The best books to help you discover what makes people tick

Theresa Griffin Kennedy Author Of Talionic Night in Portland: A Love Story
By Theresa Griffin Kennedy

Who am I?

When I think of who I am, as a writer and a human being, I remember the words of prolific Portland poet Dan Rapheal, who wrote the foreword to my book of poetry, Blue Reverie in Smoke: “...the reader must look carefully to get a full picture of the poet herself—tender, no nonsense, quietly observing and juggernauting to make things as she thinks they should be.” I’ve never forgotten Dan’s astute appraisal of me, and it surprised me. It seems that's how I’ve always beensomeone who quietly observes, never unmoved by what I see, just trying to make sense of it, sometimes successful in that endeavor, and oftentimes, not successful at all. 

I wrote...

Talionic Night in Portland: A Love Story

By Theresa Griffin Kennedy,

Book cover of Talionic Night in Portland: A Love Story

What is my book about?

Talionic Night in Portland: A Love Story, released in 2021, is a dark, sometimes comical book about sex. It is a graphic and riveting account of how people come to grips with, or express, the long-repressed rage of childhood sexual abuse and how that rage can present itself later in life in various ways. Class, gender roles, and dark humor are given equal focus in this explicit and often disturbing first novel about love gone awry in the City of Roses. 

The books I picked & why

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The Woman Watching

By Paola Capriolo,

Book cover of The Woman Watching

Why this book?

How do we decipher mundane truth from sophisticated deception? Who holds the gaze and who is the protagonist if they’re not readily revealed? Vulpius, a popular actor in a dubious era, develops an obsession with an unknown spectator, who he believes comes only to see him. The reader watches his life slowly unravel because Vulpius can never seem to capture the woman watching. Capriolo draws the reader into the insanity and narcissism of obsession, revealing how it can make perfect sense to the afflicted. I loved this book because of the strangeness of the extreme passive voice, probably because it's translated from Italian to English. Also, there is a complete lack of dialogue. I loved Capriolo’s masterful teasing of the reader, revealing just enough to keep you coming back, wondering just what’s going to happen to Vulpius. Will he survive, or will he destroy himself in the end? 

Suicide Blonde

By Darcey Steinke,

Book cover of Suicide Blonde

Why this book?

In Suicide Blonde, the lead character Jesse tries to sustain a connection with her beautiful bisexual boyfriend, Bell, who though he loves her, cannot refuse the allure of sex with strange men and seems to be regularly “dipped in sleaze.” Jesse becomes caretaker of Madam Pig, an old obese beauty queen who lives in a crumbling old house. The paint peels in the wind with only vacant lots and industrial buildings nearby, as Madam Pig swills red wine and vomits down staircases. I loved this book for the lonely dystopian feel and the way Jesse seems utterly alone in the world. I also loved the natural way Stienke writes about sex. I learned a great deal from her graphic content, learning how to actually write sex into litertaure. The book is not for the faint of heart and does not have a happy ending, but in its way, it reads like poetry. I read it once a year for the simple reason that for me, it affirms something about the world that I need affirmed. 


By Lidia Yuknavitch,

Book cover of Verge

Why this book?

This book of short fiction is a riveting account of how the marginalized outcasts of society struggle to find a voice, often not finding anything other than the realization of their own loneliness and social isolation. Many dynamics are shown in this book, such as a kind of unquenchable desire for new experience, even when it harms us, and the struggle to contend with class, gender, age, and continued sexual hunger. Do we invite troubled persons into our lives if they might harm us, or at least carve profanity into our coffee tables, or do we walk away? I loved this book because each story and character captures what it's like to live on the edge, and this is done without judgment, malice, or any form of indifference. I had so many favorite stories from this collection, just rest assured it is totally worth your time and the money to buy the book. 

American Junkie

By Tom Hansen,

Book cover of American Junkie

Why this book?

American Junkie is a brutally honest tour de force you will never forget! The life of a young and intelligent musician with the promise of success in the 1990s Seattle Grunge scene slowly morphs into the sad reality of a man slipping into addiction and melancholy. In this memoir, Hansen struggles, but does find that his humanity is tied up in more than just addiction. Hansen was a gentleman heroin dealer, not a thug or bully. He mixed with celebrities and those unseen ghosts of the street that end up unnamed and forgotten. He had a code of ethics he lived by. Cleverly written in intimate second-person narrative voice, I loved this book because as you read, you are at once a part of Hansen’s story and in the end, you feel moved by his honesty and the unsparing way he shares the details of his life. When his final prognosis is listed as “guarded” by the attending physician, you want only that Hansen will survive. Seeing the gentleness behind the often remote exterior and wanting only the best outcome for him, you find yourself rallying for him without shame. 

Crane: Sex, Celebrity, and My Father's Unsolved Murder

By Robert Crane, Christopher Fryer,

Book cover of Crane: Sex, Celebrity, and My Father's Unsolved Murder

Why this book?

Along with being extremely well written, this book details the horrific murder of a celebrated actor, a man blitzed in his sleep, a decent man who dealt with mundane foibles many men experience. But Crane always continued on, heading to work, embracing a hopeful and positive outlook on his abilities and the future. Bob Crane may well have never awoken from the cowardly assault that took his life in 1978, leaving his 4 children fatherless. A couple of years ago, I got to know Robert David Crane, Bob Crane’s son, via social media and it was one of the oddest occurrences of my life. I’d never have predicted it. I’ve found him to be insightful, generous, accomplished, and genuine. I loved this book because it is about the murder of a man who I grew up seeing.

Yes, I too watched Hogan’s Heroes and absolutely loved the character played by Bob Crane, his confident smirk, his humor, always being one step ahead of everyone else. When I heard of the murder in 1978, I was 12 years old. It was all over the news. The kids in my neighborhood talked about it for weeks. Bob Crane, yes, that Bob Crane, the star of Hogan’s Heroes, dead. It made us sad. This book offers an intimate look at what it was like to be that man’s son, to contend with the police, the bumbled investigation, when it was more than obvious who the killer was. The illusion of “closure” is examined in this book and the manner that cold case murders die and are reborn every time family members get that phone call, every few years, to rehash what has already been gone over. This is a great book, full of heart, honesty, and even some humor. Highly recommended. 

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