kolker: Bob Kolker, who became a friend after I reviewed Lost Girls and he sent me a thank you note (!), is one of the fi journalists writing today; maybe you read his piece “Who Is the Bad Art Friend?”, which caused a sensation last fall and asks what the writer should always be asking: How do we know what we think we know? Or maybe you read 2020’s Hidden Valley Road, which was an Oprah Book Club pick. Now go read Lost Girls, in which Kolker takes so seriously the obligation of caring for the murdered - in this case, the unsolved cases of missing sex workers, whose bodies kept turning up on a spit of land on the Long Island’s South Shore. The book is both rigorously researched and so, so tender. The series that was made from it is also exceptionally good. Bravo, Bob. Blood Will Out, by Walter Kirn: Soon after Blood Will Out came out (and after I reviewed it), I was assigned to interview Kirn. It was 2014, real bloodbath days for newspapers, and in lieu of finding a cozy office for Kirn and I to speak, my editor at the Oregonian led us to the fourth floor of the iconic building, now denuded of cubicles and furniture. Sitting on two folding chairs, I asked Kirn about the absolute craziness that led him to be taken in, for years, by a con man posing as a member of the Rockefeller clan, a man who was accused of and would later be found guilty of murder. Kirn claimed, and I understand this now more now than I did then, that his life circumstances were such that he allowed the story to pull him places he might otherwise not have, and boy howdy, what a flippin’ ride. Pick this one up and give yourself the day because you are not going to put it down. The Adversary, by Emmanuel Carrere: The most terrifying book I have read, an intimate look into what we sometimes, or what I sometimes, think of as the charming sociopath, the one whose life looks pretty normal from the outside, but inside, civilization is burning, and he or she is the fire starter. The book, which I highly recommend you buy right this minute, involves a family man living on the French-Swiss border, a man whose entire public-facing life is a lie, a man who, on the cusp of being discovered, cannot abide the shame and so decides he will kill everyone who might find him wanting. I cannot do the book justice, just read it; I’ve read it twice (three times?) and am ready to read it again and discuss it with you. Columbine, by Dave Cullen: Talk about the opposite of sensational: Cullen spent ten years looking into the school killings at Columbine, in essence taking a tweezer to every part of this story: the town, the students, the culture, the parents, the nation, and mostly to Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, the young men who massacred 12 students and one teacher at their Colorado high school, before turning the guns on themselves. If collective memory wants to clump Klebold and Harris together, to think of them as joy killers, Cullen says, not so fast. He looks intimately at what brought them to do what they did, and even though we might assume it’s impossible feel one shred of sympathy for these boys, Cullen shows you, at least in the case of Klebold, why this is not so, rendering the book, on many levels, granularly sad for all involved. Down City, by Leah Carroll: In 2010, I read a short essay entitled, “Helped to Heal by a Stranger’s Truth,” written by Leah Carroll, who was looking into the murder of her mother, when Carroll was four years old. I was moved by the piece and, just starting to research what would become To the Bridge, tucked the article into a file. When I was putting the finishing touches on the to-be-published book, I came upon Carroll’s piece and saw she had just published a book on her mother’s murder, which I reviewed for the WSJ, and while I am not exactly sure who contacted whom, Leah and I would become friends. Carroll is searching, of course, for answers about her mother, whom she was told as a child died in a car accident (untrue), but it’s her father into whose life we also walk. Down City is one of the stories I think of as the good ow, they hurt, oh man do they, but it’s the feeling of pushing on a bruise, you can’t stop doing it because there’s part of you that wants to feel the pain. Carroll is also a beautiful writer (and a good Twitter follow), clear-eyed and absolutely unshellacked, from the first sentence of the book - “On the night she died, my mom drove to a motel to buy cocaine with two men” - to the last thing her father says to her, which I am pretty much guaranteeing will both swell your heart and break it. I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, by Michelle McNamara (which I listened to on audio): McNamara, whose work I did not know when she died in 2016, had for years been obsessively investigating the case of the Golden State Killer. After her death, at age 46, people in her world put the last touches on I’ll Be Gone in the Dark; soon after, the killer, who Wikipedia tells me “committed at least 13 murders, 50 rapes, and 120 burglaries across California between 1974 and 1986,” was captured and convicted. The book is very scary, and the reader’s delivery - if you choose audio, here’s a link - perfectly calibrated to deliver the terrifying story. A highly recommended listen. Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland, by Patrick Radden Keefe (ditto, audio): I was driving cross-country in 2019, from Portland to NYC with a stop in Michigan, when I cued up Say Nothing in the car. Oh no, I thought, when I realized the narration was in a fairly pronounced Irish brogue; two minutes later, I could not imagine it being read any other way. This book, my god; what man can do to man, and I of course include women here; the stories they tell themselves to justify murdering their neighbors; the lies they can live with. I knew about as much as the next person about The Troubles in Northern Ireland, if not how incredibly brutal a time it was. Patrick Radden Keefe, a staff writer at the New Yorker, is one of best writers writing; I have another of his books, The Snakehead, which takes place in my neighborhood in Chinatown, queued up to start tonight. Say Nothing will haunt you, and that’s a good thing. The Journalist and the Murderer, by Janet Malcom: Every time I look at the little stack of loose notes I have from reporting in Portland in 2020, I think, yeah, I could throw those away, but look what happened to Janet Malcolm, who was taken to court for libel after not being able to produce some quotes she used (the litigant lost), but I digress! As if the case of Dr. Jeffery MacDonald, charged with the stabbing and bludgeoning deaths of his wife and two young daughters, was not convoluted enough, with MacDonald suing Fatal Vision author Joe McGinnis for in essence not telling the story of the crime the way MacDonald expected he would (cue Joan Didion’s, “Writers are always selling somebody out”), we have Malcolm covering the trial. It’s a quick read, perhaps of particular interest to journalists and anyone who trusts them. (NB: I think MacDonald is kind of right about McGinnis betraying him. Of course the writer has to gain the subject’s trust, but there are honest and dishonest ways to go about this [and for more on that, see In Cold Blood, below] and I might recommend Fatal Vision so you can tell me what you think.) Helter Skelter, by Vincent Bugliosi: Ask Sarah Hepola in the comments! In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote: I think enough ink has been spilled about this one, said to be the true crime book to rule them all. I’m not so sure. Or more specifically, I was sure when I first read it at maybe age 25, but since learning more about Capote’s methods - flattering the killers, papering over the timeline, inventing scenes - and maybe being over-influenced by the 2005 film Capote (RIP Philip Seymour Hoffman), I get a kind of squiggy feeling about the whole thing. That said, the murder of the Clutter family is utterly harrowing, and the work as it stands (and if you squint just a little), a titan of the genre. Crossed Over, by Beverly Lowry: When you write about women who commit murder, as I’ve done more than once, people recommend books about other women who commit murder. I’d seen Crossing Over around but did not pick it up until a friend insisted, saying the relationship between author Beverly Lowry and death row inmate Karla Faye Tucker was an astonishment. She is correct. The care taken here, and what forms between the women, is an act of commemoration, and it is not an exaggeration to say you will come to feel something like love for Tucker, a tiny woman with a horrific backstory, who in 1998 became the first woman to be executed in Texas since 1863. Lowry is a profoundly empathetic writer, and you can feel her saving Lowry the only way she knows how. Under the Banner of Heaven, by Jon Krakauer,: I once read that most people harbor the fantasy of killing someone. Huh, I thought, I don’t have that, until I read Under the Banner of Heaven and had repeated daydreams (usually while running?) of murdering Joseph Smith; of seeing the founder of Mormonism on the scaffold, publicly shamed, killed. His lies and manipulations, the ease with which he made fools and slaves of others in order satisfy his lust and lust for power, made me so angry. People paid with their lives and are paying still, including the infant and her mother in Under the Banner of Heaven, whose throats were slashed in 1984 by two fundamentalist Mormon brothers who felt it was God’s will. Krakauer is at his best here, the work strenuously researched, the writing cinematic. And I just now see it’s been made into a miniseries that premiered last month. Let me know if you’ve watched it and if it’s worthwhile. Thank you for sticking with this extra long book blast! Please share and subscribe, and let me know in the comments of the true-crime books you love; consensus is already leaning Bill James. Maybe we can pick one up and read it together xx