This is a re-post of a re-post! Looks very interesting!
Originally posted on What’s Nonfiction?: Book review: Born a Crime, by Trevor Noah Where most children are proof of their parents’ love, I was the proof of their criminality. Apartheid is one of those subjects that I know embarrassingly little about beyond the basics. If you’re in the same position, I highly recommend comedian…
For the past few months, I’ve been on a podcast binge. It started with S-Town, then went to Dear John, then Someone Knows Something, and from there it’s kept going until today. I just finished Missing Richard Simmons, so now I have to find a new series to listen to while I walk the dog, wash dishes, brave the exercise machine, or fold laundry. There’s nothing like a good podcast to make excruciatingly boring tasks enjoyable!
So, here’s a rundown of my top three favorites, and if you have any suggestions of great podcasts, please share them in the comments section!
S-Town: Produced by Serial and This American Life, S-Town feels to me a little like Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil but with a lot more cursing. The main “character” is John, who hounded journalist Brian Reed for months and months, wanting Reed to come down to Alabama to investigate a murder. At least, what John thinks is a murder. From there, the story unravels like a prickly spool of mohair yarn, itchy and bright colored. I have mixed feelings about S-Town. Part of me feels like it exploits the quirks of the deep South — but what saves it, I think, is Reed’s affection for the eccentric and troubled John.
Someone Knows Something: This series is by far my favorite. Produced by CBC Radio (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) and hosted by David Ridgen, Someone Knows Something covers cold cases — murders and missing persons — compassionately and extremely thoroughly. Its first season delves into the case of a missing five-year-old boy from 1972. The second season looks into the disappearance of Sheryl Sheppard in 1998, and the third season helps solve a 1960s murder by the KKK. I can’t wait for Season 4!
Unconcluded: I just listened to the latest episode of Unconcluded last night. Friends Shaun and Scott are currently investigating the 2006 disappearance of Jennifer Kesse from Orlando, Florida. To me, this podcast feels the most urgent because it deals with a somewhat recent case, and as Scott and Shaun find out information about the case, they share it with listeners. We are on the journey, too. This podcast, like Someone Knows Something, feels compassionate and honest, with real hope of helping the Kesse family find answers to a horrible crime.
The Supreme Court found that “separate but equal” was unhealthy for Black children, that being segregated was fundamentally “bad” for their psyche and self-esteem. But that was not what the NAACP had been fighting for.
From the mouths of two Black parents who took part in the court case, Leola and Oliver Brown, they had no complaints with their daughter’s school (Monroe School, shown below). They loved the teachers, thought the education was “fantastic.” They just wanted all Black parents to have a choice of where to send their children to school.
From Gladwell’s podcast:
So what does the US Supreme Court do in 1954 in the Brown decision? It buys into the southern way of thinking about race. Leola Brown and the other plaintiffs say, “We have a structural problem. We don’t have the power to send Linda to the school down the street.” The court says, “No, no, no, it’s a psychological problem. Little Linda has been damaged in her heart.” That may seem like a small distinction, believe me it’s not. We’re still dealing with the consequences.
Those few sentences by the Supreme Court made a huge difference to children across the segregated South. What do you think happens when Black schools and Black teachers are ruled to be inferior? What happens to teachers and students deemed “deficient”? The fallout is huge. Listen to Gladwell’s podcast, or you can find a transcript of it here.
About two weeks ago, I attended Bookmarks Festival of Books & Authors. It was the first time I’d been, and I was only able to stay for a couple of hours. But it looked great from the little bit I saw! Besides showcasing local and national authors, the festival offered Slush Pile Live (Sponsored by the NC Writers’ Network) for aspiring writers to have their work critiqued. Well, the first 300 words of their work, anyway — anonymously by a panel of agents and editors.
I submitted my 300 words and waited, heart thumping, in the audience for them to randomly pick my work and tear it apart. They never got to mine. But I did learn a lot listening to them tear apart other people’s writing! Here are some tips I gleaned from the painful lessons of others. (Okay, they weren’t that cruel, really!)
Don’t start a memoir with a date. So many submissions started with something like, “September 29, 1962” and then went on to describe events chronologically that weren’t super-exciting. A memoir should read like a novel, with character development. The first section should give the framework for that character’s journey, not just a list of dates and events.
Don’t start a story with so much excitement that the rest of the story can’t possibly live up to that first scene. At least two of the entries started with really gripping, tense scenes. One involved a mystery intruder and a scream from inside the house — the tension was too much, a panelist said. The scream made the story “almost comical” (ouch!). The other started with a gripping car accident which then dwindled when the character just stood around watching the night sky!
Don’t start with a boring topic. One submission described a bug in the sink. Another started with the character getting hugely excited about registering a copyright. The panelists didn’t want to hear the rest. The author has to establish why the reader should care about the story, one panelist explained. The first few sentences are a “microcosm” of the work, the other added.
Don’t use flat language that tells instead of shows. The unpopular entries didn’t include sensory details to anchor the reader in the scene. They contained clichés and flat declarative sentences that didn’t show the character’s personality. The panelists liked a children’s book entry, told from the point of view of a little girl who’d been struck by lightning while she sat on a fence. The writing was full of color and funny words, specific to that character.
All the panelists had really great suggestions and insights about how to start a piece of writing. The key idea I took away from Slush Pile Live was that you only have a few seconds time to capture a reader’s (especially an agent’s or editor’s!) attention. Every detail and sentence counts. Don’t go off on tangents, and don’t include boring stuff that doesn’t really matter.
In my next post, I’ll write about a few of the authors I met at Bookmarks — dedicated writers who didn’t mind standing in the blinding sun for hours to meet new readers!
This isn’t a review because I haven’t read the book yet, but I am definitely planning to after hearing Cat Warren talk last night at May Memorial Library in Burlington about What the Dog Knows. And it’s not just because I used to be one of her journalism students at N.C. State University! She’s an excellent professor and a captivating speaker, so I know her new book has to be just as good!
The idea for the book came about from the unique hobby Warren picked up about seven years ago after buying an extremely hyper and unruly German shepherd named Solo. A dog trainer friend recommended that she turn Solo into a working dog — namely, a cadaver dog! Cadaver dogs, as the name suggests, help police search for the remains of the dead. Unlike search and rescue dogs, cadaver dogs are trained to seek out the smell of decaying human flesh. It’s a gruesome job, but these dogs are vital in cases where police need to find a body to prove a crime. Warren pointed out that cadaver dogs were also used in the awful landslide in Oso, Washington, to find the deceased and help bring closure to surviving loved ones. You can read more about this on Warren’s blog.
Two things struck me last night… The first was the emotional bond between Solo and Warren. She teared up when telling us how she recently retired 10-year-old Solo. They were a team, she explained, practically on auto pilot because they worked so well together. Now a full-time pet, Solo no longer conducts searches for the police or trains regularly. Warren has a different relationship with her new dog, Coda, and you can tell she misses the “old days” with Solo, who she described as “a natural.”
The other point that stood out to me last night was the contradiction between the type of work these dogs do and the fact that handlers must turn the search into a “game.” As a reward for doing a search, Solo gets to play with his favorite tug-toy, so he associates work as fun. Warren told of being bitten accidentally by Solo, as they were playing tug-of-war, and having to suppress a cry of agony. She didn’t want to make the situation stressful for Solo, she explained, so she held her tongue. This level of dedication is pretty overwhelming!
Here’s a book trailer that shows Warren and Solo at work, and gives more details about the book itself: