Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry

Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Other Possible Prompts: 5. Chapters have titles, 7. A non-fiction bestseller, 10. A book based on a real person, 13. Includes a club, 23. An author with an X, Y, or Z in their name, 24. Addresses a specific topic, 29. Over 500 pages long, 30. Audiobook is narrated by the author, 32. A book that intimidates you, 40. A book with photographs inside

Helter Skelter has been on my tbr longer than almost every other book in my possession, I kid you not – I brought this book on a vacation to NYC in January 2019 and remember distinctly getting stopped by TSA because they couldn’t see through the book on the scanner and oh my god it was a book about a serial killer.

What a day.

I finally just cracked and got the audiobook of Helter Skelter, as read by Vincent Bugliosi! I really enjoyed it in this format, perhaps more than I might have just reading the book, because I can hear it in his voice and it felt a bit more like a true crime podcast.

Obviously, this book is the story of the Manson Family Murders, most famously the Tate and LaBianca homicides in California. If you’re unfamiliar with the murders or the case, they are notable for having ended the 60s as people know it: free love, peace not war, drugs and all that…because the Manson “Family”, led by Charles Manson, collectively killed seven people in senseless murders under the direction of Manson and his cult rule. His tribe of vagabonds was intending to ignite “Helter Skelter”, or a race war, that (according to Manson) would eventually lead to African Americans coming to him for direction and rule. His followers literally believed him to be the second coming of Jesus Christ.

I like true crime, but I don’t think I’ve ever read true crime in its actual format. I really enjoyed The Phantom Prince, but I felt that to be more memoir-style. Helter Skelter as its lead prosecutor tells it is analytical and riddled with the law and facts. I actually liked it, it just wasn’t what I was expecting. This reminded me more of The People Vs. OJ Simpson than of the Bear Brook podcasts (quite literally the only podcast I’ve ever listened to, and well worth it). Lucky for me, I *love* The People Vs. OJ Simpson. My near obsession with that show in high school made my mom convinced I needed to be a lawyer. I just found everything about it so damn fascinating.

This is much the same, but with less mystery and more…creepy stuff. The parts of this book that focus on the family are truly disturbing. Manson is such a bizarre enigma of a man that even Bugliosi plays into it…his watch stops, and Manson smiles right at him…stuff like that. He’s a weirdo, to put it nicely, and a murderer to put it frankly. But what was even more captivating is all of the girls under his spell, and even some of the men: he must have had some charisma, some way about him that sucked in people with no direction – and never let them go. Bugliosi does a wonderful job diving into all of that.

I love hearing about how these cases affect history and the world around them, too. That’s something I think Bugliosi does well. I like to be told what makes all of this so important, because otherwise we are simply rehashing a horrible murder. Manson, however, was a product of the time, a product of the 60s – and of some really fascinating influences from the system, our system, that should cause you to think more critically about them.

This was such a bizarre case. Despite the long length of the book, I never lost interest. It was a lot, a lot of content, but everything was pertinent and interesting. There was so much that I didn’t know about the case, from the fact that Manson still had very dedicated fans even ten years ago, to the fact that the LAPD seriously bungled the evidence and everything about this case, to the very critical role the Beatles played in Manson’s ideology. Very cool stuff. I mean, not murder, but the law and the psychology of it all.

I would recommend this book, but I would specifically recommend listening to it. I believe it is only available from Audible, but it’s worth it. Bugliosi does a great job narrating his work, and it makes it feel more like a true crime podcast. I really liked it!

Have an awesome week, friends!

The Burning: Black Wall Street and the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 by Tim Madigan and Hilary Beard

The Burning: Black Wall Street and the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 by Tim Madigan and Hilary Beard

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The 52 Book Club 2022 Challenge Prompt: 32. A book that intimidates you

Other Possible Prompts: 5. Chapters have titles, 11. A book with less than 2022 Goodreads ratings, 17. A book based on its spine, 24. Addresses a specific topic, 26. Has an “Author’s Note”, 39. A middle grade novel, 50. A person of color as the main character

Tons and tons of prompt options for this one, but I picked it up last week with the intention of using it as my book that intimidates me: not because of the length or complexity (as you can see I actually picked up the young reader’s edition anyways) but because of the really heavy subject matter. And heavy it was.

Tulsa and Black Wall Street weren’t even in my field of vision until Trump tried to hold a rally there maybe one, two years ago? I remember the (very justified) cries of outrage, and learning that there had be a massacre there…which in and of itself was not knowledge I had up to that point. This book really opened my eyes to just how horrible the Tulsa Race Massacre was, and shed some interesting light on why I never knew it existed in the first place. It takes you from the events leading up to it, explaining Black Wall Street and how it came to be in the wake of emancipation, through all the atrocities of the “riot”, why it was covered up and forgotten, and all the way to today and discussion of reparations.

How can we heal if we don’t know what we’re healing from?

Madigan 258

This line, coming from the author’s note, is among my favorite in the book. This accurately describes why I wanted to read it in the first place. I saw the spine in Gibson’s and picked it up, and after reading the description, I knew it was really required reading for me. I’m pro-reparations to begin with, but I don’t think you can truly know how to help, how to do better, until you know what happened and where the pain comes from. This was a really hard book to read; I took a lot of breaks and cried several times, but overall, this is important and I’m so, so glad I read it. This should really be required reading in high schools!

Additionally, on that note, I want to explain my reasoning for picking up the young reader’s edition. At almost 22 (by the time you read this, I will have been 22 nearly a month anyways!), it’s not that I need the content “dumbed-down” – but I do like and appreciate how any young reader’s edition takes complex ideas and compresses them, or removes content that isn’t deemed essential information. It’s a bite sized piece of a whole pie. I don’t think I could have made it through Tim Madigan’s original publication, both for its length and its emotional weight. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with anyone, whether you’re 18 or 68, picking up a young reader’s edition to get a “taste” of the original story and content. If you’re inspired by this “taste” of the story, you can always pick up the full edition! For me, it’s meant to inspire further reading or research.

As sad as this book can be, as there’s obviously a lot of death and suffering, there’s also such an incredible sense of determination and resilience that cannot be ignored. It was one of the most redeeming parts of the reading, the aha moment, even if it never truly ended “happily” for the people of Greenwood, or their descendents. That sense of resilience, I think, is meant to be one of the main takeaways of the book.

Towards the end, as Black Wall Street is being rebuilt in a matter of months (yes, MONTHS), I couldn’t help but let my jaw drop. I can hardly recover from dropping my iced coffee, let alone from the level of massacre and destruction that the Black people of Tulsa experienced – and yet, they persevered. The quote below is one of my favorites from the book:

To be enslaved before the Civil War, or to be a Black person in America afterward, was to learn how to demonstrate endurance and resilience, to assume the moral high ground in the face of depravity, to possess the ability to advance toward a vision that didn’t yet exist, to create something out of nothing with every faithful step, and to express love in the face of hate. It meant figuring out how to move onward through terrible things that White folks did and to deal with the troubles that Black folks had come to expect life to bring.

Things that would make members of a weaker people turn to dust.

Madigan 213

Just, in awe.

Like I said, I’m so very glad I read this. My only complaints were in regards to writing style; the major players in this story can be hard to recall, and I would have loved a list with a brief explanation of who they were. Additionally, I also wished for more analysis on the impact of this event. The book does bring it through to the current time and political landscape, but that’s the stuff I find most interesting, so I would always love more of that. That’s my only reason for knocking it a star!

Pick this one up! It’s heavy reading, so practice self care, but don’t miss this story. Don’t miss the impact of this event in our lives.

Have a great week.