Unfollow: A Memoir of Loving and Leaving the Westboro Baptist Church reminded me of Educated, which also stars a young woman brought up in a fanatical family, but with a very big difference: here, while fed a dizzying diet of one-sided Bible stories, the author is also encouraged to read the entire book, go to school and college, and not only browse the internet, but also be the voice of the Westboro Baptist Church online.
I found the story of how she slowly realized that the church, founded by her dictatorial and intolerant grandfather, was based on a lie, and that the coercive methods he employed were unacceptable, fascinating because of two things. One, she manages to talk kindly about the people involved, especially her mother, even as she details the errors of their ways. And two, she describes very clearly how painful it is to leave a church that is also her family, since it means that she will literally never see many of her relatives again.
Written as a memoir, mostly by the scientist of the title, The Perfect Predator: A Scientist’s Race to Save Her Husband from a Deadly Superbug tells a spellbinding story of a very sick man, her husband and co-author, who endured months of severe illness, much of it in ICU, while fighting antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. In the end, an extremely experimental procedure involving a customized bacteriophage (the unlikely shape on the cover of the book) won the battle, propelled by a formidable phalanx of scientists with FDA connections, led or at least inspired by the first author. From a scientific perspective, it’s an amazing tale. From a societal perspective, it feels a little strange to see the deployment of such formidable tools being engineered solely through the connections of the principals–but reviving bacteriophage therapy may well serve many other patients in the future.
There Will Be No Miracles Here starts and end in a combative and confusing mood–but do persevere to the (vast) middle part, which tells the story of a rough childhood, followed by a football scholarships to Yale and entry into Wall Street. This is not a simple success story, and the author takes great care to explore the stunning contrast between his impoverished neighborhood and the halls of power, as well as the prejudices and twisted logic that allow schools and other institutions in poor neighborhoods to wither while the rich congratulate themselves on helping a chosen few to escape.
You would be bitter, too.
Nobody’s Victim: Fighting Psychos, Stalkers, Pervs, and Trolls is the memoir of a lawyer who defends the victims of stalkers, rapists, revenge porn online stalkers, and worse. It contains very graphic personal memories as well as client stories that are often terrifying, not only for the perversity and violence of the perpetrators but also, more troublingly, by the inept responses of the authorities–as in a student raped by another student outside school being told to stay home (no sanction for her rapist), or a woman reporting online harassment who is told by police to just go home. And that does not include opening one’s door to a SWAT team when the stalker has called in a boomb threat to one’s house.
The author makes the point that the legal structure is slow to keep up with new, online harassment techniques (and online providers also slow, and deaf to victim’s pleas to remove utterly offensive materials, under the cover of defending free speech.)
I could have done without the combative tone throughout, and the level of language, but found the book illuminating. It would be good to include some of the stories in the basic “health” classes that high-school students suffer through. Online violence is a real danger, and one that parents and teenagers underestimate.
Helen Prejean became a Catholic nun just a couple of years before the Vatican II Council, and in River of Fire: My Spiritual Journey, she gives an intriguing description of what the changes meant for nuns who, before, had absolutely no voice in their own destinies, and indeed could not even keep their own names. But the more interesting part of her memoir might be her candid discussion of how, living just blocks away from a poor African American neighborhood in New Orleans, she had never walked or driven there, and was quite surprised when she decided to move there to find rampant police brutality along with dire poverty, setting her on a different course. She has a great sense of humor, whether describing the hot and cumbersome habit she wore in her early years or the difficulties of maintaining friendships with men.
Susan Straight’s family, considered jointly with her ex-husband’s, contains an astonishing number of remarkable women who fled poverty, violence, slavery, and quite a number of bad men. In The Country of Women recounts their stories, moving from the present to the distant past in chapters that hopscotch across time and the country, and Switzerland as well. There is also a warm description of how her neighborhood sustains her and her daughters, and in turn expects her to help all manners of relatives and friends of the family. Family pictures enliven the lot
The father of the author of A Good American Family: The Red Scare and My Father was investigated by the House Un-American Activities Committee in the early fifties and subsequently blacklisted. His younger son researched the lives of his parents, the lives of the committee members, and tells all about it in this book. “All about it” is a problem: we read about his uncle’s service in the international brigades, the amputated leg of one of the committee member, each round of voting when his father was chosen to be the editor of the school paper–and, it seems the full transcript of his father’s interview by the committee. Transcripts are not the liveliest of materials.