I was traveling a great deal this month, which meant I was reading a great deal. Having just returned from a wonderful literary festival in Lyon, France, I knocked off eight books in the last few days alone. Being an insomniac on an overnight flight isn’t ideal for sleeping, but it’s a grand chance to catch up on reading. Here are some of the recent titles read and enjoyed:
1) Helter Skelter, by Vincent Bugliosi. One of those “everyone has read it but me” books that I finally picked up. Wow. The story of the Manson Family, the murders, and the trials are of course compelling, but I was in awe of the sheer enormity of information compacted into a gripping narrative by Bugliosi. The bestselling true crime story of all time also provided me with a laugh. The moment during voir dire in which one of the defense attorneys questions jurors by asking if they or any member of their families has ever been a victim of homicide, only to be interrupted by a subordinate who points out that a “homicide victim” wouldn’t be of much use as a juror…you just have to laugh. If you ever want to receive a truly odd look from someone beside you on a plane, burst into loud laughter, then respond to the question of “what are you reading?” by saying “Helter Skelter.” I’m pretty certain I made a new insomniac out of that poor passenger.
2) Bringing Adam Home, by Les Standiford. Sticking with the true crime thread, this account of the Adam Walsh case, cowritten by Standiford and detective Joe Matthews, is a compelling work, tragic but also inspirational, a reminder of the power of determination.
3) Why We Make Mistakes, by Joseph T. Hallinan. There isn’t a lot in here that will prevent you from making future mistakes, but the studies of human error and the underlying causes are fascinating and troubling and sometimes amusing. You’ll finish the book far better informed about the foundations behind mistakes, and in some cases — pilot error, medical error — you’ll learn how careful scrutiny of patterns helped reduce fatal errors by an enormous percentage. This book was recommended to me by my father, who lost his copy midway through and had to buy a second one. Talk about the “ideal reader” for Mr. Hallinan.