Sunday, December 28, 2008

Best nonfiction, 2008: January Magazine

From January Magazine's compilation of the best nonfiction of 2008:
True Crime: An American Anthology edited by Harold Schechter (Library of America) 788 pages

The serial-killer porn and Mafiosi tell-alls that swamp today’s non-fiction crime shelves rarely light my fire, but I’m a sucker for more ambitious fare such as True Crime, edited by Harold Schechter. And for once the generic title is appropriate. The tell, though, is in the subtitle. Because in this ambitious collection, Schechter presents a very convincing argument that crime is about as American as apple pie, with a boffo selection of red, white and blue mayhem from a star-studded list of contributors, both contemporary and historical -- everyone from Abraham Lincoln and Benjamin Franklin to Dominick Dunne and Ann Rule. The book also contains narratives of murder and violence that stretch from homicidal pilgrims at Plymouth to the Menendez brothers of Southern California. There’s an excerpt from Herbert Asbury’s Gangs of New York, Mark Twain takes a few swipes at the myths of the “Wild West” and James Ellroy, in his unsettling “My Mother’s Killer,” lets slip his well-worn Mad Dog of Crime persona just enough to reveal a surprising glimpse of Sick Puppy. Cotton Mather, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Damon Runyon, Jim Thompson and Ambrose Bierce also chip in, and the newspaper and magazine articles, journal excerpts and public documents they and others are responsible for make this almost 800-page tome an unforgettable reading experience. It’s one hell of a reference source and a bruising and bloody social history of the United States. Hell, there’s even a collection of lyrics here from several murder ballads, so you can hum along. Nervously, perhaps, while you wonder if you remembered to lock the side door. -- Kevin Burton Smith
Read about all of the titles in the feature.

--Marshal Zeringue