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  • Jeff Somers 3:00 pm on 2017/10/04 Permalink
    Tags: , , answered prayers, , anthony trollope, , , , , , , , , , j. g. ballard, , joan weigall, , , , , , , , , the adventures of huckleberry finn, the macdermots of ballycloran, , , , , through the looking glass, truman capote, why I want to f*ck ronald reagan   

    15 of the Most Infamous Deleted Chapters in History 

    Revision is a vital aspect of creation; all authors delete, re-write, and occasionally burn entire manuscripts with tears streaming down their faces. Most of the time, deleted chapters occur so early in the writing process that they’re not relevant—or interesting. They’re just the cost of doing literary business. Sometimes, though, the story behind excised material is almost as interesting as the finished version of the book it comes from. The fifteen chapters listed here didn’t make it into the published version of the book—but that hasn’t stopped them from being part of the conversation.

    Catch-22, by Joseph Heller
    Heller’s classic 1961 novel, one of the funniest, darkest, and most complex ever written, took about eight years to write—and remains the defining work of Heller’s career. Put simply, if you’re discussing Joseph Heller, you’re discussing Catch-22, and even Heller seemed to accept this towards the end of his life. Much of his late output was directly connected to his first novel, and in 2003 he published the collection Catch as Catch Can which contained two deleted chapters from Catch-22: “Love, Dad” and “Yossarian Survives” (both of which had been previously published). The chapters provide some background on Nately and Yossarian while offering some of Heller’s most savage mockery of the military—and both chapters work perfectly well as standalone stories, making them perhaps the rare examples of chapters deleted from books because they were too good.

    Dracula, by Bram Stoker
    Stoker’s novel is one of the most influential in all of history, but it originally ended a bit differently from the version you’re familiar with. A deleted chapter detailed Dracula’s castle literally falling apart as he dies. It’s not very long—a grace note, really—and there are several theories as to why Stoker excised it very close to its publication. Some people think he might have been envisioning a sequel and wanted to hedge his bets. Others think he might have worried about being accused of stealing the concept from Edgar Allan Poe. Whatever the reason, reading the chapter does change the tone of the novel just enough to make it significant.

    The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde
    Wilde’s only novel originally contained a great deal of homosexual imagery, sexual allusions, and other edgy stuff that made his publisher’s head explode. So his editor forced him to cut a great deal of this “objectionable” material. Even so, the book created a stir upon publication, as it still contained passages that outraged a lot of people, and so Wilde revised the book a second time in an effort to make it acceptable. Wilde’s reward was a novel everyone is still reading and, of course, a few years in jail simply for being a homosexual. In 2011 the uncensored version of the book was finally published with the deleted chapters restored, so you can now read the book in all its dirty glory.

    Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by Roald Dahl
    In the early versions of Dahl’s beloved book there were actually eight kids brought into Wonka’s factory, and they had some different adventures—including the original chapter 5, which brings the children and their parents into the Vanilla Fudge Room, where a literal mountain of fudge is worked on by Wonka’s servants with picks and hammers, sending boulders of fudge down to the floor where they’re grabbed by cranes and sent on wagons into a hole in the wall. Sounds delightful until two of the kids and their parents ignore Wonka’s warnings and ride the wagons to what they think will be fudge heaven. Instead, Wonka reveals that the fudge is tipped out of the wagons into a machine that pounds it thin then chops it up. Dahl’s publisher thought this was a bit too nasty for kids, and so the chapter was deleted and didn’t see the light of day until 2014.

    The Martian, by Andy Weir
    The Martian by Andy Weir went through a lot of revision. The original version posted on Weir’s website—still available online if you know where to look—is very different from the final version. A few years ago Weir went on Reddit for an unannounced, secret “Ask Me Anything” session and revealed the original epilogue of the story, which featured Mark Watney cursing at a child who asks him if he’d return to Mars if they asked him. It’s actually kind of a delightful ending, and one we wish they would have included in the movie.

    Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens
    The original ending of Dickens’ famous novel was kind of dark and sad: Pip and Estella meet years after the events of the novel, but instead of a bittersweet moment implying a future for the two, both are simply bitter, and they part on savage terms. Dickens liked this ending because he thought it was unexpected and original, but his Beta Readers disagreed, so he changed the chapter to the version we’re all familiar with. After publication he went back and revised the final line, coming up with the perfect “I saw no shadow of another parting from her.”

    Why I Want to F*ck Ronald Reagan, by J. G. Ballard
    In the late 1960s, Ronald Reagan was something new: one of the first “media politicians” who knew that how you said something was more important than what you said, as well as one of the first “far right” politicians in mainstream politics. Although a decade and a half from the presidency, he made an impact that J.G. Ballard found interesting, and he wrote a short work styled as an academic paper describing bizarre experiments to measure Reagan’s sexual appeal. It was meant to be challenging and confrontational—and it sure was. It was originally included in Ballard’s collection The Atrocity Exhibition, but the American publisher of the book actually destroyed the entire printing rather than let it loose on the country. Let that sink in: the publisher destroyed every copy of the book rather than publish this. If there’s a better reason to read it, we’re unaware.

    A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess
    It’s well-known that the last chapter of Burgess’ novel was deleted before it was published in the United States; the publisher thought the “softer” ending in which Alex starts to mature and see that his behavior in the earlier portions of the book was wrong would turn off American readers. Indeed, many still prefer the way the book ended in the truncated version, which is also the beat Stanley Kubrick’s classic film version ends on: Alex dreaming of violence, thinking “I was cured all right.”

    The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells
    Wells’ novel about a man who invents a time machine established not just one of the sturdiest sci-fi tropes of all time, but a template for the modern speculative novel. Wells’ publisher insisted he add a section showing mankind’s ultimate evolutionary fate, and Wells obliged under protest, writing a chapter in which the time traveler escapes the Morlocks by traveling into the distant future, where he encounters small mammals which he determines are the descendants of humanity. Wells never liked it and had it removed as soon as he was able, and while the story, which you can read under the standalone title “The Grey Man,” is interesting, the book is much better without it.

    Through the Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll
    Lewis Carroll’s sequel to Alice in Wonderland is more Alice than Alice in many ways. The illustrator working on the book sent Carroll a note saying he wasn’t inspired by the “wasp chapter”, and suggested none-too-subtly that if Carroll were looking to cut the book down a bit, the Wasp part would be the place to start. No one knew what he was referring to, however—until 1976 when the missing “Wasp in a Wig” chapter was put up for auction. One problem, however: no one has ever been able to verify that this was actually written by Carroll. Reading it, the reason people have doubts is pretty clear: it’s awful. Either Carroll cut the one example of bad writing he ever managed…or he didn’t write it.

    Picnic at Hanging Rock, by Joan Weigall
    Weigall’s 1967 novel was a sensation at the time, despite the fact that it literally had no ending. The story of college students who disappear while visiting Hanging Rock in Australia was originally ended with a pretty crazy explanation of everything that happened, but Weigall’s publisher suggested the book might do better without the, um, crazy part and so the final chapter was deleted (you can read it here if you want), meaning that the story just stops, and no explanation is offered at all for the mystery. This actually fueled the book’s success, making it into a “must read” at the time. If the Internet had existed in 1967, this book would have broken it.

    The MacDermots of Ballycloran, by Anthony Trollope
    Trollope had very low expectations for his first novel, and these were borne out when it didn’t do very well. Although the novel has gained in reputation since its initial lackluster publication, you have to be careful to get the original 1847 version, because Trollope later hacked his book to death in an effort to…improve it, we guess? He deleted three chapters and changed a great deal of what makes the original novel interesting (mainly the Irish dialects, politics, and the character flaws). The revised version isn’t nearly as good, and the three missing chapters are, ironically, some of the best writing in the book.

    Answered Prayers, by Truman Capote
    Capote’s transformation from brilliant writer to alcoholic gadfly took about twenty years, and in that time he continuously accepted advances and signed contracts for Answered Prayers, a novel he never got around to finishing. Four chapters were published in magazines (the first, “La Côte Basque 1965,” was so obviously based on his real-life friends and acquaintances Capote pretty much lost every friend he had) and they’re pretty hefty, amounting to a novel’s worth of text if put together. But several other chapters have been referenced in Capote’s correspondence—and he claimed he’d written the final chapter first so he’d know where he was going—that have yet to turn up anywhere.

    The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
    Twain, never one to be typical, wasn’t satisfied to delete a mere chapter, instead opting to delete 665 manuscript pages, essentially an entire shadow version of his all-time classic novel. Twain paused work on the book for three years, and scholars have long argued over where exactly he broke off and what he changed when he returned to the book. The deleted chapters contain plenty of material not present in the final book, and have proved invaluable in trying to determine Twain’s intentions and process.

    Persuasion, by Jane Austen
    Austen was one of the most meticulous writers of all time, and put a lot of effort into revising her novels. Persuasion is one of the few in which we can compare early drafts to see how the novel developed, and Austen’s deleted chapters show a ruthless approach to improving the pacing of the plot and the creation of her characters. Assembling earlier versions of the novel show what her original inspiration was, how her ideas changed as she worked, and cast some light on the sausage-making underneath the charming and compelling narratives Austen created.

    Did we miss any famous deleted chapters?

    The post 15 of the Most Infamous Deleted Chapters in History appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Ginni Chen 3:13 pm on 2015/06/08 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , truman capote   

    14 Things You Didn’t Know About Harper Lee and Truman Capote’s Friendship 

    Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Kingsley Amis and Philip Larkin, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, Mary Shelley and Lord Byron—the history of literature is full of writers who were each other’s companions, critics, and close friends.

    At first glance, Harper Lee’s friendship with Truman Capote looks unlikely. Lee shied away from publicity while Capote courted it. Lee sought out a quiet life with her sister at home in Alabama, while Capote lived a hard partying, jet-setting existence among celebrities. Capote wrote prolifically, publishing novels, short stories, magazines articles and TV scrips. Lee published one novel in 1960, the Pulitzer Prize-winning To Kill a Mockingbird, and is set to release her second, Go Set a Watchman, on July 14.

    Yet these opposites were childhood companions whose bond helped them become two of the most revered American writers of all time. Here are fourteen facts you might not know about their unusual friendship.

    1. Lee and Capote were next-door neighbors in Monroeville, Alabama. They met when they were five years old.

    2. Capote was small and dressed differently than his peers at school, while Lee was a tomboy. Throughout their early childhoods, Lee protected Capote from bullies.

    3. Lee and Capote both had strained relationships with their mothers as children. Lee’s mother suffered from psychological problems and severe mood swings. Capote’s mother didn’t want him, often locking him alone in hotel rooms. She left him in Monroeville in the care of her cousins while she pursued a carefree life in New York City.

    4. Lee and Capote both loved to read, and to be read aloud to. Their favorite books included the Sherlock Holmes mysteries, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Rover Boys series, by Edward Stratemeyer, and adventure books by Seckatary Hawkins.

    5. When Lee and Capote were still in elementary school, Lee’s father, Amasa Coleman Lee, gave them a typewriter. The two of them took turns dictating stories and typing them up.

    6. In the mid-1930s, Capote’s mother moved him to New York City permanently. After that, Capote and Lee saw each other in the summers, when Capote returned to Monroeville.

    7. In December of 1959, while waiting for the publication of her first novel, Lee accompanied Capote to Holcomb, Kansas by train. She was there as Capote’s “assistant researchist,” helping him look the murders Capote captured in his masterpiece, In Cold Blood.

    8. In 1964, while Capote was still writing In Cold Blood, he needed to stay in the good graces of the people involved in the case. Whenever they visited New York, he would ask Lee to help him entertain them. Together, Lee and Capote would take them to Broadway musicals or to fancy dinners.

    9. In 1965, Lee edited Capote’s final draft for In Cold Blood. She had burned her hand badly several months earlier and had trouble writing, but nonetheless she made abbreviated comments as she reviewed Capote’s draft.

    10. When In Cold Blood was published, Capote didn’t give Lee any credit. He merely dedicated the book to her and to his longtime partner, Jack Dunphy. Lee was hurt by this slight, given the time, effort, and work she put into the book.

    11. Despite Capote’s failure to acknowledge Lee’s contribution to his book, Lee and Capote went on a nostalgic road trip together through south Alabama two years later.

    12. In 1960, before To Kill a Mockingbird was released, Capote proudly told his friends that Lee’s book was coming out and that she had written him into it as the character Dill.

    13. In 1964, in one of the last interviews that Lee gave, she was asked to name the writers she most admired. She said that there was likely no better writer in the country than Truman Capote.

    14. In 1976, Capote brought Lee along for moral support to an interview with People magazine. Lee had, by then, become increasingly reluctant to appear publicly, but did so to support her friend.


  • John Bardinelli 5:30 pm on 2015/05/26 Permalink
    Tags: author on author shade, , byron, gore vidal, , , , keats, lillian helman, mary mccarthy, truman capote   

    5 Author Rivalries That Make Reading Even More Fun 

    Some authors fit the stereotype of artists toiling at their craft in silence. Others just can’t keep their pens to themselves, stirring up trouble by tossing their opinions around on every subject under the sun. Both groups produce some amazing work, but boy is it a lot more fun to read about the second. Nothing like a good quarrel to spice up…well, just about everything. Hey, it worked for Jerry Springer!

    H.G. Wells vs Henry James
    Henry James (The Portrait of a Lady) and H.G. Wells (The Time Machine) were best buds at the turn of the 20th century. One of their favorite activities was to debate the art of fiction, a practice that inspired many a spirited letter from each author. Wells upped the ante in 1915 when he released Boon, a full-length work of satire that painted a harsh caricature of James and his labored, word-heavy writing style. Here’s a tasty excerpt directly discussing James:

    “His vast paragraphs sweat and struggle; they could not sweat and elbow and struggle more if God Himself was the processional meaning to which they sought to come.”

    If that nugget didn’t make him feel the burn, perhaps a colorful metaphor involving a hippo will:

    “It is a magnificent but painful hippopotamus resolved at any cost, even at the cost of its dignity, upon picking up a pea which has got into a corner of its den.”

    Gotta remember it the next time I get into a freestyle rap battle.

    Byron vs Keats
    One of the classic rivalries in the world of literary feuds, featuring the high-minded Lord Byron squaring off against John “Son of a Stableman” Keats. Each poet disliked the other’s work on an aesthetic level, which is fair game, but Keats carried an additional burden of envy because Byron’s work was more popular (he insisted it was because Byron’s audience was a bunch of undemading aristocrats). The rivalry brewed for several years with jabs by each poet in private letters to family and friends. The most famous dig comes from Keats in a letter to his brother:

    “You speak of Lord Byron and me—There is this great difference between us. He describes what he sees—I describe what I imagine—Mine is the hardest task.”

    The way Keats paints Byron’s work, I half expect to see a shopping list with an elegant “Written by Lord Byron” at the bottom.

    Gore Vidal vs Truman Capote
    Gore Vidal had so many rivalries going he probably kept a separate rolodex to track them. One of his more entertaining squabbles was with Breakfast at Tiffany’s writer Truman Capote, who he once called a “dumpy little lowbrow.” Capote responded by saying he was sad about Gore. “Sad that he has to breathe every day.” Capote attempted to reconcile with Vidal before his death, but to no avail. In fact, after he passed Vidal said it was a “good career move.”

    Mary McCarthy vs Lillian Hellman
    Most author rivalries are born of literary origins. One thinks the other’s style is derivative, the other thinks the first is an untalented oaf, that sort of thing. McCarthy and Hellman made sure they had something big to fight about before starting their feud: the Moscow Trials. In the late 1930s the two authors found themselves occupying opposing ideologies. Things simmered for a solid 40 years, finally coming to a head when McCarthy made a comment about Hellman on The Dick Cavett Show:

    “Every word she writes is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the’.”

    Instead of handling it like an author and writing an eloquent “nuh-uh” retort, Hellman sued for libel. Not as entertaining for us, but a lot more practical.

    Mark Twain vs Jane Austen
    Mark Twain had a lot to say about a lot of things, and he was never shy about expressing it. He joined Wells’ camp in disliking Henry James’ wordiness, noting that once you put one of James’ books down, you simply can’t pick it back up. Because it’s heavy, see? Yeah, you saw.

    Twain didn’t limit his witty criticisms to his contemporaries. One of my favorite author to author zingers is aimed at Jane Austen, who passed nearly two decades before Twain was born:

    “Everytime I read ‘Pride and Prejudice I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone.”

    Austen wasn’t around to offer a riposte, but honestly, how could anyone top that?

    What are your favorite literary rivalries?

  • Jeff Somers 5:30 pm on 2015/05/14 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , truman capote,   

    Inside Baseball: Five Novels Where Making the Main Character a Writer Worked 

    If there’s great big red flag in fiction, it’s making your main character a writer. Making him not just a writer but a novelist is a flag so big and red it’s practically a hot air balloon rising off the page. Why? Because as the old adage goes, writers write what they know, and if they’re writing about being a writer, they obviously know very, very little.

    But not always. Talent, vision, and purpose can make anything work in a brilliant novel, even decisions about character and voice that would be questionable in lesser works. Here are five novels featuring a writer as the main character that cleverly avoid the usual pitfalls (chief among them, making that character a Mary Sue).

    Wonder Boys, by Michael Chabon
    Grady Tripp is a wonderfully messy character, an author struggling to finish his second novel amid some incredibly (and steadily worsening) chaos in his personal life. As he frets over his novel, his wife’s departure, his mistress’s pregnancy, and the strange student who embroils him in a bizarre caper, Grady can’t seem to see just how much of the chaos he’s responsible for.

    Why It Works: Grady is a writer, yes, but the story is about not being able to finish (or even control) a writing project. His haplessness is winning.

    The Accidental Tourist, by Anne Tyler
    It’s a wonderful conceit: Macon Leary is a travel writer who doesn’t want to go anywhere or try anything new. And the story isn’t so much about his writing, but rather about relationships. While the metaphor of Travel Writer Who Fears the Unknown Meets Eccentric Woman Who Challenges Him is a bit obvious (though used well here), this is a story that lives in the wonderful character details Tyler creates, for Macon and the free-spirited woman who entices him, as well as Macon’s odd siblings.

    Why It Works: Because the improbably named Macon barely even thinks about his profession.

    Misery & The Shining, by Stephen King
    Stephen King has a tendency to make his characters writers of one stripe or another. He tends to get away with it because he has always maintained a grasp of the non-writer’s life as well, peppering his works with well-described characters and points of view that have nothing to do with novelists. But in Misery and The Shining he manages what few can: he weaves the profession into the plot itself, making it essential that his protagonists be writers.

    Why It Works: The aforementioned essentialness, but also because he mocks the creative process: Paul Sheldon writes his best work during his ordeal with an insane superfan, and Jack Torrance’s entire output at the (possibly) haunted hotel is one infamous line, repeated endlessly.

    Breakfast at Tiffany’s, by Truman Capote
    People focus on the (admittedly amazing) character of Holly Golightly so much they forget she’s not the narrator: that’s actually the unnamed writer she dubs “Fred.” He narrates the novel’s events, slowly falling in love (despite being fairly obviously homosexual) with the hilarious, charming, beautiful, and tragic Holly, a girl who earns her living entertaining rich men—it’s not quite prostitution (depending on your reading), but close enough. What’s interesting is that Capote barely sketches the narrator as a writer. His profession is briefly mentioned, then forgotten.

    Why It Works: Because you can’t take your eyes off of Golightly.

    The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, by Stephen R. Donaldson
    Donaldson’s classic epic fantasy has a main character who is not only an author, but successful enough that he doesn’t need to do much more. But his profession is almost beside the point. What really defines Covenant is his leprosy (a disease pretty surprising to find in a modern book), and then, once he visits the supernatural (and possibly imaginary) Land where he is a strange messiah figure, his Wild Magic. Donaldson subtly forces you to wonder how much of Covenant’s experiences in the Land are in his mind, and whether he is in fact the Creator he meets at the story’s conclusion—the ultimate writer.

    Why It Works: Because so much incredibly wild stuff happens so quickly, it’s easy to simply forget Covenant has any sort of real-world life.

    Shop all ficton >
  • Lauren Passell 3:00 pm on 2014/12/18 Permalink
    Tags: ann rule, charles graebere, god'll cut you down, , , janet malcolm, joe mcginniss, john safran, , normal mailer, serial, the good nurse, the journalist and the murderer, , truman capote,   

    14 Books to Read if You’re Hooked on “Serial” 

    FullSizeRender (1)Since it first aired in October, Sarah Koenig’s “Serial” podcast has been drawing people to their radios (okay, computers) to listen to the story of Adnan Syed, currently sitting in jail for the 1999 murder of his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee, unfold before their ears. “Serial” is addictive not only because the whos, whats, wheres, whens, and whys are intoxicating (they are), but because Koenig is presenting the tale in a uniquely personal way. It’s all about the murder, yes, but it’s also all about the storytelling and her own reflections on the case. The true crime books below offer a bit of both, as well. So if you’ve wet your whistle on true crime with “Serial,” these books are a natural follow-up when the series ends at the end of the year.

    God’ll Cut You Down, by John Safran
    Rare is the true crime book that makes us laugh and laugh and laugh, but here it is! God’ll Cut You Down is the story of John Safran’s investigation into the Mississippi murder of a white supremacist named Richard Barrett. The case seems fairly straightforward until Safran begins to reveal the colorful relationship he develops with murderer Vincent McGee, a young black man. The story is so voicey you’ll want to grab a beer with Safran, and you’ll find yourself puzzled about how much dark subjects can make you chuckle. Wacky Safran goes there, and much like the story in “Serial,” his will have you spending hours pondering the case, the villains, and the depth of the characters.

    Lying in Wait, by Ann Rule
    Ann Rule fans, rejoice! The true crime queen returns with Lying in Wait, the seventeenth collection of stories in her Crime Files series. Per usual, Ann digs into the stories like nobody else can, presenting us with the cold, hard facts we crave. If you’re simply obsessed with bloody trails, Houdini-like escapes, kidnappings, and other horrifying crimes, you’ll eat up Lying in Wait like a holiday feast.

    The Good Nurse, by Charles Graebere
    Here’s a story we would love to see Sarah Koenig sink her teeth into. Charles Cullen, RN, was behind the deaths of as many as 300 patients over a span of 16 years. Charles Graebere fleshes out the beastly career of Cullen using interviews with colleagues and family members, presenting a dedicated portrait of a sinister and unexpected murderer. The book also sheds light on America’s medical system, and will appeal to anyone interested in justice or just straight-up evil.

    Smoke, by Meili Cady
    For a wildly entertaining ride, seek out Smoke in March 2015. It has everything you loved about Serial, The Bling Ring, Blow, Catch Me If You Can, and even Orange Is The New Black. When aspiring actress Meili Cady is introduced to the drug smuggling “Korean Paris Hilton” Lisette Lee in L.A., she finds herself in a dangerous friendship she doesn’t know how to escape. Tempting rewards like luxury cars and red-carpet events keep her tangled in a life of crime, and before she realizes what she’s bitten into, it’s too late to turn around. The story, told by Cady herself, will have you at the edge of your seat. If you listen to “Serial” wishing you could hear more from the alleged criminal’s perspective, you’ll be thrilled to dig into the thoughts and rationale Cady brings to the table.

    LAPD ’53, by James Ellroy
    James Ellroy digs deeper into the L.A. crime scene in 1953 than anyone has before, with an extensive portrait that uses the Los Angeles Police Museum’s archives to flesh out the gritty police work of the time. “Serial” fans might be addicted to Adnan’s story, but readers hungry for gruesome imagery will not be disappointed with LAPD ’53—there are more than 80 duotone photos spread throughout the book that enrich the masterful storytelling Ellroy dishes up. This book drops in May 2015.

    The Job: True Stories of a New York City Cop, by Steve Osborne
    If you love crime reading but crave vibrant storytelling alongside black-and-white facts, à la “The Moth,” “This American Life,” or “Serial,” The Job will be your next favorite book. With 20 years as an NYPD street cop under his belt and a knack for the spoken word, Steve Osborne tells story after story of unbelievable true crime with a brash and honest slant. Here’s a book that will give you a new appreciation for the police force, and a deeper understanding of the seedy NYC underbelly of the 1980s and ’90s. Look for it in April 2015.

    The Stranger Beside Me, by Ann Rule
    Get this: years ago our girl Ann Rule befriended Ted Bundy before anyone would have guessed that he kidnapped and murdered at least 30 women. The two were coworkers and friends at a crisis hotline in 1971. The Bundy atrocities are already pretty unbelievable, but hearing Rule talk about her friendship with the serial killer (even after he was convicted) will give you goosebumps, and it will blur the line between friend and foe. (If you’ve listened to “Serial” and thought, “Adnan sounds like such a good egg, there’s no way he’s guilty!” then this is a good reminder that we don’t really know anyone, now do we?) It’s weird upon weird, real upon real, like having a dream within a dream. Rule tries to tell the story in an unbiased manner, to separate herself from what she was set to report on. But it’s impossible, and reading about her investment in the crime and her odd friendship with Bundy is addictive.

    Helter Skelter, by Vincent Bugliosi
    If “Serial” has you hooked on crime stories, pick up one of the most twisted crime stories of all time. Credit that to the enigmatic character that is Charles Manson, the blind devotion of his followers, the horrific nature of this sick story, and the lively storytelling of Vincent Bugliosi, the prosecutor in the case. Bugliosi breathes so much life into the motives behind the characters and the complexities of the trial you almost feel like you’re in the court room with him, or at the very least, that you’re listening to him tell his story via podcast. The story touches on themes of law, human nature, religion, murder, the Beatles, Hollywood, and down right screwed-up-ness. (There are some nasty pictures, too.)

    Columbine, by Dave Cullen
    Everyone knows what happened at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999, but it takes the detailed version written by Dave Cullen, who remained in Aurora for ten years after the shooting, to really get a feeling for what occurred that day. Cullen dives into the world of high schoolers who kill, something that might be of interest to anyone fascinated with Adnan and Jay. In one scene, students hide under desks as Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold storm through classrooms, looking for their next victim. Not until reading Cullen’s words was I able to fathom what it would be like to be there—targeted and waiting for two violent, unstable, fearless boys to act. Cullen takes us under those desks. He takes us through the whole thing, splitting fact from fiction, offering insight into the why, and coloring in all the gaps of the tragedy we thought we understood.

    In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote
    You listened to “Serial” and now you’ve been bitten by the true crime bug? You have to read the most classic true crime story of all time. Capote’s account of the brutal murders of Herbert Clutter, his wife, and two of their four children in Holcolm, Kansas, is one of the finest examples of investigative journalism out there. Capote writes with the finesse and prowess that made him one of the best storytellers of our time. It’s emotional, but so well-researched that it’s obvious Capote took thousands of pages of notes in the process of getting into the lives of the victims and criminals in a way nobody else could. Too bad this couldn’t have been a podcast. Hearing Capote unveil the grisly details himself would be priceless.

    Fatal Vision, by Joe McGinniss
    In 1979, Green Beret Captain and physician Jeffrey MacDonald woke up to find three hippies butchering his pregnant wife and two young daughters with a knife, ice pick, and club, saying “acid is groovy, kill the pigs.” Or so he says. The Army didn’t believe him, and formally charged him with the murder of his family. Those charges were dismissed, but he was convicted anyway, nine years later in a civilian trial. He’s been sitting in prison for 30 years, and still, the evidence doesn’t really add up for either side. MacDonald is an unlikeable, narcissistic liar who at times seems obviously guilty (with a pretty wild version of events, to boot). But because solid evidence never surfaced, it’s not completely clear if MacDonald is a monster or the victim of a horrible injustice. To write Fatal Vision, Joe McGinniss was granted far-flung access to MacDonald’s life—MacDonald believed the book was being written in his defense. But when the final, published result was not what MacDonald had hoped for, MacDonald sued McGinniss (and won). Which leads us to wonder: what does Sarah Koenig really believe in all of this? She’s pretty open and freely admits her cluelessness, but still. There is a chance she’s wooing Adnan only to pull a fast one in the end. (Another book, Errol Morris’s A Wilderness Of Error, was written in the name of MacDonald’s innocence.)

    The Journalist And The Murderer, by Janet Malcolm
    Janet Malcolm revisits the Jeffrey MacDonald story, reporting on both the murder and Joe McGinniss’s account of it in Fatal Vision. Her book is more tightly focused on the ethics and psychopathology of journalism. As she interviews MacDonald and tells his story, she’s aware that she, as a journalist, is a player in it—very much like Sarah Koenig is a player in Syed’s story. Syed believes and trusts that Koenig will tell his story, but it’s a risky thing to do. As he sits behind bars and Koenig broadcasts her side to the world, how she tells the story is completely out of his control. Nobody knows this better than Jeffrey MacDonald. And nobody seems to have more awareness of it than Janet Malcolm. The Journalist and the Murderer will shine new light onto the Koenig/Syed relationship and give a richer understanding of what’s going on beneath the surface of “Serial.”

    Small Sacrifices, by Ann Rule
    In May of 1983, Diane Downs claimed that a “bushy-haired stranger” came up to her car while she was driving with her three children and shot at them, killing one of the kids immediately. But not so fast, Diane Downs! Ann Rule (and everyone) is onto your story. Downs’ story smelled fishy because it was, and it didn’t take long for investigators to figure out the tragedy was at her own hands. (Possible motive: she was in love with a man who didn’t want children, so she thought, “I guess I’ll have to get rid of them.”) Unlike Adnan’s story, there’s not a lot of guesswork needed here. Small Sacrifices delves into the life of a shattered woman, and how she crafted an unlikely story of being the victim of an unspeakable crime—and how she stood by her word despite all signs pointing to her guilt. Her surviving children, severely disabled for life, were old enough to remember what happened, and they were traumatized and terrified of their mother.

    The Executioner’s Song, by Norman Mailer
    People whine that Norman Mailer goes on and on (for 1,000+ pages) in telling the story of Gary Gilmore and two strange things Gilmore did: robbed and murdered two random people in 1976, and then, after being tried and convicted, insisted on dying for his crime. They say that all the excruciating detail is, well, excruciating. And that’s acceptable commentary coming from an amateur true crime fan. If you legit love crime books, and can never get enough of the meat and potatoes of a true crime story, you will be enveloped in Gilmour’s twisted logic and surprising actions, you’ll appreciate all of those details, and you’ll be glad Mailer got so down with this story, which was awarded a Pulitzer and the National Book Award. The moment you open The Executioner’s Song, you’re taking on a beast of a book. It’s not for the faint of heart—it’s the litmus test of true crime, and it separates the champions from the wimps.

    And The Sea Will Tell, by Vincent Bugliosi
    Set on Palmyra Island in the 1970s, And The Sea Will Tell is the story of two sailing couples, Mac and Muff Graham (experienced sea travelers) and Buck Walker and Jennifer Jenkins (an ex-con and his hippie girlfriend, both doomed by their lack of survival know-how). One day, months after both couples set sail, Buck and Jennifer were found sailing the Grahams’ beautiful boat off the coast of Hawaii…and the Grahams were nowhere to be found. Until 1980, when their bodies were discovered in aluminum containers on the shores of the island. Sounds clear-cut, right? But Vincent Bugliosi, normally a prosecutor (remember Helter Skelter?), decides to defend Jennifer Jenkins—a truly surprising tidbit when you hear how thin the woman’s case is. Bugliosi is a phenomenal attorney, illustrating the case with colorful dialogue and brilliant detective work. You spend 600 pages or so wondering how anyone with a brain could defend someone so stupid and culpable…but Bugliosi waits until the end to reveal a powerful detail that steers the story to a shocking conclusion that might absolve Jennifer of the crime. Crime storytelling at it’s best! I read this book once a year because I’m enamored with the writing and the case in general. I have nightmares about Palmyra Island and the atrocities that occurred there, and I’m tortured that I’ll never know exactly what happened. I could say the exact same thing about the first episode of “Serial.”

    What’s your favorite true crime book?

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