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The Man Within My Head

Pico Iyer

(Knopf Doubleday; US: Jan 2012)

The Man Within My Head
Pico Iyer

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More than a memoir, this is a testament, an engagement and a gift, really, to Iyer’s two “fathers”, one biological, the other “adopted”: the writer’s own philosopher/lecturer father Raghavan Iyer and the English novelist Graham Greene (the title is a clever extension of Greene’s title The Man Within). Iyer has remarkable descriptive powers, capturing photographic flashes of stillness amidst swirls of human chaos, plainly but magically. The artist-poet Jean Cocteau set out once to paint a picture of a flower. Out came a self-portrait. In The Man Within My Head, Iyer encounters something similarly unintentional: “Like Greene… I’d never had much time for memoir; it was too easy to make yourself the center—even the hero—of your story […] But…in every book, there is another text, written in invisible ink between the lines, that may be telling the real story, of what the words evade.” Guy Crucianelli


 

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Midnight in Peking: How the Murder of a Young Englishwoman Haunted the Last Days of Old China

Paul French

(Penguin; US: Apr 2012)

Midnight in Peking: How the Murder of a Young Englishwoman Haunted the Last Days of Old China
Paul French


History keeps her secrets locked away where only the most dedicated searchers can uncover them. Paul French is one such searcher and Midnight In Peking is his crowning discovery. History and crime are familiar bed partners, but often one tends to overpower the other and the narratives can tip to the sensational or the professorial. French avoids this trap expertly, creating a compelling, intense, well-researched book that takes the smallest of events and unwinds them outward into a spider’s web of context. Pamela Werner, a young British school girl, is found horrifically murdered, her body thrown at the base of the Fox Tower in Peking. Peking is fraught with tension, on the cusp of World War II, and now the city has exploded in superstition, journalists, international pressure, and a collision of old Peking ways vs new Peking. French leaves no stone unturned, no dark corner unexplored. What he finds is more unexpected than we could have anticipated.  Scott Elingburg


 

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Mortality

Christopher Hitchens

(Twelve; US: Sep 2012)

Mortality
Christopher Hitchens


As one might expect, Christopher Hitchens’ Mortality pulls no punches; one is immediately taken to the scene, and the renowned writer details his horror upon awakening in a New York hotel: “The whole cave of my chest and thorax seemed to have hollowed out and then refilled with slow-drying cement. I could faintly hear myself breathe but could not manage to inflate my lungs. My heart was beating either much too much or much too little.” This sounds like something out of Edgar Allan Poe. It’s shocking and hideous. Understandably, brevity befits Hitchens. He is initially shaken, but he has no apologies and no regrets. This is a brave and bold meditation on living, with adversity, in the face of certain death on one hand. On the other hand, and more importantly, this study is about a man who refused to abandon his lifelong principles at a vulnerable time when he very easily could have. William Carl Ferleman


 

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My Friend Dahmer

Derf Backderf

(Harry N. Abrams, Inc.; US: Mar 2012)

My Friend Dahmer
Derf Backderf


When he was in high school in Ohio during the ‘70s, Derf Backderf was friends with the teenaged Jeffrey Dahmer. They hung out long enough to have shared jokes that would later prove to be haunting indicators of a dark future Backderf later became the underground comic artist known just as “Derf” (responsible for that indie weekly stalwart strip “The City”). His astonishing graphic memoir does what New York Times writer David Carr did with his Night of the Gun: diving into his own past like a reporter would, instead of just trusting his own memory of how he befriended one of America’s most notorious serial killers. The result is an astute piece of highly personal journalism whose sheer modesty (Backderf never pretends to know more than he does, or to have had any foresight about Dahmer’s future) and refusal to assign any justification for his friend’s later horrors accounts for much of this book’s jagged potency.  Chris Barsanti


 

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No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission that Killed Osama Bin Laden

Mark Owen

(Penguin; US: Sep 2012)

No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission that Killed Osama Bin Laden
Mark Owen


There’s no dearth of projects about the death of Osama Bin Laden debuting in the year 2012, but only one is a first-hand, boots-on-the-ground account of the raid on the terrorist mastermind’s compound and his subsequent assassination. Former Navy Seal Matt Bissonnette (writing under the pseudonym “Mark Owen”) and co-author Kevin Maurer craft a well-rounded memoir of Bissonnette’s military career, focusing on his time as a Navy SEAL with DEVGRU (United States Naval Special Warfare Development Group). No Easy Day is an exciting read, focusing not just on its stated thesis but other high profile missions Bissonnette was involved in (such as the Maersk Alabama hijacking), while still showing the author and his fellow SEALs as real human beings with families and senses of humor. On the other hand, this excitement is calculated, using cinematic cliffhangers and fragmented storytelling to keep the story the title promises extending to a full book length. The controversy and verifiable elements prove the book’s content is real, but for better or for worse there are times that No Easy Day reads like a novel. Those looking for an action-packed and factual read should look no further. Those seeking a literal account of the mission that killed Bin Laden will find a lot more than just this specialized story.  J.C. Macek III


 

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The Occupy Handbook

Janet Byrne, ed.

(Little, Brown & Company; US: Apr 2012)

The Occupy Handbook
Janet Byrne, ed.


Now that the permanent occupations have ended, the question for many within the movement and for their supporters across the planet is: where do we go from here? The articles and essays in The Occupy Handbook address this question by situating the movement within a historical context of progressive dissent and direct action, and by offering many potential strategies for transforming the protestors’ anger into viable political outcomes. Written by a selection of prominent journalists, academics and economists, The Occupy Handbook presents a range of ideological perspectives and prescriptive actions from the revolutionary anarchism of anthropologist and activist David Graeber to the progressive tax policy solutions of economists Peter Diamond and Emmanuel Saez. Taken as a whole, the book provides a powerful testament to what the Occupy movement has already accomplished simply by inspiring these types of discussions to occur. We live in a globalized world, and any viable form of resistance to the inequities that we face will need to be international in scope. It’s time to realize that the demand for a more free and equal society is within our reach, if only we can act together. Robert Alford


 

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Queer and Pleasant Danger: The true story of a nice Jewish boy who joins the Church of Scientology and leaves twelve years later to become the lovely lady she is today

Kate Bornstein

(Beacon; US: Apr 2012)

Queer and Pleasant Danger: The true story of a nice Jewish boy who joins the Church of Scientology and leaves twelve years later to become the lovely lady she is today
Kate Bornstein


Using humor, honesty, and wit, Kate Bornstein leads readers through life changing events such as the decade she spent as a contributing member to the church of Scientology, the path leading to gender reassignment surgery, exploits in the lesbian BDSM scene, life as a performance artist, through the years struggling with suicide and eating disorders – just to name a few. However, Bornstein uses these episodes to frame the understanding and development of her identity as rooted in the emotional ruptures and sutures with families, friends, lovers, and of course with herself. Her mission for this memoir, “I must not tell lies” (7) not only develops her art of storytelling but also Bornstein’s own understanding of self-identity.  Bornstein reminds readers that by constantly revisiting the stories we tell ourselves, we change and modify them. Thus akin to our memories, we also must change and rebuild, we must be self-reflective, and we must not lie to ourselves. And much as identity can change, Bornstein demonstrates that a life’s history is fluid and mercurial. Elisabeth Woronzoff

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