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Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier by Mark Frost

November 22, 2018

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This is the partner book to Mark Frost’s The Secret History of Twin Peaks. The Secret History created a sprawling backstory to many of the town’s mysteries and characters and gave fans a primer before Showtime’s release of Twin Peaks: The Return (2017’s “season 3”). This much slimmer book puts a bow on it all. Meant to be read after viewing The Return, it answers some of the biggest mysteries of the third season, gives us an epilogue to a few characters and generally confirms which of the thousands of fan theories are on the mark.

It’s nice to get more of the world and spend time with the cast. Donna (and the Haywards), Annie, Shelly, the Horns, Windom Earle, Garland Briggs, Phillip Jeffries all have chapters. Cooper is, of course, a major presence. And the stories run the gamut we’ve come to expect from Twin Peaks—at times funny, scary, weird, touching, dark and mysterious.

But the thing that makes Twin Peaks wonderful is that it is a ball of mysteries. Theories serve as decoder rings that lead to broad understandings of how the Twin Peak world works, but depending on the ring (pun intended), the interpretations can vary wildly. Thus, a book of answers strips away the very thing that makes the series amazing—it’s not just a mystery for Cooper and Cole and the other investigators, it’s a mystery for us. The show left us with possibly more questions than answers, and many viewers find that frustrating. But that is Twin Peaks. An enigma that gets more mysterious the deeper you go. This book resolves too many of those mysteries.

The worst interpretation is that it is pure fan service—that Frost was reading the fan theories during the airing of the show and picking the ones he liked best. This book feels like that at times. A more favorable interpretation is that this book is meant for the fans who are both die-hard and are unsatisfied with not knowing the answers. I guess I’m the former but not the latter.

There are a few continuity mistakes—mostly minor, some major—throughout the book. Some fans have written them off as confirmation that there are indeed multiple timelines, multiple realities, at play. But they come off as mistakes, not clues. Additionally, although the overall design—by Headcase Design—is the same as The Secret History and is beautiful overall, the content itself is relatively text heavy, without the visual ephemera that helped bring the first book to life. It feels a little lazier (or cheaper) in that regard.

I didn’t hate this book, I just wish Frost hadn’t pulled back the curtain quite so much.

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Diane… The Twin Peaks Tapes of Agent Cooper by Scott Frost, performed by Kyle MacLachlin

November 3, 2018

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This is a completely unnecessary but wholly enjoyable companion to the Twin Peaks original series. In one of the many iconic elements of the show, Agent Cooper (Kyle MacLachlin) dictates notes into a small tape recorder, each recording addressed to “Diane.” It added some comedy, but was also a clever device that allowed Cooper to think out loud for the viewer. Diane’s identity was never clear. Was she a fellow agent? An assistant? A wife? A quirky figment of Cooper’s imagination? Had he named his tape recorder Diane? It wouldn’t be until Twin Peaks: The Return, 25 years later, that we would get the answer.

 

 

Here, though, it doesn’t matter. This is just a collection of Cooper’s random musings on the case, coffee, life, the town, the trees, the Dalai Lama. Some are taken directly from the show, but most are new. They provide side commentary to the scenes from the show, but none of the information is necessary. It’s mostly just for the fun of spending more time with one of the best characters from television, listening to Cooper dryly observe that Albert, the jerk of a forensic examiner, has endeared himself to the people of the town with his usual charm (Albert had just been punched in the eye by the town sheriff). Or his quip after being shot. He’s told by the doctor that he’ll make a full recovery and should be able to “live a full and normal life, which would be a new experience in and of itself.”

A great listen, well-scripted by Scott Frost and perfectly performed by Kyle MacLachlin, for which he earned a Grammy nomination.

The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer by Jennifer Lynch

November 3, 2018

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Jennifer Lynch, daughter of Twin Peaks creator David Lynch, wrote this diary as backstory to Laura Palmer, the famous body wrapped in plastic that kicks off the Twin Peaks series. It was released between seasons 1 and 2, but is actually closer companion to Fire Walk With Me, the film created after the original series about the week leading up to Laura’s murder. While it’s unclear how much David Lynch consulted this book as he created the film, Sheryl Lee, who plays Laura Palmer, has said in interviews that this book was invaluable.

This book, like Fire Walk With Me, is really only for Twin Peaks fans. I read it after having seen the series, so it served more to round out some of the characters than answer any mysteries, but a careful reading might lead a reader to conclude who killed Laura and, importantly the identity of BOB.

I was surprised at the quality of the writing. It captures the voice of a young girl—one who ages from 12 to 17 over the course of the book—and feels authentic without feeling teeny-bopper. And the juxtaposition of the young voice with the dark material underscores how tragic the story is. As heavy as the tv series was, it was restricted to what could be shown on network television. Fire Walk With Me delved into a much seedier, graphic representation of Twin Peaks. Likewise, this book is graphic at parts, so much so that some bookstores refused to carry it when it was released. Despite this, and a testament to the popularity of the show, the book reached #4 on The New York Times paperback fiction bestseller list in 1990.

Not a necessary read to “get” Twin Peaks, but a solid expansion of the story.

Zodiac by Robert Graysmith

October 31, 2018

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In 1968, Robert Graysmith was a reporter at the San Francisco Chronicle when the serial killer who called himself Zodiac came to national attention. In an encrypted letter sent to multiple Bay Area newspapers, Zodiac claimed responsibility for three recent murders and one more near-murder (he’d eventually claim he’d killed 37 people, though most were unconfirmed). He demanded that the papers print his messages on their front pages or he’d kill again.

Graysmith became obsessed with Zodiac. He blurred the line between journalist and criminal investigator, and he brings us along his winding, frustrating search for the killer, with all its false clues and dead ends. But there’s also a sense of suspense, moments of palpable danger. We know that Graysmith made it out alive, but with a couple of the people he interviews, we get the sense that this person just might be…or is that just Graysmith’s paranoia we’re picking up?

This book is considered a classic of the genre, though it’s not a classically satisfying book. It’s sometimes slow, in the weeds, and there’s no good ending. The killer was never identified. I didn’t mind the obtuse plot. I think it’s an interesting character study of Graysmith—good crime stories are often more about the investigator than the criminal. The writing is solid, the story terrifying. Having lived in the Bay Area, I knew many of the areas. They are as normal as normal gets, which is why books like this keep you up at night.

Maybe we’ll learn the truth from DNA evidence someday, the way we did with the Golden State Killer earlier this year. But as for the scope of this book, the killer remains a mystery.

 


Related reads: 

I’ll Be Gone In the Dark by Michelle McNamara

Mind Hunter by John Douglas and Mark Olshaker

Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi

 

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley

October 30, 2018

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This novel, by the creator of the TV show Fargo, got some fairly rave reviews. The premise is catchy—18 minutes after takeoff, a private jet carrying two families and a seemingly random artist goes down into Long Island Sound. The artist and a young boy swim to shore. Everyone else dies. Media circus ensues.

There are moments and characters that are interesting. There are plot turns that are genuinely suspenseful, ponderings on the nature of fate that are provocative, observations about our sensationalized media culture that are important. But there are also too many moments that are contrived for suspense, heavy-handed themes, extraneous character deep dives and an implausibly villainous, thinly-veiled Bill O’Reilly character that pull this novel to a mediocre middle ground. It feels too self-serious. It’s a fairly entertaining story, but seems too distracted by its own big themes to live up to the potential of the initial premise.

The Midnight Assassin: Panic, Scandal and the Hunt for America’s First Serial Killer by Skip Hollandsworth

October 29, 2018

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My friend Jonathan gave this book to me after I moved back to Austin. It’s an interesting portrait of Austin in the 1880s, as it was attempting to shed its reputation as a simple frontier cattle town and step up as a city to be taken seriously. Much attention was given by politicians to how the rest of the country perceived Texas and Austin (this was in the time when the state capital building was being constructed to intentionally surpass the height of the nation’s capital by a few feet). And then out of nowhere, someone started killing people with an ax.

Straight out of the horror books, he—presumably a man—began by hacking up African American servant girls. The crimes seemed random, though the town exploded with rumors and conspiracy theories. Trying to preserve its reputation, many (mostly black) men were rounded up and tortured to extract a confession. But none of them did, and the murders persisted. Eventually, the killer moved to the white district of town where, in the most heinous crime of them all, he killed two women by ax on Christmas Eve.

This book is full of interesting characters, including an ample supply of bumbling cops and corrupt politicians. It captures the excitement of the times as well as the entrenched racism. At the remove of over a century, we might find some humor or even quaintness in the story, but for the people of Austin, it was utterly terrifying. There had never been a serial killer anywhere—the phrase hadn’t even been coined yet. This was before Jack the Ripper. That more famous killer would appear some years later, and many investigators would try to link him back to the Austin killer, theorizing that he’d gotten his start by “practicing” with an ax in small-town Austin before graduating to mutilation by knife in the more cosmopolitan London.

Fans of Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City will likely enjoy this book, though Hollandsworth has less to work with. The Austin killer was never identified. And as interesting as the history of Austin is, it pales to the story of Chicago during the 1893 World’s Expo. Still, a gripping and well-written true crime story. Worth the read, especially if you happen to live in Austin.

How to Sit by Thich Nhat Hanh

October 29, 2018

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This is a really simple, straightforward book about how to meditate. It is partly practical—where, when, what posture. But more importantly, it articulates the goal of meditation, the desire to be present. Some key takeaways:

Meditation does not need to be pre-meditated. It doesn’t require a special mat, a special time or a special tea. Just sit down and do it.

The physical is a gateway to the mental/spiritual. It is usually hard to get out of our own head, to step out of the river of thought for even a brief moment. That’s why meditation places so much emphasis on breathing. It centers our focus on the moment. Nothing past, nothing future.

Our presence is one of the greatest things we can give. In everyday moments and conversations, we are often only partly present. Our minds wander, our fingers find our phones in our pockets, we’re answering emails in a meeting. Being present with others is simple but profound.

Taking care of ourselves takes care of others. By finding our center, by taking the time to meditate or do whatever is needed to let go of our blockers—worry, despair, anger, fear—we cease to act in ways that spread that negativity to others. Our inner peace radiates outward and can help bring peace to others.

The present moment is everything. The past is gone, the future is not here yet. There is no use in regretting the past or worrying about the future. Life is just a string of present moments, so to live in either the past or the future is to neglect the only moment that matters. By focusing on the present moment always, you focus on all of life.

This last concept is central to Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now, only Tolle takes several hundred pages to explain it. This slim book reads more like a book of poetry. Fewer words, more meaning. I like that. This is a good book to have around.