Trotsky

Blog News: “Trotsky” Author Reaches Out; My Policy on Ads; Original Content Fun & Games

28 August 2017

Hello, readers,

I hope everyone is doing well this late summer evening. For my fellow Houstonians and Texans, I am praying for your health and safety.

For everyone not surrounded by a newly formed lake, the mayor of Houston has created a hurricane relief fund administered by the Greater Houston Community Foundation. Your donation is tax-deductible and greatly needed.

I cannot endorse GHCF from my personal experience, but that is where city officials prefer donations go.

Turning now to blog news…

Kenneth Ackerman is a Mensch 

For those of you not lucky enough to have discovered the joys of Yiddish, according to Google, “Mensch: n., a person of integrity and honor.”

It takes a lot to open yourself up to criticism. It takes even more to respond to criticism with grace and class.

And for that capacity, Kenneth Ackerman ought to be acknowledged.

In my review of Mr. Ackerman’s Trotsky in New York 1917, I noted an error that, to my obsessive grad student eyes, seemed rather glaring.

Mr. Ackerman reached out to me, thanked me for catching the error, and promised it would be amended in the next edition of the book. You can view our exchange at the top of the comments section of the original review.

I’m Thinking of Selling My Soul

Or putting ads on my blog, depending on your point of view.

This is a one-woman show that started because I love true crime, cultural criticism, and writing. I even think I’m a little bit good at it. The writing and criticism, not the crime part.

I’ve never committed a crime. I swear.

You can only top doing things for love with doing the same things for love and money.

While it would be my desire to keep ads off particularly sensitive posts, such as active missing persons cases, WordAds automatically places ads on all posts. My solution to this is to promise that I will never charge family and friends of missing persons, or victims of unsolved crimes, for an outreach post on my blog. If I am able to see how much money is generated by an individual post, the proceeds from ads on those pages will go to search efforts or a charity chosen by the relevant parties.

Original Content Coming Right Up

My decision to sign up for WordPress’s ad program now is because I feel comfortable enough to share enough of my original writing with you. The response I got to the story of my madcap drive down to D.C. inspired me to make that leap.

Stay tuned for more funny stories about my otherwise delightfully average life, poetry that I promise wasn’t written by me during my middle school Goth phase, assorted fiction, and reflections on current events. Of course, I will keep the book and TV reviews coming.

I hope you’ll join me for the journey.

Boring Yet Important Copyright Stuff

With the exception of some duly-cited historical photos from the public domain, all words and images on this blog are produced by me.

While I am the offspring of lawyers, I am not a lawyer, so I will refer you now to the lovely copyright language provided by WordPress:

© Allison R. Shely and True Crime Librarian, 2016-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Allison R. Shely (alias “the Librarian” and “L”) and True Crime Librarian with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

I’m sure none of you lovely people needed that reminder, but I’ll put it in the website footer just for good measure.

Please don’t alienate me from my labor more than is necessary.

Be Happy,

-L

 

 

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Ackerman’s “Trotsky” Enjoyable…Except for the Errors

Preface

It’s been a hard few weeks for me, hard for me to face the blank page and (in my own mind, at least) provide some wit or wisdom to anyone who might read this blog.

Me? I, myself, am fine. The news has been deplorable, even more than usual. People in my social circles, including close friends, have been suffering terribly.

But, I remember I promised reviews of my summer reading, and remember that writing for you always makes me feel better.

With that said, let’s talk about violence.

Since Monday was the anniversary of Trotsky’s death (by ice ax, not by ice pick, see Fig. 1) he gets to go to the front of the review backlog line.

The story of his murder is one for the ages. I should feature it some time.

Fig. 1–Know your weapons. This will be on the quiz.


Ice ax. Similar to weapon used to kill Trotsky. (Wikipedia)


Ice pick. Still deadly, but not used on Trotsky. (Wikipedia)

The Book

Trotsky in New York 1917: A Radical on the Eve of Revolution
Kenneth D. Ackerman
Counterpoint Press
2016

Even before the book begins, you can tell Ackerman is not a historian or political scientist.

And, for the most part, it works well.

Ackerman is a New York lawyer who has set his hand to retelling that great city’s history. Trotsky is his second work, chronicling the ten weeks the Russian radical, expelled from war-torn Europe for anti-war writings, lived in the Bronx with his common-law wife and their two children.

I sort this as relevant to true-crime fans because 90% of what Trotsky and his comrades had done in their lives up to this point was illegal. There is also plenty of spy intrigue and conspiracy going on separate from their plan to overthrow the capitalist order.

For “serious” historians of the Russian Revolution, (and trust me, I’ve read them) this period of time gets maybe two pages in a 900-page book. To see so much effort put into a generally-ignored period is like seeing your favorite canon characters in a spin-off movie of the best kind.

For anyone not familiar with Trotsky, Ackerman’s book is a gentle introduction in a novelistic tone.

For anyone not partial to Trotsky, the book is still enjoyable for its portrait of Gilded-Age New York, a time of optimism and social ferment. As the Russian Marxist exiles write and argue, separated from the horrors of WWI by an ocean, oblivious to the wars they will soon begin, even the most cynical reader has to admit there is at least a slight charm to their idealism.

Ackerman’s passion for the project shows even from the dedication, which is to his grandparents, who “fled Poland for America as a result of the 1920 Soviet Russian invasion…led by the then Soviet people’s commissar for military and naval affairs, Leon Trotsky.”

Yeah, spoiler alert: the Bolsheviks win. Next spoiler: Trotsky still ends up losing (see Fig. 1 above).

But passion does not save Ackerman from some egregious factual, or editing, mistakes. One of these, which still makes my eye twitch thinking about it, comes early in the book. Introducing Lenin to readers on page seventeen, Ackerman includes a quote from a contemporary…a quote about Trotsky.

A quote about Trotsky that is a fairly well-known quote about Trotsky.

(For clarity’s sake, this quote is the one that describes Trotsky as stalking around the speakers’ dais like “a bird of prey.”)

I forgive Ackerman these few…infuriating…slips because of his genuine commitment to the book, which shows forth in a novelistic, bubbly style.

3/5 stars: a nice popular history…the errors in which make this thesis survivor histrionic.
1/5 ‘fraidy cats: This is the
Downton Abbey of my summer reading.
1/5 ick-factor: I suppose it depends on your political leanings.

Update: Mr. Ackerman reached out to me in the comments to very graciously thank me for catching the error with the quote. He says it will be corrected in the next edition of the book. I thought his thoroughness deserved recognition immediately after my initial critique.

 

Kidnapping, Wedding Crashing, and Plenty of Jumping to Conclusions: My Adventures in July

Dear Readers,

I can explain.

The broken promises. The long silences. The unannounced trips.

Okay, I think I advised the other day about the trip. I certainly did give warning that I was preparing for a move. Said move went well, by the way, and I am settling into my new apartment quite nicely. It did take me a week to get my internet up and running, which is another reason I have been incommunicado.

July has been a busy month for me, but I bring back from my adventures not one, not two, but THREE new reviews coming out this week. The first two are of audiobooks I enjoyed on my Boston-D.C.; the third is of a hardback book I have been working since Christmas and finally finished after my electronics had been packed away.

Some tales from the trail:

I Think I’m Getting Kidnapped

It is the day before my drive to D.C. I am already wound up. While standing in line, waiting for whatever I need to complete yet another pre-trip frantic errand, a voice behind me announces “Hey, do you like novels?”

Why would he know that?

Perhaps because “stranger danger” was drilled into me as a kid, more likely because of the things I read and watch, I am a little wary of overly interested strangers. The person I encountered was nice enough, and was promoting a new e-book. No harm done.

I leave the store and begin to walk back to my car, not being followed. When I arrive at my car, there is an idling vehicle pulled up alongside mine. With cars parked in front of and behind mine, I am effectively stuck. Somewhat inconvenient, but again, no harm done.

Then the driver of the idling car looks up and calls me by my first name. My blood runs cold.

“Yes?” I say.

“I’m your ride.”

“No you’re not.”

He is silent. I move to the back of my car. He is not moving.

“This is my car,” I say.

He looks at me, puzzled.

“I need you to move,” I say.

He rolls forward and I hop into my car, not sure why this person knows my name. Then, in my rear-view mirror, I see a woman my age, of similar appearance, coming out of the apartment building I parked in front of. She got into the car that had been boxing mine in.

I had not fended off a kidnapping. I had only managed to scare the living daylights out of myself and an unsuspecting Uber driver.

I Crash a Wedding

The next day, I dropped True-Crime Cat off at the vet for boarding, fought back tears at seeing her little green eyes disappear behind the counter, and set off driving for D.C. From Boston to the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge, I enjoyed the audiobook of Ann Rule’s Small Sacrifices.

This was my first road trip and, as is to be expected, newbie mistakes began piling up.

I grew up in Texas, where toll booths are few and far between. As such, it did not occur to me to prepare for all the tolls, and I did not have cash to pay the toll booth attendant as I drove south from I-84 to the Jersey Turnpike. Consequently, with plenty of July-Fourth-Weekend traffic piling up behind me, the very patient toll attendant filled out an invoice for me to pay NY State by mail. (Which I did, of course)

I then promptly got lost in New Jersey, because I unintentionally set my navigating app to to avoid tolls, which led me parallel to the Turnpike, down a country road full of stop lights. This was probably why I had trouble focusing on the first three hours of Robert Graysmith’s hefty true-crime classic Zodiac.

After finally pulling over somewhere south of Princeton and re-calibrating Siri, I had only lost two hours to waiting at traffic lights. The sun was beginning to sink low as I headed south to Delaware, surrounded by trees.

“The young couple were alone in their car, surrounded by trees,” crooned the narrator of Zodiac, “It was already evening.”

Not an actual quote, but close enough. And that is when I began hitting myself for my choice of audiobooks. I had promised myself I wouldn’t do Zodiac books on my solo drive. I promised myself.

Somewhere south of Baltimore, I realized it was time to find a ladies’ room. Seeing an exit up ahead, I prepare to get off I-95. The “NSA-EMPLOYEES ONLY” sign and the cop with the rifle blockading the exit tipped me off that I would not be making a pit stop here.

So I drove on. The next exit is “NASA-EMPLOYEES ONLY.”

I am beginning to get desperate.

Why didn’t I stop in Baltimore? I ask myself.

Then, finally “NASA Greenbelt-State Park.” Where there’s a park, there’s a park ranger. Where there’s a ranger, there’s a HQ.

I pull off the highway at last. Right at the exit is a rustic structure  set in a wooded area, surrounded by cars.

Oh, good, they must have lots of services here if it’s this crowded. 

I find a parking spot and look up. It is a veterans’ association lodge, and there is obviously a party going on. But I am desperate.

I run to a couple taking a smoke break outside and explain the emergency.

“Is there any chance I could use the ladies’ room?”

“Oh sure, go on in, sweetie. We won’t tell anyone.”

I enter. There is a wedding cake. I wouldn’t dream of doing this on any other day. By some miracle, though, it was a casual wedding, and I came wearing the dress code.

On my way out, thanking God and the American Legion, the couple I met at the door invite me to stay for drinks. I politely decline.

I make it back to my car and close the door. Between putting the key in the ignition and turning it, I begin laughing and put my forehead against the wheel. I am ready to be done driving. After another hour, and twelve in total, I make it to my hotel.

And that is the story of how I became a wedding crasher.

P.S. Wherever you are, happy newlyweds, I wish you every happiness in the world.

P.S.S.: Come back tomorrow for my review of Small Sacrifices. Reviews of the Graysmith Zodiac audiobook coming Friday. Next week, I address the hard-copy book I finished this month, Kenneth D. Ackerman’s Trotsky in New York 1917: A Radical on the Eve of Revolution, a tale of spies, suspicious Russian political operatives, and sassy backtalk.

 

Upcoming Features–9 June 2017

Happy Friday,

Some upcoming features for you to look forward to:

  1. Yesterday, James Comey testified before Congress about his interactions with President Donald Trump and possible interference by the President in criminal investigations into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election that elected the President.

    Confused by that sentence? Yep, I am, too.

    I’ve been reading other people’s analysis of Comey’s testimony and need to watch the video myself. My take on yesterday’s hearing will come out Monday.

  2. While I should have been catching up on the Comey hearing after work, I instead finally got around watching (and finishing) Making a Murderer, the layman’s true crime sensation. I need some time to process it.

    First assessment: I am horrified…yet strangely underwhelmed…

  3. I am going to see Wonder Woman this weekend. I know it is way, way out of my usual genre, but I’m considering reviewing it…because I can’t remember the last time I was this excited about a movie.
  4. On the other hand, I am finishing up a true-life tale of WWI-era intrigue and spies. Coming full circle to Comey, this also involves suspicious Russians. Hints in the linked article’s picture.

 

In other news, I am always open to suggestions for watching and reading. If you have written a book or made a movie, I would be happy to consider your work for review on this blog.

As always, I invite you to subscribe for updates through WordPress and follow Sassy on Twitter @truecrimecat.

Have a safe weekend, folks,

-L