I’ve already made a few definite choices. Dorothy Sayers’ Harriet Vane/Peter Whimsy quartet is coming: it will fulfill (indeed overfulfill) my next reading challenge, “three books by the same author,” and also I have meant to read these books for forever and expect them to be a treat which all in all makes them perfect for a vacation.
I’m also taking Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped, because, aptly, I kidnapped it from the shelf of a friend and ought to get it back in a reasonably timely manner.
But I’m still happily contemplating my other choices. Should I, for instance, take along Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers? I feel like The Three Musketeers AND all those Sayers books might be a little too much.
On the other hand, one should never underestimate how much reading time one will have on holiday! And The Three Musketeers is just one big book to haul around, rather than a lot of little books, which is a point in its favor.
Jane Langton’s The Astonishing Stereoscope. I hesitate because perhaps I ought to let more time elapse after reading The Fragile Flag before reading another Langton book? Otherwise it might lead to unfair comparison.
Sheila O’Connor’s Sparrow Road. I found this in a Little Free Library and took it because I was enchanted at having a book from a Little Free Library. No idea if it’s any good. Has anyone read it?
Nancy Bond’s A String in the Harp. Children’s magical time travel fantasy! A genre that has fallen sadly out of fashion in late years, as has portal fantasy. Yes, I probably ought to give this one a go.
Theresa Tomlinson’s The Forestwife. A Robin Hood retelling. Possibly a nitty-gritty retelling with plague and starving to death? Hmm.
Patricia Clapp’s Constance: A Story of Early Plymouth. Massachusetts is on my itinerary. Of course I ought to take this book along.
Now that the season is over, I'm still not sure whether Fuller's decision to stretch the main plot out and pace it the way he does is justified. I mean, we STILL haven't reached the House on the Rock yet, and I assumed that would happen in the third episode, as it's this story's Council of Elrond scene, so to speak. Just think of a LotR tv adaption where they've barely made out of the Shire by the time the season finishes. Otoh, all that Fuller & Co. have added does enrich the story and I wouldn't have wanted to miss it, so.
( And the moral of the story is... )
"Not all women, trees, or ovens are identical." -- Mishna Pesachim 3:4, in the name of R' Akiva
Some women like winter. Some incubate babies
and some have no uterus. Some wear eyeliner.
Some are happiest in Israeli sandals
flaunting our pedicured toes.
Some are stronger than the steel cables
that hold up a suspension bridge.
Some of us are notorious.
Some of us write love poems.
Some of us have roots that go deep
into the earth and will not be shaken.
Some give our fruit and branches
and trunk until we are nothing but stumps.
Some grow thorns to protect ourselves
even if we're vilified for it.
Some women are more like trees
than like ovens: constantly changing.
Some women are nourishing and warm.
Some women burn with holy fire.
Some of us are irreducible, incomparable
like the Holy One of Blessing Herself.
Some women balance justice and mercy.
Some are mirrors: we'll give kindness
as we receive, but injustice causes
our eyes to blaze the world into ash.
This poem arose out of a wonderful line from mishna that I encountered in Heschel's book Torah from Heaven, which I've been slowly reading on Wednesday mornings with my coffee shop hevruta group for well over a year.
Some give our fruit and branches / and trunk until we are nothing but stumps. See Shel Silverstein's The Giving Tree. (Wow, is that one messed-up parable about the damage of boundary-less love.)
[I]njustice causes / our eyes to blaze the world into ash. See the Talmudic story of R' Shimon bar Yochai, who spent twelve years in a cave, and when he emerged, was so outraged by what he saw as people's poor priorities and choices that his very gaze set the world on fire.
For want of me the world's course will not fail;
When all its work is done, the lie shall rot;
The truth is great and shall prevail,
When none cares whether it prevail or not."
-- Coventry Patmore (b. 1823-07-23, d. 1896-11-26), "Magna est Veritas", The Unknown Eros, 1877 [spotted in a tweet by @aristofontes]
The Heiress Effect, by Courtney Milan.
The conceit of this book is brilliant. She has to stay single, for complicated family reasons, but her plan will stop working if she turns down any reasonable offer, so she has to make her person repellent enough to counterbalance the attraction of her considerable fortune -- without letting anyone see that she's doing it on purpose. I love it when the obstacles in a romance are not stupid! I love comedy of manners, when it puts extra constraints on the protagonist's solution space! Especially when the protagonist using a formidable intelligence and an immense amount of work to seem foolish and ineffectual!
I was disappointed that this book ignores the constraints that don't assist the story it wants to tell. (For example, these unmarried gentlewomen would not go to a dinner-party in a house without a hostess. One of them is accompanied by a chaperone, another is with her sister, and that is adequate for excursions in public places in daylight, but after dark, in a house full of young men -- no. It would not do.) These elements might not move the story forward directly, but they would do a lot to make the societal forces our heroes are working against seem powerful and real.
• What did you recently finish reading?
The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo, by Amy Schumer. DNF. It isn't a bad book, but I found myself resenting the idea that it would be one of the approximately 3000 new books I have time left to read. Its greatest appeal for me is how thoroughly Schumer fights against shame. Read for Tawanda book group.
• What do you think you’ll read next?
I put a Climbing Mount TBR challenge on my Habitica To-Do list, but I'm not sure how to tackle it. Two of my book groups are on summer hiatus, so I have room to move. I like melannen's FMK polls, and I keep thinking I could do that too, but when I look at my shelves and ask, "Which of these are you going to read, really?" and "Which of these do you need to keep, really?" my answer is always, "All of them. All. Yes, even that one."
The horrific killing of Catherine “Kitty” Genovese in New York in 1964 inspired research into what’s known in social psychology as the Bystander Phenomenon – our increased disinclination to intervene when in the company of others. That’s because early reports told how 38 witnesses to Genovese’s murder did nothing to help. But in fact it’s now clear that several people did intervene. So the tragedy that inspired research into the Bystander Phenomenon is actually a bad example of that real phenomenon.
But it’s not time yet to leave the sad story alone. As psychologist Saul Kassin documents in Perspectives on Psychological Science, hidden in the story in plain sight all these decades is an example of another important psychological principle: the power of false confessions. Moreover, in another twist, details have emerged recently of how a few days after her murder, Genovese’s killer, Winston Moseley, was initially detained by members of the public – ironically, given how the Genovese case inspired research into bystander apathy, these bystanders chose to act.
Kassin’s perspective on all this is that he has spent years studying the psychology of false confessions, including the surprising number of people who make them, as shown for example by the high proportion of people exonerated by new DNA evidence whose past confessions turn out to have been false. His research has also shown the power of false confessions to sway jurors and witnesses (for instance, on hearing a false confession, witnesses for the defence often lose faith in their own testimony).
This ties into the murder of Kitty Genovese because it seems highly likely that her killer, Winston Moseley, was also responsible for the murder of 15-year-old Barbara Kralik a year earlier, a crime for which high-school drop-out Alvin Mitchell was already on trial.
Mitchell had confessed to Kralik’s murder – so he must have done it, right? Well, his confession came following more than 50 hours of interrogation and he soon recanted it. His first trial ended in a hung jury (11 votes for acquittal, 1 for conviction). However, the power of a confession, even one that’s retracted, does not fade easily. On retrial, Mitchell was found guilty and served 12 years, 8 months in prison. He insisted on his innocence throughout his prison stay and does so today.
Kassin makes a highly persuasive case for Mitchell being innocent of Kralik’s murder and the case being an exemplar of the power of false confessions (if you can get access, it’s worth reading Kassin’s entire article to appreciate the full detail of the seemingly flawed case against Mitchell).
Kassin believes Moseley is the true killer of Kralik. Relevant here is that after his arrest for killing Genovese, Mosely also confessed to two more murders. He said he had killed 24-year-old Annie Mae Johnson one month earlier (this confession was corroborated in dramatic fashion after his account of the murder matched the wounds to Johnson’s body), and he said he had killed Kralik. Crucially, Moseley confessed with the same certainty and detail to both these additional murders while he steadfastly denied being responsible for another double-murder that was unsolved at the time time. Mosely repeated his confession to Kralik’s murder in Michell’s first trial. However, for some reason, he refused to provide the same testimony in the re-trial.
In 2014, Kassin travelled to rural Vermont to meet Michell, now in his 70s. Mitchell recalled how he was threatened and intimidated during the police interrogations. “I would have confessed to killing the president because them people had scared me to death,” he said.
“There are lessons to be learned from this part of the [Kitty Genovese] story,” writes Kassin. “The scientific study of police interrogations and confessions is well grounded in basic psychology … Collectively, this research has shown that innocent people can be induced to confess crimes they did not commit, that judges and juries have difficulty assessing confessions as a matter of common sense, and that reforms are needed to mitigate both sets of problems.”
What of the public bystanders who detained Moseley? This, says Kassin, is the “irony that slipped through the cracks”. Five days after he killed Genovese, Mosely was attempting to burgle a home in New York in broad daylight. A neighbour confronted him and disbelieving his excuse (Mosely said he was helping the owners move house) he incapacitated Moseley’s van and alerted another neighbour. This second neighbour called the police and Moseley was soon apprehended by officers nearby; within hours he had confessed to a string of burglaries and three murders, writes Kassin.
“Somehow this part of the Genovese story went unnoticed and without fanfare,” says Kassin. “In a most fitting, if not ironic, conclusion to Moseley’s crime spree, the perpetrator whose actions spawned the narrative of the non responsive urban bystander was capture precisely because of the intervention of urban bystanders!”
Image: This photograph of Kitty Genovese was used in newspaper reports at the time of her death, and Kassin notes that it is actually the mug shot taken of Genovese from when she had been arrested for a minor gambling offence. In a strange coincidence, the lawyer who represented Genovese for that offence, Sidney Sparrow, went on to be Winston Moseley’s assigned counsel.