Slate's winter reading.

Reading between the lines.
Feb. 1 2008 7:29 AM

Winter Books

What Slate is reading this winter.

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Bill Crawford's book contains no commentary, just basic biographical information about the 391 men and women executed in Texas in the last 25 years. On page after page you see person after person who never made it past the seventh or eighth grade, and crime after crime connected with drugs—so tell me again why you still hear Texans boo-hoo about that awful Ann Richards, making them fund schools and treatment programs? This should be required reading for anyone even thinking about uttering the words fair or deterrent or closure in connection with the death penalty. As this compilation of loss makes clear, most of these people weren't thinking much of anything when they threw their own and others' lives away.— Melinda Henneberger

Biography

The Long Embrace: Raymond Chandler and the Woman He Loved

The Long Embrace: Raymond Chandler and the Woman He Loved by Judith Freeman. This book is essential to anyone looking for a) a love letter to Los Angeles, b) a chance to cultivate an obsession with Raymond Chandler, or c) a new model for writing intelligent nonfiction. It's a colorful local history of the California metropolis in the first half of the 20th century plus an erotic biography with lots of speculative commentary interspersed, most of all on how Chandler conducted his unorthodox love life (he married a woman 18 years his senior). Freeman often veers into the first person, yet she retains some level of objectivity by always presenting multiple hypotheses.

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The Long Embrace sheds more light on its subject than do most standard biographies. It turns out that Chandler's love for his wife, Cissy, is essential to understanding how he constructed his female temptresses. And in evoking a centerless Los Angeles, Freeman helps us appreciate the essential vision of the Chandlerian mystery: that people, like the vast cities they inhabit, are really unknowable.— Tyler Cowen

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