LWR: Flaccid Drug-Crazed Lady Killers

That time again: some short blurbs about what I’ve just finished reading, as well as a week-themed rating: if Monday is the day we most despise, and Saturday is the day we most look forward to, then this scale represents my rating system:

Monday = “I threw the book across the room (from the free throw line, into the trashcan).”
Tuesday = “I threw the book across the room (then picked it up and reluctantly finished it because I need to know what to complain about most).”
Wednesday = “I (sort of) tossed the book (half-way) across the room (into a bucket of lukewarm water).”
Thursday = “I threw the book across the room (so that I could crawl back to it).”
Friday = “I threw the book across the room (because I saw someone who needed it in their face at that very moment)”
Saturday = “The book threw itself across the room (because I don’t deserve its explosive brilliance).”

I have a lot athletic-like emotions about books, okay?

9781328663795_8e391Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich by Norman Ohler

Translated by Shaun Whiteside

This is either a clunkily written book or a clunkily translated book. Or both. The organization of the book is confusing, constantly going back and forth between the frontlines and Hitler’s headquarters with little transitional material. The cast of characters for the German war effort is massive. I saw no effort to translate those characters for the English language American publication, so it was confusing for an American reader. The subject material is fascinating, but outrageous. In places where I expected to see citations (in some of the conclusions that required support), there were none. In other places where citations were not needed, they abounded.

I am also philosophically opposed to stigmatizing addiction by associating it with fascist murderers. And with dismissing the Nazi atrocities by juxtaposing them with habitual drug use.

Publication date: March 2017
Publishing house: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Rating: Tuesday – keep your salt closeby while reading.

9780425213902Female Serial Killers: How and Why Women Become Monsters by Peter Vronsky

Vronsky’s thesis to counter the public perception that women can’t be aggressive killers. An interesting premise, but his lack of compassion does give me pause. Do I think women can be just as aggressive as men? Absolutely, but Vronsky doesn’t exactly address the “how” and the “why” in his title. He is more interested in categorizing the killers than exploring the individual psychology of his title.

Publication date: 2007
Publishing house: Berkley
Rating: Wednesday – good true crime stories, but not analytical at all.

9781631492181_e6682Always Happy Hour: Stories by Mary Miller

If Mary Miller’s last novel was a love letter to adolescence, her latest work is a series of love letters to arrested development. Miller glorifies life’s unevents: the life that happens between life happenings. The stories are connected through first person female narrators who inhabit roughly the same age and economic bracket. Their voices are distinct, but not distinct from one another’s. Miller develops a new archetype: the single female worrier, the insecure young woman who rejects the wisdom of maturity. The stories in Always Happy Hour compose one large emotional landscape, which might be more relatable than event-based narratives.

Publication Date: January 2017
Publishing house: Liveright
Rating: Friday – join the Sisterhood of the Perpetual Happy Hour

Happy reading!

Dietrich & Riefenstahl: Weimar’s Daughters in Hollywood and Berlin


Inspired in part by the stories of Marlene Dietrich in Karina Longworth’s You Must Remember This podcast about the hidden and forgotten histories of 20th century Hollywood, in party by my local indie bookstore’s 2015 catalog, (and in part by Dietrich’s smoldering on-screen chemistry with Anna May Wong–no, I don’t mean Clive Brook–in 1932’s Shanghai Express) Dietrich & Riefenstahl: Hollywood, Berlin and a Century in Two Lives by Karin Wieland marks the second biography I’ve read this year.

“I am, at heart, a gentleman.” -Marlene Dietrich

While the two women essentially begin on equal footing and from similar backgrounds, the directions of their lives are primarily influenced when they meet two powerful, authoritarian men: when Hollywood director Josef von Sternberg “discovered” Marlene Dietrich and cast her as Lola-Lola in the internationally acclaimed The Blue Angel; and when Leni Riefenstahl went to a political rally where she first laid eyes upon Adolf Hitler. Unfortunately, Wieland focuses on the roles that these two men played in shaping the careers of both women rather than the decisions that both women–who remained independent of men for all of their lives–made about their own lives.

This may be due to the book’s clunky translation, but Wieland’s portrayal of Leni Riefenstahl is contradictory at times. She was a strong-willed woman who sought only to advance her own art (and thus her own fame), but she was a complicated woman. Wieland does not portray Riefenstahl with the same level of compassion or consideration that she does Marlene Dietrich. (Which begs the question, does Riefenstahl deserve equal compassion or consideration? A question that Wieland neither addresses directly or indirectly). Riefenstahl is definitely a product of her environment: while she was not a Nazi party member and did not commit war crimes, she  certainly benefitted from the racism that National Socialists made the foundation of their philosophy. Her dedication to her art and the resulting images make things complicated when we consider the eye of the artist. (The actor depicting Riefenstahl’s subject, was often herself.)

Wieland gives plenty of page space to Riefenstahl’s work, as though through her work is the best way to understand her life. Not so with Dietrich. Though Wieland wants to depict Dietrich without judgement, more time is given to her personal affairs and family life than to her films and stage work. The goal appears to be to depict these two seemingly opposite women as having nearly identical qualities that led them to pursue their passions so fervently (albeit in opposing directions). But it takes a careful combing through the text to get at that purpose. Bad translations are unfortunate to read because it becomes nearly impossible to tell whether the work is poorly written or if the spirit of the work is just lost in translation.

Regardless, if you really want a blast in the face of old school Hollywood glamor, just Google image search “Marlene Dietrich.” (If you want a kick in the face, Google “Marlene Dietrich’s legs”).

Damn, Marlene.

Better yet, check out her films.