Words for Nerds

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara

As I have mentioned several times, I was waiting to get this from the library, but with the arrest of Joseph James DeAngelo, I could wait NO LONGER.

For more than ten years, a mysterious and violent predator committed fifty sexual assaults in Northern California before moving south, where he perpetrated ten sadistic murders. Then he disappeared, eluding capture by multiple police forces and some of the best detectives in the area.

Three decades later, Michelle McNamara, a true crime journalist who created the popular website


TrueCrimeDiary.com, was determined to find the violent psychopath she called “the Golden State Killer.” Michelle pored over police reports, interviewed victims, and embedded herself in the online communities that were as obsessed with the case as she was.


I’ll Be Gone in the Dark—the masterpiece McNamara was writing at the time of her sudden death—offers an atmospheric snapshot of a moment in American history and a chilling account of a criminal mastermind and the wreckage he left behind. It is also a portrait of a woman’s obsession and her unflagging pursuit of the truth. Utterly original and compelling, it has been hailed as a modern true crime classic—one which fulfilled Michelle’s dream: helping unmask the Golden State Killer.

I cannot say enough great things about this book. Michelle McNamara was a rare talent, and the beautiful way that she was able to write about these brutal crimes while also reflecting on the toll on her own life was extraordinary. There were so many times that I would read a sentence and think to myself, “Oh wow, that was GOOD.” It is so deeply tragic that she is gone and to think that we will never get to read her eloquent words as the investigation and trial unfold. You can feel the tedium, frustration, and weariness at the endless details in her writing, but it never felt hard to read. If you are in any way interested in this case, then please pick up this book.


Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok

Girl in Translation

This novel was selected as our “campus book” for this past academic year, and I am so thankful it was because I am not sure I would have ever discovered it otherwise.

When Kimberly Chang and her mother emigrate from Hong Kong to Brooklyn squalor, she quickly begins a secret double life: exceptional schoolgirl during the day, Chinatown sweatshop worker in the evenings. Disguising the more difficult truths of her life like the staggering degree of her poverty, the weight of her family’s future resting on her shoulders, or her secret love for a factory boy who shares none of her talent or ambition. Kimberly learns to constantly translate not just her language but herself back and forth between the worlds she straddles.


Through Kimberly’s story, author Jean Kwok, who also emigrated from Hong Kong as a young girl, brings to the page the lives of countless immigrants who are caught between the pressure to succeed in America, their duty to their family, and their own personal desires, exposing a world that we rarely hear about.


Written in an indelible voice that dramatizes the tensions of an immigrant girl growing up between two cultures, surrounded by a language and world only half understood, Girl in Translation is an unforgettable and classic novel of an American immigrant-a moving tale of hardship and triumph, heartbreak and love, and all that gets lost in translation

As I have also mentioned a hundred times, I love stories of immigrants. I find it so brave and unbelievable to imagine leaving everything behind to go to a foreign land with an unknown language and culture in the hope of a better life. The challenges that the main character and her mother face are heartbreaking, but their spirit and drive to succeed keeps the story alive. I like that Kwok mixed daily mundane parts of life with the harsh realities they faced. I strongly disagree with the character’s decision at the end because I think that is a terribly unfair choice to make, but I can understand why she felt it was the right thing at the time.

Michelle Kwok came to our campus a few weeks ago, and Lisa and I were able to visit with her at a reception. She was so lovely and deeply kind to our students. Their own stories of immigration and the challenges of assimilating to life here poured out of them, and she spent hours listening to them with so much kindness and understanding. I will forever love her for that. We have had numerous authors on campus who refuse to interact with students, and it is a real testament to her character that she seemed genuinely overjoyed to be with them.

The Moon is Down by John Steinbeck

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When I had my Steinbeck day in March, I purchased The Moon is Down at the museum after reading about the controversy surrounding its publication.

Occupied by enemy troops, a small, peaceable town comes face-to-face with evil imposed from the outside—and betrayal born within the close-knit community

In this masterful tale set in Norway during World War II, Steinbeck explores the effects of invasion on both the conquered and the conquerors. As he delves into the emotions of the German commander and the Norwegian traitor, and depicts the spirited patriotism of the Norwegian underground, Steinbeck uncovers profound, often unsettling truths about war—and about human nature.


Nobel Prize winner JohnSteinbeck’s self-described “celebration of the durability of democracy” had an extraordinary impact as Allied propaganda in Nazi-occupied Europe. Despite Axis efforts to suppress it (in Fascist Italy, mere possession of the book was punishable by death), The Moon is Down was secretly translated into French, Norwegian, Danish, Dutch, Swedish, German, Italian and Russian; hundreds of thousands of copies circulated throughout Europe, making it by far the most popular piece of propaganda under the occupation. Few literary works of our time have demonstrated so triumphantly the power of ideas in the face of cold steel and brute force. This edition features an introduction by Donald V. Coers.

I love a good World War II story and John Steinbeck, so I naturally adored this little novel. I also enjoy the way that Steinbeck weaves the farcical throughout terribly dire situations. I appreciated the simplicity in character development, and it almost felt as if the reader should feel that they could be anyone in that town. I do not really know what to say other than I love Steinbeck’s way with words and he never disappoints me.

“The people don’t like to be conquered, sir, and so they will not be. Free men cannot start a war, but once it is started, they can fight on in defeat. Herd men, followers of a leader, cannot do that, and so it is always the herd men who win battles and the free men who win wars. You will find that is so, sir.”

Where the Light Falls by Allison Pataki

Where the Light Falls

Three years after the storming of the Bastille, the streets of Paris are roiling with revolution. The citizens of France are enlivened by the ideals of liberty, equality, and fraternity.


The monarchy of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette has been dismantled—with the help of the guillotine—and a new nation is rising in its place. Jean-Luc, an idealistic young lawyer, moves his wife and their infant son from a comfortable life in Marseille to Paris, in the hopes of joining the cause. André, the son of a denounced nobleman, has evaded execution by joining the new French army. Sophie, a young aristocratic widow, embarks on her own fight for independence against her powerful, vindictive uncle.


As chaos threatens to undo the progress of the Revolution and the demand for justice breeds instability and paranoia, the lives of these compatriots become inextricably linked. Jean-Luc, André, and Sophie find themselves in a world where survival seems increasingly less likely—for themselves and, indeed, for the nation.

I could never get into this novel and the characters. I almost felt dread at having to read it. I typically love historical fiction, but I never looked forward to picking this novel up. There was also so much mangled history, changed dates, and bizarre phrases and behaviors that were anachronistic. Honestly, I felt like I was reading a half-assed script for soap opera.

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