So I read exactly 200 books last year. On the evening of December 31 I realized I’d gotten up to 199 books so I grabbed a collection of quotes I had lying around on my Kindle and read that. Squeaked just over the line.
Mostly my books were about the Holocaust, true crime and history. There were only a few novels. I got really interested in the Jonestown tragedy and read six books about it, including a few by survivors, and learned it was not what I thought it had been. The Jonestown victims weren’t brainwashed cultists, more like terrified concentration camp inmates. And many of them didn’t want to drink the poison but were forced to do so.
If you want to learn more about it I particularly recommend Raven: The Untold Story of the Rev. Jim Jones and His People by Tim Reiterman (who was one of the survivors from the airstrip) and A Thousand Lives: The Untold Story of Hope, Deception, and Survival at Jonestown by Julia Scheeres.
Some other notable titles I read last year, in no particular order:
Fred & Rose: The Full Story of Fred and Rose West and the Gloucester House of Horrors by Howard Sounes. It was very detailed and had some interesting insights into the relationship between Fred and Rose themselves. The 25th-anniversary afterword also had some shocking info that hadn’t been released earlier because legal stuff.
Somebody’s Mother, Somebody’s Daughter: True Stories from Victims and Survivors of the Yorkshire Ripper by Carol Ann Lee. Peter Sutcliffe’s victims are basically seen as faceless “prostitutes” in the media, but this book makes them into real people again, and debunks a lot of myths about the case. Netflix did a limited series on the case that I would recommend in conjunction with this book.
The Hidden Lives of Jack the Ripper’s Victims by Robert Hume. He did original historical research into the victims’ lives, instead of just going back and repeating the same stuff a thousand other JTR books have said. I don’t necessarily agree with Hume’s conclusions about the victims’ lives, but I loved learning about their lives and was impressed by how much information he was able to dig up.
The Kindertransport: Contesting Memory by Jennifer Craig-Norton. Another mythbuster. The Kindertransport was an organized effort to bring about 10,000 children, mostly Jews, out of Nazi Germany to the safety of Great Britain. Most Holocaust books emphasize how grateful the children were for the opportunity and how the UK offered themselves as a sanctuary when no other country would. This book, however, gets into the weeds of what the Kindertransport kids actually experienced, and it was not all sunshine and rainbows after their arrival in the UK.
Wearing the Letter P: Polish Women as Forced Laborers in Nazi Germany, 1939-1945 by Sophie Hodorowicz Knab. I had known that Germany forced a lot of Polish people to become slave labor in German factories and on farms during World War II, and that these people were frequently mistreated, but I hadn’t realized until I read this book just HOW bad the Polish slave laborers had it.
They Went Left by Monica Hesse. One of the few novels I read this year. It’s about an eighteen-year-old Polish-Jewish girl who was just liberated from a concentration camp and is trying to find her younger brother. It was definitely a page turner and I liked the author’s use of an occasionally unreliable narrator: the girl was so traumatized by her Holocaust experience that she had a nervous breakdown and sometimes can’t tell what’s real and what’s not.
John George Haigh, the Acid-Bath Murderer: A Portrait of a Serial Killer and His Victims by Jonathan Oates. I don’t know if there was ever a full-length book written on Haigh before, but I appreciated the depth of detail in this one. I also liked how he looked into the victims’ lives also. Before I read this book I knew basically nothing about them, except their names.
Absolute Madness: A True Story of a Serial Killer, Race, and a City Divided by Catherine Pelonero. The story of a fairly obscure serial killer in Buffalo, New York, who turned out to be… not what people expected him to be. It’s kind of told in real time as the investigation progresses, so you don’t really know much more than the police do, and you follow them as they chase dead ends.
Mud Sweeter than Honey: Voices of Communist Albania by Margo Rejmer. Before reading this I knew very little about Albania and less still about what it was like there during the Communist era. This book, an oral history, was definitely enlightening. I had read quite a bit about Stalin’s Russia and knew THAT was not exactly terrific, but Stalin’s Russia was a paradise compared to Hoxha’s Albania. Hoxha’s Albania has a lot more in common with North Korea than it did the Soviet Union.
I hope everyone is doing well and staying safe. Please get vaccinated for covid. If you have already been vaccinated, please get a booster. I don’t want any of my blog readers to die on me. Whether you are vaccinated or not, please wear a mask if in a public indoor place. And not a cloth one; a single layer of cloth isn’t going to provide much protection. Surgical masks are cheap and widely available. I myself wear KN95s, which are not as cheap but provide a lot more protection.
My husband and I are doing well. We have a four-month-old kitten; we got her at the animal shelter in November. Her name is Viola and she is adorable and loves snuggles. We walked into the room where the kittens were and she flung herself against the side of her cage and SCREAMED at us until we agreed to adopt her.
Oh, and a heads-up: in mid-January I will be absent for a few days. My dad is having surgery and I have agreed to drive him to and from the hospital (it’s like three hours one way) and to take care of him after the surgery until he can see to himself.