Thursday, December 31, 2015


That college campus rapes are common in this country will surprise no one.  It only makes sense that this would be the case anywhere that so many young people are experiencing sudden personal freedom in an atmosphere chiefly characterized by easy access to alcohol and drugs.  What is shocking and surprising is just how poorly local and campus authorities handle reported assaults.

John Krakauer's Missoula, via a detailed look at the university town of Missoula, Montana, vividly illustrates just how difficult it is for rape victims to get justice in America's courts - especially if their abusers happen to be college athletes of local or national renown.   Missoula, home of the University of Montana, typifies the problem rape victims are likely to encounter in too many college towns across the country, and what Krakauer learned in his investigation of the city is important.  And sadly, what the author found explains why such a low percentage of rape victims even bother to report the assaults they suffer.

There is plenty of blame to go around for this chosen silence, some of it even accruing to the rape victims.  It is all too common that the victim of rape is under the influence of drugs or alcohol to the extent that memory of the rape is clouded and almost dreamlike.  Such victims are often not certain that they do not share some responsibility for the rape, and because the majority of rapes can be characterized as "acquaintance rapes," victims are reluctant to go public with the crime.  They may have known their rapists for years and now find it difficult to ruin the lives of someone they had considered a friend, someone they trusted to protect them, not do the opposite.

Missoula explores the specific cases of several women in that city, women who had the courage to bring charges against those who stole forever their sense of security and confidence in their surroundings.  All of the women whose cases are highlighted struggled with the decision to go public with what happened to them.  In most cases, they hid the truth from their parents and boyfriends as long as they could, and it was only when the psychological damage they suffered became obvious to others that they spoke of what happened to them.  And that is when their problems grew worse.

That is when the women had to deal with Missoula prosecutors who refused to bring a rapist to court unless they believed there was absolutely no way to lose the case.  The Missoula County Attorney's Office, as led by Kirsten Pabst and Fred Van Valkenburg, refused to file charges in the vast majority of rape cases presented to it by the Missoula Police Department for consideration.  Pabst, in particular, seems to have disregarded evidence that indicated a high chance that a crime had occurred because she was more concerned about keeping her personal Win-Loss record as near hundred percent as possible. 

Author Jon Krakauer
Even worse, the women, if those who raped them were University of Montana football players, faced the wrath of the local community.  How dare these women cause the record of the football team to be less than it would have been were the criminals who raped them allowed to remain on the playing field?  The victims were personally shunned and humiliated in public to a disgraceful degree intended to destroy them and to protect the men who raped them. 

Almost unbelievably, many of the people responsible for the horrible miscarriages of justice detailed by Krakauer are still in place in Missoula.  Some, particularly Kirsten Pabst, have actually benefitted from their abuse of the public's trust in them.  Pabst's behavior is so reprehensible and damning that she actively tried to keep Missoula from being published in April of 2015.  Her behavior, however, so greatly benefitted the football fans of Missoula, Montana, that voters there rewarded her with a more powerful position than the one she held at the time of the Department of Justice investigation that condemned her handling of rape investigations.

Missoula exposes the ugly truths about college campus rape.  But the book is also a disgusting reminder of how so many are willing to reward criminal behavior if looking the other way results in more wins for the local college football team -rape victim be damned.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Ebooks with Soundtracks and Sound Effects - Are They for You?

Depending on whom you listen to, ebook popularity is either fading or sales numbers for them have reached a plateau. Either way, that's probably good news for brick and mortar bookstores everywhere.  But don't expect ebook publishers and sellers to just sit back and watch what is happening to ebook sales.  Instead, publishers are looking for new ways to enhance the experience of reading an ebook - and what could be better, some of them say, than sound effects specifically produced for the ebook you are reading?

According to The Independent, popularity of soundtrack enhanced ebooks in the U.K. is second only to their popularity in the United States (where have I been on this one?):
So if ebook popularity has faded slightly, how have soundtracked books captured a growing market? Their growth, it seems, goes hand in hand with a resurgence in audiobooks and podcasts. Both have been given a leg up by improved access through iTunes and landmark releases such as the now-classic Stephen Fry-read Harry Potter series and true-crime genre-reinventing podcast Serial. It appears that we still want in-depth, long-form stories, simply in new and different ways from the printed page alone. Some 10 per cent of those surveyed by Nielsen said that they were willing to pay extra for new and interactive ebook features.

Not everyone agrees with the concept, however, and some of spoken out rather loudly about the BookTracks app.  Here's a bit of what Tech Crunch's  Paul Carr has to say:
It, hopefully, goes without saying (not least because so many people have already said it) that Booktrack is a laughably stupid idea. The whole point of reading fiction is to remove the reader from reality — for the physical book to drop away and the sights, sounds and smells of the story to play out in the mind. As such, soundtracks and animated arrows urging you to read at a fixed (“it’s adjustable!” the PR will be yelling at this point) pace are an unnecessary and unwelcome distraction. In fact, they’re so at odds with the way that people read books that one has to wonder whether the company’s founders have ever done so.
YouTube Demo Video

So there you have the two very different points-of-view. I do think I'm going to download the app to see for myself if this is something I might on occasion enjoy. Take a look at the YouTube promotion for BookTrack and read the two articles, and if anyone out there tries it, or has already tried it, please do let me know what you think of the app - and the overall experience.  Thanks.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Trump and Carson Books Displayed in Barnes & Noble Humor Section Display

I've seen this kind of thing before, but at Barnes & Noble it has always turned out to be a customer prank rather than something condoned by store management.  It's sort of like when I found about a dozen bibles in a Fiction display at my own local B&N one time - the manager almost hyperventilated when she saw them there while rather loudly explaining to me that customers sometimes used her displays to make points of their own.  

Found this on Twitter feed of @robbymyers who believes the book display reflects a liberal bias on the part of Barnes & Noble.  I really doubt that's the case but I have seen similar things happen at independent bookstores that probably do reflect what Robbie is referring to here.  I'm much more willing to laugh at this kind of thing (because it really is kind of funny) than to tolerate a bookstore burying deep in the stacks somewhere those books its management disagrees with - and that happens all the time.

. and in the humor section at Miami Barnes & Noble, clearly no liberal bias .

Monday, December 28, 2015

My Name Is Lucy Barton

Elizabeth Strout’s My Name Is Lucy Barton may not be the thickest novel you read in 2016, but it is a novel whose deceivingly simple plot and characters are likely to stick in your mind for many months to come.  This is especially true of Lucy Barton and her mother, two women whose relationship can best be characterized even on its best day as “frosty.”  When faced with a rare opportunity finally to reconcile their differences, these two are as likely to make things worse as they are to make them better.

This is very much Lucy Barton’s story and she tells it in her own words and at her own pace.  Growing up Lucy Barton was not an easy thing to do.  The Bartons were among the poorest of families in little Amgash, Illinois, and everyone knew it – and worse, everyone treated them accordingly.  Lucy, the Barton who escaped Amgash, now lives in New York City with a family of her own. 

Author Elizabeth Strout
Confined to a hospital bed for what to her seems like forever, Lucy is battling a postsurgical infection that refuses to succumb to treatment.  She misses her two daughters terribly and only sees her husband during sporadic, short visits.  But lonely as she is, when she wakes up one day to see her long-estranged mother sitting at the foot of her bed, Lucy hardly knows how to react – or what to say.  All they seem to have in common, really, is a shared memory of the townspeople back in Illinois, and both women find it easier to limit conversation to that safe topic rather than to risk an exploration of what went wrong between them.  Try as she might to break through her mother’s emotional walls, Lucy knows the likelihood of doing so is not high.  

Two of the saddest narrative reflections imaginable say it all:

            “I feel that people may not understand that my mother could never say the words I love you.  I feel that people may not understand: it was all right.”


            “I have no idea if she kissed me goodbye, but I cannot think she would have.  I have no memory of my mother ever kissing me.  She may have kissed me though; I may be wrong.”

Layer by layer, Elizabeth Strout has constructed a haunting novel peopled by what are destined to be two of 2016’s most memorable fictional characters.  My Name Is Lucy Barton is a beautiful book.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

A Tale of Two Bookstores - and Two Countries

I noticed two news stories today about bookstore censorship.  One took place in Saudi Arabia, the other in New York - and although they are spookily similar in nature, their outcomes are gratifyingly different.  

Example of an illustrate Quran
In New York, a man confronted bookstore employees about the illustrated Quran that was on display in the shop.  According to an Albany television station, the man threatened to put the bookstore "out of business" is his demand was not met.
According to Morrow, a man came into his Saratoga Springs store on Tuesday and threatened to put the company out of business because they had an illustrated copy of the Qur’an on display. He says the man, who he didn’t name, berated an employee and then called the Manchester store and yelled at another worker.
Originally, Morrow wasn’t going to say anything about the incident, but decided to, saying in part, “If terrorism succeeds in closing our minds off, terrorism has succeeded. No more shots need to be fired.”
“We’re engaged in a civil society here and we have to have this conversation,” said Morrow. “If people are going to do this then other people need to know about it.”
And in Saudi Arabia, it is the unpredictable Donald Trump whose book is being kept out of bookshops.  According to the story on, Trump's book will not be offered for sale in at least one of the two largest bookstore chains in that country.
Saudi Arabia-based retail chain Jarir Bookstore has removed books written by U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump from its shelves, it said on Tuesday, part of a backlash against his proposal to stop Muslims from entering the United States.
Jarir, part of one of the Gulf kingdom’s biggest retailers, Jarir Marketing Co, announced the move in a Twitter response to another user’s call for a boycott of the Republican front-runner’s books.
“Jarir Bookstore sells books by Donald Trump, who is known for making comments offensive to Muslims and Islam. We ask them please to remove them,” wrote Saudi user Mogatah on Dec. 19, along with a photo of the Arabic-language edition of Trump’s 2009 book “Think Like a Champion.”
“The copies have been removed, we thank you for your comment,” Jarir replied, three days later.
Frankly, I'm not surprised that Trump's book is being outlawed in countries like Saudi Arabia, but I am happy to see that the New York bookstore did not succumb to a similar demand to remove its Quran display.  The societal differences are obvious.  

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Movies for Readers: Philomena

My weekly "Movies for Readers" offering this time around is a little different in that it was released two years ago and is fairly available right now from sources like Showtime on Demand and Amazon's Prime Video.  

The movie is based upon Michael Sixsmith's 2009 book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee, the true story of what happened to an Irish teenager and her baby when the girl became pregnant out of wedlock.  It is a tragic story that still manages to have somewhat of an uplifting ending, and it is beautifully acted by Judi Dench (who plays the woman fifty years after her pregnancy) and Steve Coogan (who plays Michael Sixsmith).  

Below are pictures of the actors, the people they portray, and the book upon which the movie is based.

Michael Sixsmith and Philomena Lee

Judi Dench and Steve Coogan

Philomena's child and his sister

Movies for Readers No. 10

Friday, December 25, 2015

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

It's Christmas Eve Eve - and Calvin Is Worried

It's Christmas Eve Eve and Calvin is getting just a little bit concerned.

Maybe it's because of this year's letter to Santa:
Dear Santa. Why is your operation located at the North Pole? I’m guessing cheap elf labour, lower environmental standards, and tax breaks. Is this really the example you want to set for us impressionable kids?  


(My plan is to put him on the defensive before he considers how good I’ve been.)

(Click on the comic strip for a slightly larger version.)

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

2015 Notable Deaths in the Literary World

I've been known to pull together rather extensive "Notable Deaths" lists in the past, but this year I'm going to limit the list to major (or best selling) authors and a few others whom I will especially miss.  As always, I fear inadvertently leaving out someone whose death I missed hearing about, so if you think other authors belong on the list please let me know in the comments section of this post.

2015 Deaths

E. L. Doctorow
"Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia" .

Doris Lessing
"There is only one real sin and that is to persuade oneself that the second best is anything but second best."

 Ruth Rendell
"I think about death every day - what it would be like, why it would happen to me. It would be humiliating to be afraid."

 G√ľnter Grass 
"As a child I was a great liar. Fortunately my mother liked my lies. I promised her marvelous things."

Henning Mankell
"I am not afraid of dying. I have lived longer than most people in the world. What scares me is to have a body that works but a brain that is waving goodbye. If that happens, I hope I die quickly."

Oliver Sacks
“Language, that most human invention, can enable what, in principle, should not be possible. It can allow all of us, even the congenitally blind, to see with another person’s eyes.” 

Anne Rule
"I always say that bad women are fewer than men, but when you get one, they're fascinating because they're so rotten."
Terry Pratchett
"The trouble with having an open mind, of course, is that people will insist on coming along and trying to put things in it."

Peter Dickinson 
“I think Peter Dickinson is hands down the best stylist as a writer and the most interesting storyteller in my genre.” Sara Paretsky

Colleen McCullough  
"That's the purpose of old age... To give us a breathing space before we die, in which to see why we did what we did."

Jackie Collins
"I have this theory that people in Hollywood don't read. They read 'Vanity Fair' and then consider themselves terribly well read. I think I can basically write about anybody without getting caught."

And then there are these three men whose talents I admired.  I will miss each of them.

B.B. King
"When I do eventually drop, I pray to God that it'll happen in one of three ways. Firstly, on stage or leaving the stage, then secondly in my sleep. And the third way? You'll have to figure that out for yourself!"
 Yogi Berra
"You should always go to other people's funerals; otherwise, they won't come to yours."

Percy Sledge
"'Cover Me.' 'Take Time To Know Her.' 'Warm and Tender Love.' 'Out Of Left Field.' 'Dark End Of The Street.' 'Tears Me Up.' 'My Special Prayer.' All points back to one song. 'When A Man Loves A Woman.' The Grand-daddy to all of my songs. The boss of all of my songs. I have great respect for that song. Always will."