Monthly Archives: November 2012

Life After Death- Damien Echols

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“If I start to believe that the things I write cannot stand on their own merit, then I will lay down my pen. I’m often plagued by thoughts that people will think of me only as either someone on Death Row or someone who used to be on Death Row. I grow dissatisfied when I think of people reading my words out of a morbid sense of curiosity. I want people to read what I write because it means something to them—either it makes them laugh, or it makes them remember things they’ve forgotten and that once meant something to them, or touches them in some way. I don’t want to be an oddity, freak, or a curiosity. I don’t want to be the car wreck that people slow down to gawk at.”

I first learned about Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley Jr. back in 2007 through the documentary Paradise Lost. For those who are unaware of the unimaginable and yet remarkable journey these three men have been on I shall shed some light, but only briefly as this is a literary blog. I will post websites at the end where you can obtain more information if you wish. 1993 in West Memphis, Arkansas Damien, Jason, and Jessie were arrested for the brutal murder of three elementary school aged boys. Even though they held fast to their pleads of not guilty, the town banned together behind coerced and false confessions, insufficient evidence, and the words of a few men who had their own agendas. Three teenaged boys were arrested and ultimately convicted for a crime they did not commit. They all three spent eighteen years behind bars, Damien Echols on Death Row, until a very rare plea bargain set them free. Not exonerated, but free.

First, I must say that Life After Death is one of the most beautifully written books I have ever had the pleasure to pick up. You get lost inside your own head seeing the things that he describes, which means that you can sit for hours reading and it only feels as if a few moments have gone by. He describes what life is like on the other side of the bars and yet that is only one very small fraction of the journey that you go on.

This book is ultimately a look into the life of one of the most fascinating and inspirational people that I have ever met. He says early on in the book that he wants people to read what he writes because “it means something…makes them remember things they’ve forgotten and that once meant something to them.” While reading I couldn’t help but remember my childhood, my first heartbreak, or the house that I grew up in. He writes in such a way that awakens the soul and makes you feel. He gets you thinking, not only about his life and what he has been through, but about your own as well. It reminded me of when I first read Anthropology of an American Girl (one of my favorites, please read it if you have not already). That book spoke to me on a level that I can barely express. It changed my life for the better and I am forever grateful to the person who donated it to our local thrift store. This book is also nothing short of an inspiration.

I had the pleasure of “meeting” Mr. Echols a few weeks ago at a book signing. I say “met” because when I finally got to the front of the line I clammed up and barely said two words to him. I think all I actually got out was “how are you liking Chicago?” I tend to get a sort of verbal diarrhea when I finally find myself with the opportunity to meet someone that I admire. I was determined not to “pull an Emily”, as my boyfriend so lovingly calls it, and say something that I would instantly regret. For example; “I’m a HUUGE fan!” or just begin gushing about,well, just about anything. When I met Hilary Thayer Hamman, author of Anthropology of an American Girl, I went on and on about how I loved the feeling of the pages of the first publication and how I felt as if she was speaking directly to me and my life while reading. I never know if this is something that authors are just sick of hearing or not…Either way, I was determined not to get ahead of myself and I did the complete opposite. I wish I would’ve said a little more than just a simple question about the city that I call home, but alas that is all that came out.

I’m glad that I got the opportunity to hear him speak before I began reading the book, it was a nice companion. Also, if you have ever heard him speak you will know that he has a southern accent, a very melodic accent. I couldn’t help but hear his voice while reading and he writes that same way he speaks. The book takes on a very specific rhythm, one that I found hard to break. (Another reason I couldn’t put the book down.) He is also very funny. In his interviews and in his writing, the fact that he came out on the other side of this with his sense of humor still intact is inspiring in and of itself.

Someone asked him if he was angry about what has happened to him. He said that he was, but he isn’t anymore. He then quoted/paraphrased Buddha “Anger is like swallowing poison and hoping that it kills the other guy.” He described being angry like “drinking acid”, it will just tear you up inside. I relayed this to my boyfriend while I was rehashing the nights events and just yesterday he said that he was trying to live life that way. Damien Echols inspired me and I in turn inspired someone else. The domino effect of inspiration. Please pick up this book, it is a wonderful read and will, I can almost guarantee, make you see the world just a little differently.

“Good things are always coming; sometimes we just forget it.”

For more information on the case please go to:www.wm3.org
Or check out the Paradise Lost documentaries:
Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills
Paradise Lost 2: Revelations
Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory
A new documentary West of Memphis comes out in select cities on 12/25/2012

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An Update

With the end of the year fast approaching I thought that it would be good to give you guys an update. If you have been following along you will have noticed that I have not finished all of the books on “the list”. It was a lofty goal when I set out on this adventure and I had a feeling that I wouldn’t be able to finish all of them in 12 months. Someone said recently that I would have to read a book every three days to finish in that amount of time. If all I had to do was read books and blog about what I think about them I may have been able to finish. With that said, life gets in the way. We moved, which was about a week long adventure. My commute was drastically cut; I’m not complaining but that also cuts into my reading time. And work…a girl’s gotta eat after all.

Now I’ll break it down for you guys:

In these 12 months I have read: 20 books (some only count as one on “the list”; His Dark Materials and The Lord of the Rings)

That brings the count on the list to: 31

That leaves: 69 books left to read. Again, some of these are actual series. The Chronicles of Narnia and The Faraway Tree Collection to name a couple. Also, some of the ones left are just plain gigantic. Now, I’m not afraid of large books, I once read The Autobiography of King Henry VIII; With Notes By His Fool. At just over a thousand pages that was no easy feat, but I prevailed.

I now also own: 46 books from the list. I don’t think I mentioned before that I want to own all these books as well. One day I want to be able to look at my children and point to a certain bookshelf and says “look what mom did…she read all of those great books!” For Christmas this year I am asking for books or gift-cards so I can buy more books.

Like I said when I first started doing this I WILL finish! There is no such thing as defeat or giving up, it just may take me a little longer than I first thought.

Since it is close to the end of the year here are my favorites from the past 12 months: The Secret History, Life of Pi, Wuthering Heights, A Prayer for Owen Meany, His Dark Materials, and Pride & Prejudice. All of the books I read this year were all amazing, but these were all books that I couldn’t seem to put down and ones that I will read again.

In other news: I am breaking one of my rules. When I started on this journey I said I wouldn’t read anything that wasn’t on the list. A few people have come up to me and said “Oh, Em, you gotta read this book I just finished.” Nope…it’s not on “the list”. Last week, though, I went to a book signing. I won’t go into too much detail because I will be writing a blog about my experience, but I met Damien Echols who is a true inspiration. Again, if you don’t know who he is you will after my next post. His book, Life After Death, is not on the list but I can’t not read it. So far it is just as inspiring as hearing him speak. So, I am breaking my own rules, but since I am the sole member of this book club I can’t get into too much trouble.


Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen

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“I cannot fix on the hour, or the spot, or the look, or the words, such laid the foundation. It is too long ago. I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun.”

I have tried to read P & P before but I never quite got past the first few pages, let alone an entire chapter. The language at the start is a little tough to get used to, but once you do get past that first chapter it begins to look like poetry. Austen creates a unique voice for each of her characters, and you begin to realize who is speaking before you even get to the “he said” “she said”. Like I said before, once you get into “the groove” of Austen’s language and her writing style, it is hard to leave the world of Elizabeth Bennett at the end of the day.

The language aside, at the heart of it, this novel is a bit love in all it’s many forms. I must confess that I had seen the movie prior to reading the novel so I had a bit of a heads up as to the plot. As is usually the case, not everything was in the movie as was in the novel and vice a versa. I was pleasantly surprised to see the turmoil that Elizabeth Bennett feels upon realizing she is in fact in love with the very man she swore she could not stand even more fleshed out in the novel. Even though there are a quite a few “love stories” within the novel, Jane and Mr. Bingley, Miss Lucas and Mr. Collins, Lydia and Mr. Wickham; the story at the center is ultimately about Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. These names are now so widely known that you even mention Mr. Darcy and I’m sure a few women go weak in the knees.

I must say that, thus far, Elizabeth Bennett is my favorite female protagonist. She is a strong willed woman who will be damned if she lets the whole of society tell her how to behave. This is not to say that Elizabeth does not conform to the role she has been placed in as a woman in this time period, but in the ways of love she knows that she has to make her own decisions and even goes so far as to refuse a decent marriage proposal because she can not stand the man. Her father says, of her final proposal;

“I know your disposition, Lizzy. I know that you could neither be happy nor respectable, unless you truly esteemed your husband; unless you looked up to him as a superior. Your lively talents would place you in the greatest danger in an unequal marriage. You could scarcely escape discredit and misery. My child, let me not have the grief of seeing you unable to respect your partner in life. You know not what you are about.”

I flew through this book and am very happy that it was on the list, since that reason forced me to pick it up for the umpteenth time in the first place. I can honestly say that I am excited now to read all of the other Austen novels that are on “The List”, and if I’m not mistaken all the big ones are on there. Austen has a way of sucking you in to the world that she creates and you are not disappointed on the other side. She writes strong female characters that any woman can relate to and male characters that see those strengths and do not shy away from them. She is a beautiful and brilliant writer and I can’t wait to say that I have read all of her books.

(On a side note; I have never read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. I have heard that its quite hilarious and maybe once the list is complete I shall pick it up.)