What to Read This Winter


A la yesterday’s post on the literature of campaign endorsements, today Slate is running a wonderfully enticing compendium of books recommended for our winter reading pleasure. They cover all genres, but, being a non-fiction nerd, this one caught my eye:

Texas Death Row by Bill Crawford, ed. When I cracked open Texas Death Row, I thought, oooh, I see, it’s a catalog of all the folks who’ve been put to death there, not the kind of book you sit down and read cover-to-cover. Then, I sat down and read it cover-to-cover. Not only because I knew a few of the unfortunates who wound up “riding the needle” from my long-ago stint covering Texas prisons, but because it’s impossible to turn away from this inch-by-inch indictment of a culture that would feed a man with a 7th-grade education enough food to kill him right before actually doing so, and call that justice. (And how could anyone choke down a last meal of “fifteen enchiladas, onion rings or fries, eight pieces of fried chicken, eight pieces of barbecue chicken, eight whole peppers, ten hard-shell tacos with plenty of meat, cheese, onions and sauce, four double-meat, double-cheese, double-bacon burgers, T-bone steak with A-1 sauce, and a pan of peach cobbler?” No idea, but nobody dies hungry in Huntsville.)

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.

As if we readers didn’t already have too many titles we’re trying to get to. The same strategy that works with crackheads works all too well with us; we know we shouldn’t read all those reviews but, dammit, we’re just too addicted. Need more temptation?

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