Janet Malcolm: The Journalist and the Murderer

contributor_janetmalcolmphoto_p233_cropHere’s a quick tip: When life gets too busy and you find yourself too short on time to read a great book, grab one that’s short and sweet!

In The Journalist and the Murderer, Janet Malcolm explores the issue of ethics in journalism as well as the relationship between a journalist/author and his/her subject. It tells the true story of how author Joe McGinniss pursues the story of a convicted murderer Jeffrey MacDonald. Essentially, McDonald insists that he is innocent and makes a deal with McGinniss, who wants to write a book about the case. However, McDonald was naively believed that McDonald was on his side, that he too believed the conviction was unjust. He naively trusts an author who already had preconceptions about the case, but nonetheless led McGinniss to believe otherwise so that he could gather information for his new book: Fatal Vision. 

Through this book, I was able to get a glimpse of the type of dilemma journalists face, especially investigative journalists. How do you get the “truth” or the bottom of the story without misleading the subject , at least a little? For instance, if you’re writing a piece on a case of molestation, how do you get the perpetrator and even the victim to talk? Also, it raises the issue of subjectivity in everything we read. Indeed, no matter how “objective” writers try to be, they cannot escape bias.

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David Finkel: Thank You for Your Service

Journalist David Finkel provides an insightful look into the lives of Iraq & Afghanistan war veterans in his latest book, “Thank You for Your Service.” As many Americans are aware, returning soldiers often struggle with severe mental health issues, often leading to suicide. In fact, in the book, Finkel addresses the fact that the suicide rate among Iraq & Afghan veterans have increased dramatically despite top-down efforts to curtail the issue.

Sadly, I wasn’t shocked to read about the struggles veterans experience in trying to receive help from federal programs designed to help physically/psychologically/emotionally wounded veterans. Indeed, the lack of compassion expressed by professionals or the bureaucratic system soldiers must go through was more aggravating than surprising. I’m not saying that these costly programs are ineffective and, therefore, should be gotten rid off.  I’m sure it helps some people; group therapy may be reminiscent of the camaraderie experience abroad. But honestly, do soldiers really have to be put through such dreadful systems that even we don’t like to go through? Shouldn’t we make treatment more accessible and easy?

It also occurred to me that veterans are often burdened with guilt over their war activities/behaviors, feeling monstrous for lack of compassion expressed and blaming themselves for the death of fellow soldiers. Maybe what they really need is to know that they’re forgiven, especially by those they love most. They need to know they are not inhumane and that there is a reason they’re still alive. Yet, I realized that their aren’t many programs, if any, that help the families of soldiers prepare for either possible loss or the return of soldiers who may come back with baggage from the war. Maybe such programs should be implemented. Maybe prepared families may facilitate the likelihood of effective and lasting healing.

Piper Kerman: Orange Is The New Black

If you’re looking for jaw-dropping drama of prison life, unexpected turns, bumps in the road, or anything close to real experiences of hardships, this book may not be for you. Instead, what you’ll find is an account of the prison experience of an “atypical” female inmate, Piper Kerman. Unlike most of her fellow inmates, she’s a white, blonde, blue-eyed, middle class career women with a boyfriend/fiance, Larry, who seems completely understanding of her past. Also, unlike most other inmates whose criminal behavior was related to a need to survive, Kerman’s involvement in a decade old drug crime was the result of youthful curiosity and desire for adventure. Her experience in prison also seems atypical in that her race and educational background allots her several privileges that enable her to escape grueling experiences others may have. At least that’s the way she makes it seem.

Despite being completely void of drama or tension, I did find myself returning to the book multiple times a day. What I found most intriguing is the insight this book provides into the social norms of the particular prison she was at for nearly 2 years. Women who look after each other, special movie nights and dishes prepared in the microwave, the norms of greeting new inmates with gifts and the specific questions asked, etc. It sheds light on the fact that in any situation, where there is more than 1 person, there will be norms of some sort. And when those norms are broken, there are consequences. The book also provides insight into the fact that many female inmates are not adequately prepared to face the outside world. For instance, women in prison are not really taught how to find legitimate employment other than being advised to use the Internet. The problem, however, lies in the fact that most of these women either don’t know how to use computers or don’t own them. It’s no surprise, therefore, that inmates often return to prison shortly after release. Overall, it’s not the most action-packed book, but much can still be gained.