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The Invention of Murder: How the Victorians Revelled in Death and Detection and Created Modern Crime by Judith Flanders

As if I didn’t have enough books of my own, I can’t resist browsing the library books when I’m doing research. Although my current research topic is a Victorian-era Landscape Architect who was a part of the Garden Cemetery movement, this totally unrelated book was just screaming my name…although I did rationalize reading it instead of my research because murdered people are buried in cemeteries. ;-D

Released in 2013, this 400+ page work is impeccably researched and presented in an eminently readable manner. Flanders covers the vast time frame of the Victorian era (most of the 19th century) as pertains to crime in Great Britain. She tells stories of the rich and the poor, along with the newly rising middle-class. Gleaning insights of these male and female killers (or purported killers) from newspaper articles, broadsides, and theatre productions (as found in the official censorship records of the period), Flanders shares stories of murders thematically. She discusses the great hysteria that led to the “poison panic” at mid-century, the rise of murders as entertainment, court trials as grand theatre, and hangings are festive occasions, as well as the rise of the professional police force, especially the detective. Most fascinating of all are the connections Flanders is able to make between a particular crime (or crimes) and great works of fiction, including most, if not all, of Dickens’ catalog.

Some of the transitions between one crime story and the next feel a little forced, and there are times that she references a particular name in a previous or upcoming story in a way that the reader may have difficulty following, yet these are minor issues in an otherwise compelling narrative. It is apparent that Flanders did extensive research for this book but the effort is not a drag on the text. The tiny snippets of information each source provides have been woven together to tell a cohesive narrative that is better than fiction.

bookcaseDid I mention that I own a lot of books? Took some time this winter break to build bookcases. That’s 85′ of bookcase, 65′ devoted solely to books!

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Posted by on January 26, 2015 in Book Reviews

 

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You might be a Bibliophile if…

I’ve been living in my current home for six years. That’s a lot of time to accumulate things. I’m now packing to move and it has been eye opening to say the least. Here is the box count:

Kitchen items- 3 boxes

Clothing/Shoes- 7 boxes

Bathroom supplies- 1 box

Office/Computer supplies- 3 boxes

Books- 25 boxes!

I think I might have a bit of an addiction…

 
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Posted by on July 7, 2013 in Favorite Things

 

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Serendipity Strikes Again

I have an injury that’s kept me on the couch most of today. I’ve been reading online at my usual sites, longform.org and slate.com and decided to follow the rabbit hole of links available. I read an article from The Guardian, which had a link to a blog post on bookstellyouwhy.com Instantly smitten, I poked around the site, scrolling all the way to the bottom where I discovered that they are based in Mount Pleasant, SC…just across the bridge from where I live! Love it!

 
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Posted by on April 14, 2013 in Favorite Things

 

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A few of my Favorite Things

These are a few of my favorite things…

One) I heart longform.org! It’s a great site that gathers the best of historical and contemporary non-fiction (and recently, fiction) in magazines, newspapers, and websites. I usually set aside a good chunk of Sunday to read articles that strike me that have been posted over the week. I prefer to read non-fiction, and I love how they curate all these sources (many of them that you’d have to subscribe to ordinarily).

 

Two) The local “Friends of the Library” group receives donations of used books from the public and books culled from the library’s own stacks throughout the year. A few times a year, they host book sales in the different branches, proceeds benefiting the library. Once a year, in October, they host “THAT Big Book Sale”. Thousands upon thousands of volumes for sale. This is Heaven for me. I hit the Art, Dance, Theatre, Non-fiction, Foreign Languages, and (especially) Biography sections…HARD! For example, last Fall, I cleaned up. I acquired around 125 volumes for less than $200. After cataloging and shelving them, I’m quite content that I have enough reading material to last me the year. In fact, 99.9% of the books I’m reviewing for my blog come from this sale. 🙂

If you don’t know if your Library has a similar group, I highly recommend checking it out!

Three) IMDb (or the Internet Movie Database) is THE best resource for information on movies, especially American movies. They give synopses, cast lists, photos, information about productions, alternate titles…heck, there’s even an area where they point out goofs and bloopers. I particularly like looking up old movies and finding out about the careers of supporting actors, you know, those people who you recognize by sight but not by name. All my links on American movies are to their IMDb page, that’s how much I love them!

 
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Posted by on March 13, 2013 in Favorite Things

 

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Book Review: The Know-It-All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World by A. J. Jacobs

The Know It All- Book CoverDISCLAIMER: It is well known that my sense of humor is idiosyncratic. Contrary to what some may think, I do find things funny, just not usually what others do. In this world, there is funny “ha-ha” and funny “ah-ha”. While I understand the “ha-ha” style of humor, I am, at most, bemused by it. Now, funny “ah-ha”, that’s my thing!

The quest that Jacobs sets himself on, to read the entire 2002 Encyclopædia Britannica is one with which I am familiar. No, I don’t intend to read the great EB, but I have set myself on two similar quests. One is to watch the 1,001 best movies of all time…well, I also added in Roger Ebert’s best of the decade lists, so I’m up to about 1,025. The Western’s, full of gung-ho macho men and terrible stereotypes, kill me…but I digress. The other, which I see as more of a life-long quest, is to read the “Must-read books of all time.” While rather Eurocentric, the list does reach out enough to not be completely discounted. The reason for this quest is my feeling that I had not read enough of “the Classics”. I have to say, Bram Stoker’s Dracula is leaps and bounds better than any movie version and Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables  taught me more about the battle of Waterloo than I would ever have absorbed in history class. What I mean to say is, I understand the desire to accomplish, intellectually, the nearly impossible. That’s what drew me to this book.

Jacobs was, as a 12 year old, convinced he was the smartest person in the world. Coming from a hugely accomplished family, including a father who had published multiple law tomes, and a brother-in-law who’s an equal opportunity “mansplainer”, he felt he’d fallen behind.In a bit of Oedipal brilliance, he decided to finish the task begun by his father decades before, and thus, the quest began.

The book is presented alphabetically, just as Jacobs tackled the EB. Each letter receives a chapter. Some entries include a brief recap of the information in the EB, others provide a fun fact previously unknown to Jacobs, and still others, my favorites, use the entry as a segue into anecdotes about Jacobs’ life in the year it takes him to read all the volumes. His attempts to out-know his brother-in-law, his young cousin, and his realization of just how obnoxious one can be when endlessly spewing facts, including the $1 fee imposed by his wife for each useless or ill-timed fact he made her listen to, their struggles to conceive a child, and a dawning realization that he really is getting to understand his father through this journey…all this is what makes the book such a good read. Plus, he gets to meet Alex Trebek (which disqualifies him from competing on Jeopardy!, much to his chagrin), compete on “Who Wants to be a Millionaire, and join MENSA.

Some of my favorite moments:

  • Under the “embalming entry (p. 75 paperback), Jacobs takes a brief detour into the human tendency to find loopholes in laws…including this gem. In medieval times, “monks were banned from eating meat on Friday. Somehow– and there’s no explanation of the logic behind this one– the monks decided that baby rabbits were fish.” That one set me off in serious, tear-streaming laughter for a solid 5 minutes. Hell, it still makes me laugh.
  • “Yes, [Isaac] Newton was a complete nut job, the angriest and nastiest scientist in history. The Britannica comes right out an uses the phrase ‘pronounced psychotic tendencies.'”
  • Jacobs, an avowed hypochondriac, finds the biographical sketches fascinating for the multitude of gruesome deaths suffered by historical figures. Livingstone– hemorrhoids, Harlow– uremic poisoning. (p. 284 paperback)
  • Written in 2003, the one of the only elements that date the book is a reference (p. 80 paperback) to the “market leader” in Internet and CD/DVD encyclopedias, Microsoft’s Encarta. I had completely forgotten Encarta and it amused me to realize how much things have changed in just 10 years.

So Naomi, what do you really think?

A fun, fast, and entertaining read, I’d recommend this book as a friendly travel companion…much friendlier than a volume or three of the Encyclopædia Britannica. (p.227 paperback)

 

 

 
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Posted by on January 10, 2013 in Book Reviews

 

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