We Keep the Dead Close: A Murder at Harvard and a Half Century of Silence by Becky Cooper
This book reminds me so much of Michelle McNamara’s I’ll Be Gone in the Dark. Two women obsessed with unsolved murders to the point where their lives become intertwined with the stories. Becky Cooper, a Harvard undergrad, hears bits and pieces of a story about a murder that occurred forty years ago. Jane Britton, a 23-year-old grad student in Harvard’s anthropology department was murdered in her apartment, but the rumor mill spins out a different version where she was found dead in the Peabody Museum of Anthropology and Ethnology, killed by a professor after threatening to reveal their affair. Cooper begins a slow descent into researching Jane’s life and death becoming so enthralled with finding the truth that she begins merging Jane’s story into her own. In addition to searching for the truth for Jane, Cooper also uncovers an unsurprising amount of misogyny among the elite academics at Harvard. She relates story after story of women’s attempts to climb the academic ladder thwarted by men in positions of power and the silencing culture that an institution like Harvard seems to cultivate. I enjoyed the mystery of Jane’s life and death, but Cooper clearly devoted a huge chunk of her young adult life to this story, and she certainly does it justice but in excruciating detail. I was ready for things to move faster about halfway through, but it just kept slogging along. I applaud Cooper’s dedication and due diligence but can’t say I felt enough of the same mystique and draw to keep me entertained the whole way through this.
I’ve been a big Davis Sedaris fan for the last few years after only discovering him embarrassingly late in life. His sarcasm, wit, and self-deprecating humor slay me in every single thing he writes. The Best of Me is a compilation of some of his best work; some I’ve read before and some were new to me. The thing I love the most about Sedaris is that in addition to writing about the outrageousness of every day observation, he also sneaks in these really poignant thoughts about life, death, family, love, and general human behavior. Although many of his stories are tinged with darkness, he’s an open book about family details, infusing absurdity with deep melancholy when relating anecdotes about his mother’s alcoholism, sister’s suicide, and the rocky relationship he has with his father. My favorite parts of this collection include “Me Talk Pretty One Day” when he tries to explain Easter in French to a Moroccan student; his sister, Lisa’s pet parrot that he refers to as the “little fatso living in my sister’s kitchen”; the neighbors who have no TV and show up for trick-or-treat on the wrong night forcing young David to give up some of his own hoard; and the beach house called the “sea-section.” My all-time favorite story was included in this collection and is a riotous scene where Sedaris is living in the French countryside when some tourists stop for directions as he’s trying to drown a rat in a bucket of water on the front porch. After the tourist comes through the front door, Sedaris starts to realize all of the ways in which his home reflects that of a serial killer. I’ve come across this one many times over the years, and I crack up over and over again. An enjoyable collection that just further cements Sedaris as a master humorist in the literary world. It’s David’s world, and we’re just laughing through it.
Travel All the Pages is inspired by my two loves - travel and reading, a combo I can't resist. Enjoy these little pairings.