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Golden State

We are tangled, we are stolen, we are living where things are hidden -Eddie Vedder

He just needed someone to blame, to take his grief out on. He wasn’t interested in facts or evidence. –Damien Echols

 

 

In 2001 I was a junior in a small, rural high school. I was taking classes through my high school in partnership with the local community colleges so that I would be ahead of the game when I got to college in two years. One of the classes I took was Introduction to Sociology. It was the professor in this class that first presented me with the film Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills.

 

 

I was an awkward and moody and very angsty youth, especially my junior year. I remember sitting in that classroom with my all black outfit and my snarky sense of self and feeling the eyes of each of my classmates on me. One person even made the comment “that would have been you.” I was mesmerized and terrified by what was happening on screen because that very easily could have been my story. And every single person in that room knew it.

 

 

A little background on the West Memphis Three:
The West Memphis Three are Jessie Loyd Misskelley Jr., Charles Jason Baldwin, and Damien Wayne Echols. In May 1993 three eight-year-old boys: Stevie Edward Branch, Michael Moore, and Christopher Byers were reported missing and later discovered dead in a drainage ditch off of I-40 in their hometown of West Memphis, Arkansas:

The condition of the bodies of the boys was indicative of mutilation and sexual assault. For years rumors of Satanic worship and Black Magic swirled around the tiny, Southern town. Standing out against the crowd much like myself, Damien, Jason and Jessie were immediately fingered for the crime as it so obviously must have been part of some Satanic Ritual and the three young boys were the sacrifice. However, there was no evidence to support that it was any of the West Memphis Three who committed the horrible crime, or that the crime had anything at all to do with Satanism. The three maintain their innocence today, along with millions of world-wide supporters and several celebrities including Eddie Vedder, Natalie Maines, Johnny Depp, Peter Jackson, Jack Black, Patti Smith, Fran Walsh, Joe Berlinger, Bruce Sinofsky, and Henry Rollins, but that’s just naming a few.
After being found guilty on all three counts (despite a bumbled trial complete with lost evidence, public hysteria, false confessions, admited police incompetence, unexplored possible suspects, and a biased jury) Damied was sentenced to death, Jason and Jessie were to receive life in prision without parole.

Cut to August 18, 2012: An Alford Plea was struck and the three walked free.

 

If it sounds asinine, that’s because it is. After sitting in that classroom and viewing this film, I was outraged. It was obvious to everyone in my class that if something like this were to happen in my hometown, I could be jailed for life and/or sentenced to death because I was wearing a black outfit, I read Stephen King novels, I had a Metallica CD in my car! I began to read everything I could about the case and to write letters to the three boys. I put money into their prison accounts, I donated to the WM3 Defense Fund monthly, I sent them gifts from their Amazon.com wishlists, I let them know that the world wasn’t forgetting about them; that the world knew they were innocent and being punished unjustly.

So, this is a book blog, and what does all of this have to do with books? Well, good question. In honor of the one year anniversary of their release from prison, I wanted to share two books that I think capture the madness of the whole case. The first is Devil’s Knot: The True Story of the West Memphis Three by Mara Leveritt.

Leveritt is an Arkansas journalist who covered the initial trial in the local papers. Realizing the preposterousness of the entire affair, she went on to support the three and release this book full of facts, photographs, court records and interviews. A few years earlier, my mom and I spent all of Thanksgiving Day watching my DVD’s of Paradise Lost 1 & 2 (these are two HBO Documentaries by Bruce Sinofsky and Joe Berlinger that shine a light on all of the unjust facts of the case. The video I watched in my Sociology class was Paradise Lost 1. There is a documentary done by Damien, his wife Lorri Davis and Peter Jackson of The Lord of the Rings fame called West of Memphis that will be released in theatres this December. See the links at the bottom of this post for a trailer for West of Memphis. A fictionalized account of Leveritt’s book starring Reese Witerspoon is set to be released sometime in 2013. I don’t know how I feel about this. I like the documentaries because they bring a spotlight to the case, but a fictionalized film only serves to make it look made up; like a story. There is absolutley nothing fictional about this tragedy at all). After watching the videos and talking it all over with me, my mom became convinced that the three boys were innocent as well, and if not innocent, then certainly not given a fair trial. I gave my mom a copy of this book last year and she said “it was a good book, because the author was very un-biased. At times I found myself wondering if it could have been possible for those boys to have done it…” Leveritt is extremely un-biased, that’s what makes her a first-rate journalist. In this book she does a stellar job of presenting the facts and letting the reader come to their on conclusions of what really happened that summer night in 1993. And even after reading this book, reading all of the articles on the subject, watching all of the documentaries, and just generally educating myself on the case, I still found myself changing my mind about who the guilty party really was.

Last May I finally had the chance to visit West Memphis and to see it all for myself. Before going there and after reading Leveritt’s book, I was convinced that the murderer was most likely Terry Hobbs, the stepfather of Stevie Branch. However, aftering physically being there, I have changed my mind and I now strongly feel that the killer was most likely a stranger from out of town. The position of the highways and the fact that this town is nothing but a truck-stop town makes it entirely possible that it was some sick-o just passing through. My money is on a suspect known only as Mr. Bojangles because of the ineptness of the West Memphis Police Department. 

 

The second book I want to recommend to those of you wanting to gain more insight into this case is Almost Home: My Life Story Volume 1 by Damien Echols.

This is the memoir told in Damien’s own words from prison. This is a book to read if you want to get a sense of what an unjust legal system does to it’s victims. The book is not a great work of literature, it’s not the best written, but it is exceedingly honest and heartbreaking. This September I am very excited to announce that Damien is releasing his  second book (it’s not volume 2. When asked about that, he states that there will not be a volume 2 and that volume 1 is out of print, so I consider myself lucky to have gotten a copy.) called Life After Death which he wrote last year on the topic of his release from prision.
From IndieBound.org: “Now Echols shares his story in full—from abuse by prison guards and wardens, to portraits of fellow inmates and deplorable living conditions, to the incredible reserves of patience, spirituality, and perseverance that kept him alive and sane while incarcerated for nearly two decades”. Hearing the case from soundbites on NPR and the nightly news was one thing, but hearing what it was like straight from the horses mouth will haunt your dreams.  I can not recommend these two books enough. They are both superior sources for those of you who may not know much about the case yet or for those of you who are long-time supporters of the three. Whichever of those categories you fall under, pick up these two, you won’t regret it, and I hope to see some of you become supporters soon!

 

 

I implore you to see also:

 

 

 

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I know, I know, I missed it again! This school year is already kicking my butt (literally, I fell down the stairs at school today like a ding-dong!) so I just didn’t have the strength Tuesday or Wednesday when I got home to update and do my TTT post even though I already had it rough drafted out on notebook paper. So, here it is, two days late, my TTT for the week of 814/12:

Romances that I believe would survive this crazy real world we live in:

10. Alice and Charlie from American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld.

           
image from socionix.com

I was a big fan of the former first lady at one time. She reminded me a lot of myself. I guess I still am a fan, somewhat. I don’t care at all for her husband. I did care a great deal for this book though. It’s a fictionalized account of the relationship that blossomed between Laura and George, including all the gory details of a car crash caused by Mrs. Bush herself as a teenager. Having loved Sittenfeld’s first novel, Prep, I bought this one with the same expectations. However, this is a very different breed of book than Prep, though I did end up enjoying both. I do think that Charlie (George) and Alice (Laura) would have made it it reality, because..well… they did!

9. Jacob Black and Bella Swan from the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer

        
image from fanpop.com

I choose Jacob over Edward because I am a huge member of Team Jacob (I’m wearing my Quileute Tribe shirt right now) but also because I believe that they would have ended up together in reality. After Edward hit the road, Jack in New Moon and Bella and Jacob became closer, I really believe that they would have stayed together in reality. Being abandoned and dumped the way Bella was, I just can’t believe she’d go back to him. Oh, well, at least Jake got a happy ending, too.

8. Marlena and Jacob from Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

    
image from wwhan12.wordpress.com

If you fall in love over any animal, especially an elephant, it’s just gonna last forevs.

7. Elinor and Edward from Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

     

Maaaaannnnn, I wanted these two together the whole darn book. One was so shy and proper and the other was so bent on honoring his promises that they were willing to be apart if needed. Thank goodness it wasn’t needed and they got to be together in the end!

6. Gilbert and Anne from Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maude Montgomery

   
image from fanpop.com

This movie was on television the other night and I got caught up in it again. It was the early one, where Anne moves to Green Gables and not the later one where she and Gilbert end up happily ever after, but it did get me in the frame of mind of how these two were so meant for each other and that’s why I just had to include them on this list, because honestly they would so have made it in reality!

5. Allie and Noah from The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks

  
image from romanceeternal.org

Sweetest couple ever. And he wrote their story down. And then he read it to her. And then they died together. And then I cried.

4. Jamie and Claire from The Outlander Series by Diana Gabaldon

   
image from outlandishobservations.blogspot.com

Even though this whole series is so totally unbelievable with the whole time travel thing and all, I still deeply believe that the love between Claire and Jamie would have lasted and would have survived whether in ye olden Scotland or in new modern England (or America, or Canada, or wherever in the world they find themselves).

3. Hermione and Ron from The Harry Potter Series by J. K. Rowling

  
image from fanpop.com

Upon my first reading of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone I knew that these two were meant fror each other.

2. Josephine March and Professor Friedrich Baher from Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

   
image from tumblr.com

OF COURSE I would have one of the couples from Little Women on here and OF COURSE it would be my most favoritest gal Jo and her hunka hunka burnin’ love Prof. Baher! When I made my rough draft the other night, I originally had Laurie down as the other half of Jo’s forever heart, but then I started thinking about childhood friends and how they really rarely ever work out romantically in the end. Jo had to grow up and go out in the world and get a job and write her books and learn some more and THEN she could settle down and who better to do it with than Friedrich! This man could help her open her school and publish her books! I truly believe that they would have made it in the real world based on their relationship of mutual honesty and respect.

That’s right, there are only 9 couples on the list because as hard as I racked my noggin, I just couldn’t think of another couple to add on and I didn’t want to get sloppy by just picking some random couple (like Rhett and Scarlett. I honestly do not think that those two would have made it in the real world. Tomorrow may be another day, doll, but I think he’s gonna tell you to shove it again.) so I’m leaving it at 9. Who do you think I left off the list? Who do you think should have been left off the list?

‘Til Next Time!

You did a fine job of hiding that crooked ace up your sleeve -Brandon Flowers

One’s happiness must in some measure be always at the mercy of chance. -Jane Austen from Sense and Sensibility

This is my second book for my Classic’s Club 50 in 5 challenge.
This is my first book for my Austen in August Reading Event.

Classic: Sense & Sensibility
Author: Jane Austen
Publication Date: 1811
Pages: 846 (nook version, don’t ask me why so many)
Publisher: Smashbooks
Where I got it: Download onto my nook from Nook store
Dates Read: August 3, 2012 to August 12, 2012
# of Stars: 5/5

It took me a lot longer to finish up Sense and Sensibility than it really should have. There are several reasons for this and not one of those reasons is that the book is not very good or engaging- in fact, it is monstrous both. The school year started back up for me on Wednesday which took a lot of wind out of my sails and a lot of reading time out of my days. About a week before I decided to participate in the Austen in August reading even over at Roof Beam Reader’s site I had purchased a copy of the Masterpiece Theatre/BBC version of Sense & Sensibility. I simultaneously watched the episodes while reading the book. I believe that this helped me to get a visual of what was going on as well as assisted in deciphering the prose of the time that the book was written in. I had seen this version a few times on PBS and I loved it very much so there were no spoilers for me, though it would have been nice to not know that Willoughby was such a scoundrel and that Elinor was going to marry Edward after all.

Mmmmm…. Edward Ferrars….

I enjoyed this book immensly, and I am almost ashamed to write this, but it is the truth and I’m striving to be more like Elinor in my life, which in one respect is to say more honest and so I must confess: I prefer the movie version better (the Masterpiece version, as I have not seen the Ang Lee version, yet.).  I truly believe I prefer the screen version over the print because it was my first involvement with the story of the sisters Dashwood. If I had read the book first, I surely would prefer it.

My favorite thing about this story is the fact that I could have easily been Marianne (or to a lesser degree, Elinor). Even in the 1800’s in England, girls still fancied boys who are jerks and girls still had a tendency to slight the good guys! When it comes to the opposite sex I have made numerous mistakes in my years of dating. I tend to choose the Willoughby over the Colonel Brandon and then rue the wasted time and the heartbreak caused by my own dumb choice. So, I didn’t feel as embarassed and I didn’t cringe as much regarding my past mistakes in dudes since Marianne was doing the exact same thing I did at her age: impulsively falling in love, flaunting it all over town, ignoring common sense, getting the short end of the gossip stick, you know, just basically acting in love and then getting dumped for the rich (in modern language: popular) girl and mooning over it for months. However, one part made me feel a little old maid-ish and a little pissed off-ish at Marianne:

” ‘A woman of seven and twenty’ “ (Egads, I am 27 years old!) “said Marianne, after pausing a moment, ‘can never hope to feel or inspire affection again, and if her home be uncomfortable, or her fortune small” (very small, I work in public education), “I can suppose that she might bring herself to submit to the offices of a nurse, for the sake of the provision and security of a wife.'” Gulp!

I love Marianne because she is me, but my favorite characters were definitely Elinor and Mrs. Jennings. These two women are as opposite as night and day but I love them both for who they are. Elinor is so reserved and calm and cool and collected and everything that I just am not but that I strive to be. I love her for always keeping her cool and never going nuts and silently suffering heartbreak for MONTHS just to spare her sister and her mother from feeling heartbreak for her. If I’m heartbroken, I’m taking out a billboard and begging for sympathy and pity. Now, Mrs. Jennings, she is a hoot and a holler!! This is a sassy, brash little old lady that I pictured as Sophia Petrillo from the Golden Girls!

The brashness, the sauciness, the rudeness, the likability of these two ladies is what makes them the bitchin’ characters that they are. Neither of these ladies is afraid to lay on the innuendo and offend those around them, especially when it comes to relations! In addition to the talent of genuinely writing two such different characters that both become so love-able and appreciated and necessary to the rest of the story and the other characters, Austen also portrayed my favorite kind of character: the strong female. In an age of weaklings (see Bella Swan in Twilight) I am of the opinion that showing female characters, especially in this time when so much of their worth was dependent on the men in their lives. Austen blows that out of the water, and as the case with Willoughby shows, the MEN sometimes must be dependent on the WOMEN for money and status! Hu-zahhh Ms. Austen, Huzzah! Though each of her female characters are bad-ass women (even the deplorable Fanny- she knows how to turn John Dashwoods head and get EXACTLY what she wants, when she wants it, and how she wants it) they still find classy ways to tell each other to get bent, especially Elinor when dealing with that despicable Lucy Steele. This is what all women in every country and in all times should aim to be like and I am so thankful when I see these types of characters in books. So, thank you Jane for writing these characters into your works, and like Sophia would say, thank you for being a friend!

IMAG0760Since I am participating in the Austen in August Reading Event hosted by Roof Beam Reader I decided that today’s daily picture would be a picture of my Austen-related materials (not counting what I’m getting from the library and what I have on my nook). Today after work I finished watching the BBC/Masterpiece Theatre version of Sense and Sensibility and I am about 1/3 of the way through it. Next up I think I am going to try for a biography or Northanger Abbey.

I am 100% obsessed with all things The Golden Girls. I know the dialogue to each episdoe by heart. I can keep up with the best of them at any GG trivia you can throw at me and I got to meet Rue McClanahan (Blanche Hollingsworth Deveraux) at the BookMarks festival (just like I got the chance to meet Charlaine Harris (see yesterday’s daily photo)). This is a photograph of the book that she signed for me. If you are a fan of Rue or the Golden Girls or just enjoy funny memoirs then My First Five Husbands… is a book that you have got to read. I really enjoyed this one.

Well, it’s official, today is my last day of summer vacation. I start training (which I’ve already done, last year, but don’t let me get started on that tangent) tomorrow for two weeks and then I have a week of workdays and then the kids come back on the 27th. Those three weeks of preparing for the little darlings means that I will be worn out even before the kids arrive and it also means a lot less time for me to read which I really hate to part with. Oh well, I’m thankful to even have a job in this economy and at least I will be back into a routine.
Since tomorrow is technically my “first day of school” I have decided that this weeks TTT will be books set in or around a school.

10. Pledged: The Secret Life of Sororities by Alexandra Robbins
I was never in a sorority in college, but I was always fascinated by the girls who wore matching shirts with Greek letters on them and who seemed to only socialize with each other. I only knew what sororities were like from TV shows like Beverly Hills: 90210 and movies like The House Bunny. This book isn’t that much different than those televised portrayls. Robbins goes undercover and rushes a sorority, gaining the trust of the girls in the house and gives us all the gory details of body image troubles and hazing horrors. It made me pretty glad I never decided to seek out one of those matching t-shirts.

 

9. The Magic Schoolbus Series by Joanna Cole and Illustrated by Bruce Degen 
Let’s be honest here, who didn’t want to be in Ms. Frizzle’s class and get to go on these slammin’ field trips? The Magic Schoolbus books were non-fiction fun escapes that taught me (and countless other youngins) about topics like the solar system, the water cycle, and, my personal favorite, what it’s like inside of a hurricane.

 

8. Villette by Charlotte Bronte 
Okay, this one probably made the list because I just finished reading (and loving) this one. However, there is always something so romantic and exotic about a European boarding school that I just love.

 7. Blackboard Jungle by Evan Hunter

Okay, this book was written in the 1950’s- when kids were still “good”!!! If you thought that they were bad then, I double-dog dare you to attempt to set foot in a school today. Seriously, folks, nothing can prepare you for what happens inside a school. It would blow your mind. It does mine on a daily basis.

6. Matilda by Roald Dahl
I loved Roald Dahl, and I especially loved Matilda. Matilda was a relatable character for me since she was reading well before going to school. I hated that mean old Ms. Trunchbull for her and I equally loved Ms. Honey. This is a charming story that I can’t wait to share with my daughter one day!

 

5. Christy by Catherine Marshall
Christy is the story of a 19-year old girl who goes to teach in the Smoky Mountains of NC (yes! I love a NC Mountains book!) and discovers hardships both from the townspeople and from her reluctant students but eventually comes to love them all. There was also a CBS-produced mini-series staring Kellie Martin that came out which is equally enjoyable!

 

4. The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
Frequently chalanged and often seen on the ALA’s Top 100 Banned/Challenged Book List this social-commentary book has it all- sex, secret socities, refusal to sell chocolate for those stupid school mandated fundraisers (ever year I end up with a stack of straight-up CRAP that I have felt like I had to buy from the students. The book is pretty intense and it raises up some thought-provoking concepts.

 

 

3. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Front Cover
I read this book in one sitting while I myself was in high school. It’s got some pretty tough issues in it, but one of my good friends did a unit on this book with her eighth grade  honors class last year, and it must have gone pretty well. The kids seemed to enjoy it and I had a lot of them come into the library asking for more books like it and more by Anderson. There was also a Lifetime TV movie staring Bella Swan that came out a few years ago.

2. I am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe.
My aunt sent me a copy of this book for my birthday the year before I left for college. Like the protagonist, I, too, am from a small, rural, North Carolina town. After reading this book I wasn’t sure if I was excited or nervous to go to college. This was a fun read and I felt really smart reading a Tom Wolfe novel (and one that was so thick, too!). This is one I remember immensly enjoying and one that I will need to revisit soon.

 

 

1. The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
Hogwarts, Hogwarts, Hogwarts, Hogwarts– enough said! (PS, I think that I would be a Hufflepuff, but that kind of thing is best left up to the sorting hat).

Image

Today’s daily photo is from a couple of months ago. The North Carolina Bookmarks Organization hosts amazing and wonderful events throughout the year and culminates in a huge three-day festival each September. One of the featured events this past year was A Conversation With Charlaine Harris. Charlaine came to Winston-Salem and talked about her life, her books,her characters, her upcoming TV shows (Harper Connelley/Grave Series on SyFy!!!) and confirmed that there will be one more Sookie Stackhouse book for us! This is a picture of me getting my Sookie Stackhouse Compainion Book signed by Ms. Harris.