An illuminating account of a somber world behind bars.

RAZOR WIRE WILDERNESS

A nonfiction work chronicles a female inmate’s life in a New Jersey prison.

A judge sentenced Krystal Riordan to 30 years for her part in a 2006 kidnapping, rape, and murder. Her pimp boyfriend raped and beat to death an 18-year-old girl; Riordan’s crime was being in the same hotel room and doing nothing while the vicious attack occurred. Dickinson, who loosely based a novel on the killing, doesn’t focus on the specifics of the 2006 crime in this book. Rather, she shines a light on Riordan and her fellow prisoners in the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility in Clinton. Many inmates had troubled lives before serving time. Riordan herself suffered her uncle’s molestation and later attended the Élan School in Maine, an infamous residential school that abused students. Treatment inside the prison could be cruel as well; Riordan’s closest friend, Lucy Weems, went through an agonizing heroin withdrawal with nothing to alleviate her pain. But the women acclimated to the new normal in prison as they made what they couldn’t afford (such as hygiene products) and engaged in dalliances as secretly as possible (the law forbade even consensual sex). The author also details one inmate’s release and subsequent readjustment to a world featuring a job at a McDonald’s and a humorless parole officer. While Dickinson aptly showcases the New Jersey facility’s hardships, Riordan’s days in Élan seem far more harrowing. She even claimed to prefer the prison’s maximum compound over the school. The engrossing book is nevertheless profound; the author befriended some of the women and includes in her work snippets of personal correspondence with the inmates. She furthermore equates some of her own experiences with Riordan’s, from Dickinson’s troubled past—a gunshot permanently paralyzed her left arm—to the nine days she spent in jail for protesting the Vietnam War. Her prose is sometimes clinical, though to great effect. Describing the prison’s economy, the author deftly shows how frighteningly easily a dispute over $30 turned violent.

An illuminating account of a somber world behind bars. (dedication, disclaimer, acknowledgements)

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 253

Publisher: Kallisto Gaia Press

Review Posted Online: March 22, 2021

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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Fans of Rogen will enjoy his laid-back, whimsical memoir.

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YEARBOOK

Everyone’s favorite stoner recalls his childhood, youth, and first stirrings of Hollywood success.

“My friends are thrilled when their kids don’t shit all over their floors,” writes Rogen. “As an adult, I get little to no praise for doing the same.” It’s a characteristic line; Rogen leans heavily on the seven words with which George Carlin made so much hay, with a dash of Borscht Belt shtick (“The hardest part about being Jewish is…the grandparents”) and some occasional high-concept material. The author reveals that he inherited a touch of his father’s Tourette’s mixed in with his mother’s gentleness, the blend of which resulted in a kind of easygoing ADHD best treated with lashings of marijuana. When he learned that a teenage friend had smoked pot with her brother, he asked how it felt. “It burns your throat like crazy,” she replied, to which Rogen responded, “Awesome.” Other drugs come and go in these pages—MDMA, for one, which can certainly make a pitch meeting difficult. And then there’s this: “If you’ve ever been grocery shopping while an inhuman amount of hallucinogenic mushrooms are [sic] aggressively taking over your system, you know that shit ain’t easy.” Indeed. Rogen’s not inclined to badmouth, though from time to time, his critical bone is tickled (“all the movies to come out of Project Greenlight fucking suck butt”). He also makes it clear, through encounters with the likes of Kanye West, Nicolas Cage, and George Lucas, that Los Angeles is the world headquarters of eccentricity bordering on madness. As a good Canadian, too, Rogen can’t help but get in a few digs at the rest of the country, as when he considers the reluctance of the federal government to legalize pot, “because it’s just too effective a way to persecute minorities and keep prisons full, which are things that they love to do in America.”

Fans of Rogen will enjoy his laid-back, whimsical memoir.

Pub Date: May 11, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-984825-40-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2021

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