Last year was another outstanding year for my nonfiction reading. I read a little less nonfiction than 2018 but the majority was 4 stars or above, with 5 books getting a perfect rating from me. I wasn’t able to review all of them then so am starting 2020 with 3 options that were good, better, and best.
If you’re a true crime fan then American Predator is a must read. It’s about Israel Keyes, a serial killer who went undetected for decades and who may be responsible for far more deaths than the eight that have been attributed to him. The only thing more disturbing than his crimes is the ineptitude (and possible corruption) of the Alaska police who, despite repeated warnings about Keyes’ intentions, let him kill himself, thereby ending any hope of closing further cases and finding his victims. This is one of those nonfiction books, like Bad Blood and Maybe You Should Talk to Someone that is as compulsively readable as fiction. Except, in this case, not when you’re alone at night.
Burn it Down is an anthology of essays written by women about anger. Anger, with its many forms, expressions, origins, and degrees. Editor Lilly Dancyger chooses from a wide swath of females, showing that there is no one group who owns this space more than another. There is the woman whose disease goes undiagnosed for a decade because none of her doctors were listening. The black woman living with the stereotype of the “angry black woman” to the point that she smothers all emotion. A Muslim American woman who is an outsider both as a Muslim and an American. Or, in a simpler vein, a woman, who like many of us, never felt anger was an acceptable emotion
In truth, I was proud to describe myself in terms of sadness rather than anger. Why? Sadness seemed more refined and more selfless—as if you were holding the pain inside yourself rather than making someone else deal with its blunt-force trauma.
Such a diverse outpouring of stories and eloquence.
Burn it Down is not a read-it-right-through book. It’s something to pick up, absorb, and whose sentences you’ll highlight. I found myself and many of the women I know in its pages.
There have been times in my life when my anger has made me small and hard and brittle, and there have been times when it’s made me expansive and unstoppable, like fire.
In the same way my parents knew exactly where they were when Kennedy was assassinated, everyone I know in my generation can tell you where they were on 9/11/2001. For me, it was a doctor’s office in Salt Lake City, UT. But even with different time zones and people on the West Coast still asleep while the towers fell, there was an immediacy to it. Televised reporting brought it into our lives in a way that overwhelmed the senses. It’s only in Garrett Graff’s The Only Plane in the Sky that I learned just how out of touch the very people experiencing the attacks were. We sat outside and watched, while inside, as it was happening, victims, responders, and even the highest government officials in the country had only fragments of information. Whether it was due to outdated equipment for responders or poor connectivity in secured locations many of the people who lived the event had no idea of its scope or what even happened until they emerged back into the world.
For The Only Plane in the Sky, Graff compiles an exhaustive amount of firsthand accounts from more people than I can name. People who were in the towers and survived, who lived in the area near Shanksville, PA, and who were working at the Pentagon all ‘speak’ in this retelling of a day most of us never thought could happen. It is emotionally charged reading. There is a recollection from a government official, months later, that literally made me close the book and sob.
I highly recommend reading (or listening to) this book as it is not something we should forget. And now there is a generation of young adults who don’t remember it and should be told, if only in the faint hope that we learn from our mistakes.
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