I'm cutting, not so much for spoilers, but because it could be disturbingTurns out it was FASCINATING. This woman, Ms. Sereny, became fascinated with the Nazi psyche and, despite not being a psychiatrist or anything (I don't think, anyway) was curious about how a normal person could end up supervising the murders of so many people. She waited around for someone else to write a book about it and, when nobody did, she went and interviewed Franz Stangl in prison. Mr. Stangl was one of only four men to command, not a prison (concentration) camp, but an actual extermination camp. That was the first thing that surprised me. I'd always thought "extermination camp" was another term for "concentration camp". I'd heard of places like Auschwitz, but never Treblinka. As I read further, I started to realize (and it's a horrific thing to realize) that the REASON I'd never heard of Treblinka was because nobody survived it. Lots (relatively) of people made it out of Auschwitz because Auschwitz was an extermination camp that was tacked on to one of the original work camps. In Treblinka... well... they just marched thousands of people straight from the train to the gas chamber. I think the book said that only 40 or so people survived Treblinka. Anyway, Ms. Sereny manages to badger Mr. Stangl into being somewhat forthcoming, and she also discusses the possible culpability of the Vatican. It's a supremely well-presented work and managed to get me thinking about the Holocaust in ways... I mean... sigh... it's all so BIG, you understand, that it's hard to conceive of. The numbers are so huge that it's hard to grasp what they mean, especially when it's something so far outside my experience, but this book brought home just a little bit of what it WAS, and that's why it was brilliant.
Ok, on to less serious things:
Then I read (or rather finished, I'd been reading it off and on for months) Miss Manner's Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior by Judith Martin. My godmother gave me this book on my thirteenth birthday (which upset me at the time; I thought she was hinting at something (she probably was)) and I'd found it immensely useful and fun to skim through, but had never read it from cover to cover. Miss Manners, let me tell you, is the FUNNIEST lady. I wish she would be my friend, only I am terrified of her. Her advice for how one can be excessively rude by being excessively polite is invaluable and, after finishing the book, I went straight out and bought thank-you notes and sent one to my future mother-in-law for the birthday present she'd sent me, the one I couldn't tell what it was. I really really think everybody should have this book. (For example, she explains that it is impolite to recognize children on one's doorstep on Halloween, but instead one ought to respond with fear, as if one is being mugged. To say "Why hello, Sally, don't you look cute," is rude, but to hand over the candy with a look of terror is appropriate.)
Then, because my landlady had lent it to me, I read In The Woods by Tana French which, let me tell you, is the BEST book I've read so far this year. It's, on the surface, your basic detective novel (a girl is murdered in the woods and two police detectives are trying to solve the crime), but it's also sort of a buddy adventure (the wonderful relationship between the two detectives often had me laughing out loud) and, best of all, underneath it all there ran a weird surreal sub-story which reminded me, more than anything, of Picnic at Hanging Rock. This book is so well-written, it was one of those I could SEE as I read, if that makes sense. I know what the characters look like, what the scenery looked like, but I never noticed any heavy-handed descriptions. Please please read this one. You won't be sorry.
The next two, I'm afraid, were mediocre, so you can skip the rest of the post if you like and I won't be offended. I read Your Wedding Your Way by Leah Ingram, which didn't really tell me anything new or mind-bogglingly useful. I also read Life Would Be Perfect if I Lived In That House by Meghan Daum, a memoir about her quest to define herself based on where she lived, which was entertaining and fun but nothing mind-boggling, again.
I also feel I should fess up that I didn't finish Wraeththu by Storm Constantine. I really really tried. I read about 350 pages of it but couldn't get myself to care and the idea of reading the other half of the book was painful. I realize it's got a very loyal fanbase, so please don't kill me, but these, as far as I can figure them, are my complaints:
1. I'm female, so I was a bit annoyed at a world where only the males evolve into a master race. It made it hard to immerse myself in that world. (There were hints that maybe females would be brought into the fold eventually, but I didn't get far enough to see if it happened)
2. The author generally seems to prefer telling to showing, which drives me batty, mostly because I keep involuntarily editing in my head.
3. There's only so much esoteric gay(ish... I realize they're hermaphroditic) sex I can read about before I get bored and wander off. This also connects back to #1, because I have no place in esoteric gay sex, so it's hard to get personally interested in it.
That takes me up to 49/105.