Misshelved True Crime

While one might think the content of a non-fiction work indicates where in the store it will be shelved, this isn't always true. Today we will examine three books, all of which by content are clearly True Crime, but might be shelved elsewhere at the behest of the publisher's marketing department.    

     The first and most horrific title is A Stolen Life: A Memoir by Jaycee Dugard. The author was abducted at age eleven and lived the next eighteen years in a backyard shed in Antioch, CA. Her captor was a sex offender and the book does not spare much detail as to the circumstances she faced. I haven't read it, and maybe never will, as these particular gruesome details are too much for me. This title is marketed as a memoir, and I do trust the people at Simon & Schuster to know how from whence their stock will best sell. John Glatt's book on the case, Lost and Found, is shelved in True Crime, and there's no reason for Dugard's account to be anywhere else, except the belief that folks who do not browse True Crime will buy it.

      Just recently published and expertly done is Killer On The Road by Ginger Strand, published by the University of Texas Press. The back cover identifies the subject matter as "History," which is true in a sense but also disingenuous. The author looks at the effect the national highway system has had on murder in America. Most people today have lived with highways all their lives, so do not appreciate what an incredible change this public works project had on the country. She looks at particular cases in depth, and has no shortage of material to draw from. From my perspective, the greatest chapter concerns the Atlanta child killings of the early 1980s. The stated goal of building the freeway system through the heart of the city was to provide rapid access from the suburbs to the downtown core. As it happened, many thousands of residential housing units were destroyed, almost all of which had been occupied by black people. The black neighborhoods remaining in the shadows of the on-ramps were physically and economically divided from each other and the rest of the city. The result was neighborhoods which had not been poor became so, and those that were poor became desperately so. As readers of True Crime have noted again and again, the poorer the missing person, the less the police investigate. Students of the genre will be excited here, as for this chapter, Strand relies heavily on an out-of-print & scarce title, The List by Chet Dettlinger. He was an detective with the Atlanta police, one of many assigned to the case, and became rather critical of how the investigation was handled. When Wayne Williams went on trial for two of these killings, Dettlinger worked with the defense. Strand meshes the disregard for downtown Atlanta blacks by federal and local governments with the inability of all involved to stop these children from being killed. Once Williams was convicted of the two counts of murder, almost all of the twenty-plus remaining unsolved cases were closed. The final chapter of Killer On The Road examines the physically and psychologically punishing job of cross-country trucking, and the extent to which this profession attracts and/or creates killers. This book is highly recommended.

     Our final tome today is 2009's Police Interrogation and American Justice by USF professor Richard Leo. We shelve this title in Legal Studies, and have been able to sell roughly one a year since it came out. I'm not sure how much longer it will remain in print, but this book is important to an understanding of how the criminal justice system works in practice. Leo sat in on hundreds of hours of interrogations in East Bay police departments, and his research does not instill confidence in their methods. The list of True Crime books wherein a false confession enables the actual perpetrator to continue to victimize others would be long indeed. I: The Creation of a Serial Killer by Jack Olsen, Central Park Five by Sarah Burns, and The Devil's Knot by Mara Leveritt are three we carry new. This nearly happened in Bringing Adam Home by Lee Standiford. Edward Humes's out-of-print Mean Justice describes the production of false confessions as being considered quality police work in the eyes of exceptionally dangerous Kern County cops and prosecutors. Of course, coercing someone into an undeserved prison term is a hell of a crime in itself. Society is doubly victimized as the actual criminal remains free. Police and prosecutors have proven extremely reluctant to re-evaluate their techniques, even in the face of overwhelming evidence of their failures.

     Crime and anti-social deviance permeate our society. For sure Business, Environmental Studies, Political Science, Sociology, and any History section will have books just as fearsome as those to be found in True Crime.



Penn State football

Recently the question of "Should Penn State change their uniforms?" came across twitter. My answer was "no, the problem is the brand not the identity". I say that realizing that identity is always tied to brand and should be a reflection of it. I also feel that any change to the football uniform would be a reminder of why they chose to change it, and therefore tainting the brand's future. They dig themselves into a hole they can never get out of, at least not for a long time.

I think of what it would be like to be a Penn State alum and being at the first home game where the football team takes the field again and what i would want to feel during that experience. If Penn State football crashes to the depths of 1-AA and struggles for years, then a new identity would be in order. But the current identity does not need to spark excitement, gain attention, or become more modern. What it needs when that team finally takes the field is a sense of pride, unity, and a reminder of the great tradition and powerhouse school they once were. All of that is in their current identity. More than ever they need to find strength in something that represents Penn State in its best light. 400+ wins in 1 uniform will tend to do that.


Speak softly, but spread the word: the original venue for Litquake's annual bash has been changed at the last minute due to the club's violation of liquor laws. . .

Ironic that the name of this year's Litquake party is Password: A Literary Speakeasy, and will feature in-character readings from the likes of Dashiell Hammett (Eddie Muller), Dorothy Parker (Sarah Fran Wisby), and many others. Awesome that the shindig will be hosted by the lovely (but not so silent) screen-star, Louise Brooks (Alia Volz), and will include Prohibition-era cocktails, as well as jazz, and a caricaturist. Dreamy in the fact that there will be a Thin Man movie marathon.

Best of all - tickets are still available - just tell 'em Mergatroid sent you!

Thursday, July 19th 8:00PM
(new location) Public Works 161 Erie Street map

Presentation, Organization, Communication 2 - Elements: Shape

Shape1. the quality of a distinct object or body in having an external surface or outline of specific form or figure.

2. something seen in outline, as in silhouette: A vague shape appeared through the mist.

Creating a logo that must work in black and white is dated thinking, something that is no longer a requirement. I mean, how many faxes have you sent out this year? It is however still good practice, for any commercial design, to work in black and white because shape is the first thing that is read by our brains. If your shapes are readable in black and white, you probably have a solid design.

Shape is 2-dimensional; we add light/shadow, value, and color to shape to make it take form, which is (or appearing to be) 3-dimensional, having volume and mass. In design there are 3 types of shapes: Geometric (square, rectangle, diamond, triangle, circle, etc.), Organic (found in nature), and Abstract. Shape can be in either positive or negative space.

Shapes are the basic building blocks of any design, and each kind can be used to communicate a specific feeling, action, or mood. Shapes can be just as emotional as color and have played a significant role in religions as we see in Sacred Geometry (perhaps a future post on this). When looking to communicate a message with shape, heres how I refer to them.

Circle – perfection, integrity, eternal, whole, sun/earth/moon, graceful, protection, completion.

Triangle – strength (strongest geometrical shape), 3, past/present/future, direction, stability, aggression, male (point up), female (point down).

Square/Rectangle – stability, calmness, honesty, order, security, equality, simplicity, masculine. Vertically they are strong and powerful, horizontally they are peaceful.

Spirals – chaos, creativity, youth, growth, transformation, energy,

Organic – nature, feminine, birth, fertility, life, earth, elegance.

Geometric Shapes in Use.

The geometric shapes are usually easy to work with. You can do an entire design out of the basic shapes alone.

The Dallas Cowboys have a logo that is a single closed shape. It is simplicity at its finest showing that some times, all you need is 1 shape and 1 color. The Pittsburgh Steelers logo is very similar, using only a circle and 3 diamonds.

Heres another logo by Logomotive built entirely out of simple shapes which form a visual double entendre.

This Bauhaus styled poster is a beautiful tribute to the German school which taught a variety of arts from 1919 to 1933, and made a huge impact on European and American design. The poster is made up entirely of solid geometric shapes, something that is common in modern design still. The font 'Bauhaus' used through out here is a geometric sans-serif built from circles and rectangles.

South Park characters and environments are made up of almost entirely of the basic shapes.

You can also use shapes in design to construct a foundation of a form or figure. Leonardo Da Vinci loved triangles and you can see here he paints Jesus within a triangle. Note the position of head and hands. This is something also easily seen in his Madonna of the Rocks and Mona Lisa paintings. The Last Supper is loaded with triangles and the number 3. The composition being divided up into 3rds, 3 walls, 3 windows on the back wall, and every “group” with 3 disciples. 

Organic Shapes in use

Organic shapes come from nature. They are leafs, flowers, bones, trees, feathers, rocks, clouds, etc. They often are free flowing and have a nice movement and direction to them. Combining organic and geometric shapes can create interesting contrast, blending nature with man made things, like a vine growing on a pillar.

Here the designer is using multiple organic shapes; a skull and bird silhouettes.

the Degal label takes on the shape of a leaf. Leaf shapes were hugely popular in design in the early 21st century.

I like to think of animal patterns as organic shapes as well. If it comes from nature, then its not abstract.

Olly Moss is a master with shape and figure-ground relationship. In this poster he uses multiple organic shapes of rocks and the sun to create another organic shape, a skull.

Abstract Shapes in Use

These shapes are not found in the real world and have a bit of a randomness quality to them, like an ink blot. The line between abstract and organic shapes can sometimes be blurry though. A lot of artist’s style comes from slightly altering a truly organic shape into something that is unique. Think of how many different types of skulls you’ve seen drawn. There are many logos that are built from abstract shapes but create something that reads organic as an animal or person (Buffalo Bills logo). We can also take simple shapes and form an abstract image (Radiation icon or Cross).

The Bills logo, an abstract rendering of a buffalo in motion

This poster by Federico Mancosu is made of just shape and color but it is easily readable as a single image, and tells a story. The 2 large shapes areas, a red square and black rectangle, are in proportion to the Golden Ratio and has a visual feeling that reflects the mood of the song perfectly. This is one of my favorite pieces of design i've ever seen.

Van Gogh created a twisted reality here spirals and abstract rendering of nature

Here's an image that is built of few abstract shapes, but again, easily a readable image.

This is where the line between organic and abstract gets a bit blurry. You could make a case for either here, but the message is straight forward and very clever.

Again going back to the master, Olly Moss, where he uses the silhouettes of Cloud City and Boba Fett together to form Fett’s figure. There are also nicely rendered organic shapes within.

All Together, Now

Using all 3 types of shapes in a single design can be interesting. In this poster we see a balance of geometric (rectangles, stars) organic (roses, skulls) and abstract. I count the guns as abstract because they are man made; not existing in nature and much more complex that the basic geometrics.

Valarie Jar’sNational Park logos might be my favorite example ever of using all 3 different types of shapes. She uses abstract shapes within the geometric silhouettes to create form of those objects.

Before there was Olly Moss, there was Saul Bass. Bass made his career of using interesting shapes in his designs. Pictures within type, within simple shapes, forming shapes with blocks of text; he did it before just about anyone else. His work should be studied by every graphic designer. He was a Godfather of modern design.

Further Reading

SitePoint, Elements of Design: Shape
VanSeoDesign, The Meaning of Shapes

no "Q"uestion about it

when people ask me where my favorite place to eat is around here i tell them hands down, unequivocally, with no bias whatsoever, in complete confidence and honesty: Q restaurant.  conveniently located a few blocks away from us at 225 clement (between 3rd and 4th avenues), this delectable gem has great food (seriously, the meatloaf and tater tots are my favorite), amazing seasonal specials, a fantastic wine selection (you gotta try the "Sexy" from portugal, no joke), a fun and energetic staff (some of whom just so happen to be good friends of mine, and the more you go there, you just might consider them friends of yours as well), funky decor (the magnet alphabet letters are a riot), yummy desserts and the proverbial icing on the cake: frooties that come to your table when the check is presented.  if that is a metaphor to sweeten the process of paying the bill then i am 100% behind it.  if you have never had a frootie, you are seriously missing out on one of the best candies ever invented, and i will argue my point with authority as i am considered 'that guy who likes candy' around the bookstore.  and here is the kicker, my favorite flavor:

and making a rare appearance for special occasions
(i ate dinner there last night and my server tossed these my way, laughing as she did so,
and honestly, what's a better occasion than that?)

so go see my friends, enjoy some down-home fantastic food, some sexy wine, the excellent musical ambiance (that i forgot to mention earlier), and some frooties in the best place to eat in the neighborhood.



The Third World is a tough place to live. Privation, a poisonous environment, ignored (at best) by state forces, malnourished and short-lived in sub-standard housing--billions of people through the world live in such circumstances. While existing in the popular mind as a far-flung locale, the Third World is better conceptualized as the land and people of any country deemed useless by capitalists. Comic journalist Joe Sacco teamed up with muckraker Chris Hedges to document Third World conditions here in the the US. Days Of Destruction Days Of Revolt (Nation Books) examines desperate and destitute people in New Jersey, New York, West Virginia, Florida, and South Dakota. Sacco's intricate artwork and unblinking sympathy dovetail with Hedges's examinations of social forces leading to personal suffering.

     A collection of Sacco's earlier work also graces us this month. Journalism (Metropolitan Books) collects pieces previously published in outlets such as Time, Details, Harper's, Virginia Quarterly Review, and the Boston Globe, among others. He focuses on migrants and the displaced, those fleeing economic or military crises. His artwork is incredible, but it's his relationship to his own stories I admire most. He includes himself and his gathering of stories in the comics, illuminating his own subjectivity as an author. 

     Probably these titles will not make one feel better about the state of our world. But as edifying recent history they are highly recommended. For those who are discovering Mr Sacco for the first time, his earlier works on conflict in Bosnia and Palestine are also a wise investment.