This month's book club pick was The Poet and the Murderer by Simon Worrall. I find that fact that our other nonfiction title for 2007 was The Professor and the Madman kind of amusing. I'm sure that the two were chosen because of subject matter, but it does seem that we respond in some way to that title format.
Voting for our 2008 selections will happen next month and I'll be posting our reading list for next year in early December at the latest. A list of our 2007 (and late 2006) selections is available here if you are interested.
Anyway, about the book: First of all, it really wasn't what I expected. Because of the title I assumed there would be a more even handling of Dickinson and Hofmann. As it was, Dickinson seemed pretty tangential to the story the author was trying to tell. We learn all about Hofmann and his personal history, the LDS Church (historic and contemporary), the rare book and manuscript trade, auction houses, early American printing, and forgery techniques, but very little about Miss Dickinson (beyond little tidbits and theories tossed into the narrative journalistically). Hofmann's story is compelling in and of itself and I'd almost rather that Worrall didn't try to merge it with Dickinson's.
You can tell that The Poet and the Murderer was Worrall's first book and that his background is in journalism. The narrative is very episodic with an emphasis on the more exciting or salacious details (for example, it seemed like Worrall rushed through the murders and what let up to them, but he was very explicit about what happened to the female victim, explicit enough to turn your stomach).
All this isn't to say that we didn't like the book. I think most of us did (or at least found it quite interesting). We liked that the tale began from the perspective of a librarian. And, I think we all learned more about Mormonism and forgery than we'd known before. But, we didn't like the typographical errors or that fact that Worrall didn't really reference his sources.