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in which the author discusses five books he’d read, if time permitted.
1. Restless Souls: The Sharon Tate Family’s Account of Stardom, the Manson Murders, and a Crusade for Justice, by Alisa Statman and Brie Tate
I read Vincent Bugliosi‘s Helter Skelter was I was 12 or 13. The 1980s had just turned into the 1990s; CDs were relatively new, Beatles records were getting remastered, and nostalgia for John, Paul, George, and Ringo (in that order) was taking off; in the not-so-distant past or future, Geraldo had interviewed or would interview Charles Manson. With or without permission, I borrowed my mother’s copy of the book, kept on a high shelf next to a first-edition hardcover copy of Stephen King‘s Skeleton Crew and James Mitchener‘s Poland, which looked thoroughly unread. The black-and-white pictures in the middle of Helter Skelter were the best part: bloody handprints (Tate’s?) on a wall; the tiny space under the kitchen sink where the diminutive Manson hid when the family compound was raided by police; the creepy graffiti “1 2 3 4 5 6 7 All good children go to heaven” scrawled at a murder scene; a portrait of Manson with a swastika carved into his forehead. Manson, a psychotic chameleon, looked different in every photograph. Burdened with, yet cherishing these images, I entered adolescence.
2. How to Be Black, by Baratunde Thurston
I thought this book was written by this black dude, but it was actually written by this black dude. I could pretend it’s because they have (somewhat) similar first names, but I think it’s better to blame the racism.
3. Surfing the Gnarl, by Rudy Rucker
This is, like, a collection of fiction and nonfiction—-or maybe writing that blurs the line between fiction and nonfiction?—-by an interesting-seeming sci-fi (scyfy?) dude who isn’t Philip K. Dick. Because, after Minority Report, and A.I., and Blade Runner, and The Adjustment Bureau, who isn’t a little sick of Philip K. Dick, or at least Hollywood movies based on his work? Also, if you think about it, isn’t the plot of every Philip K. Dick novel or short story reducible to: “We, Protagonists X, must do all we can to stop Antagonists Y. But wait—-in some essential, ambiguous way, doesn’t X = Y?”
4. Gathering of Waters, by Bernice L. McFadden
This novel is based on the brutal murder of Emmett Till, which we should do all we can to remember every month of the year—-not just Black History Month.
5. Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone, by Eric Klinenberg
I don’t know if the dude that wrote this book is single or not. Maybe it’s irrelevant—-or worse, too easy. “This guy who wrote a book about how awesome it is to be single isn’t actually single! What a douche!” Or, alternately: “This guy who wrote a book about how awesome it is to be single is actually single and totally in denial about how much it sucks! What a douche!” But, as readers, we must weigh the very real possibility that our narrators are reliable against the terrifying chance—-or, depending on your taste in literature, the desperate hope—-that they are not.