Here are some books I’ve written.
The Curse came out of a Village Voice cover story I did about the menstrual products industry in the ‘90s. I still like to write about menstruation—and the culture of concealment surrounding it—and often do so in my blog, Menstrual Moments. And now that lots of people are writing about menstruation (indeed, even stodgy places like Newsweek were calling 2015 the year of the period and in passing referred to my original piece as “an explosive 1995 Village Voice article”—scandalous!) I still keep tabs on this cyclical (ha) story with things like this 2017 review in the Washington Post and this 2019 one in the Women’s Review of Books.
And here’s a link to the original 1995 piece that I gave these early internet pioneers permission to reprint because the Village Voice archives were not public, which is sad because we had a beautifully-designed cover and lots of useful sidebars, like “The Adventures of Gynomite Girl” where I tried every menstrual product I could get my hands on—cups, cloth pads, Instead, etc.—and ranked their convenience and efficacy. I scoured the web for like, 20 minutes, trying to find a link to this sidebar but apparently “The Adventures of Gynomite Girl” is now a porn site. Sigh.
Chasing Gideon picks up where New York Times reporter Anthony Lewis left off in his 1964 book Gideon’s Trumpet, which covered the landmark Supreme Court decision establishing the right to counsel and the promise that, even if you’re poor and can’t afford a lawyer, one will be provided for you.
In the half-century since the 1962 decision Gideon v. Wainwright, enormous changes have taken place in the U.S. criminal justice system, including an explosion in the number of prosecutions and drug arrests. The advent of mandatory minimum sentences and other harsher approaches to law enforcement, applied broadly through the so-called War on Drugs, have raised the stakes and changed the dynamics of criminal defense. Plea bargaining, which now resolves more than 90 percent of all cases, positions the lawyer in particular constraints, as does the overwhelming caseload that so many criminal defense lawyers carry.
In Chasing Gideon I show how our public defender system in the country is completely broken—and examine the fault-lines in the system by telling the intimate stories of four defendants.
If you’re curious about the book, here’s an interview I did about it on C-Span’s BookTV.
And here’s my reading from the book at the San Francisco Justice Summit at the SF Library in 2013 where I was a keynote speaker.
I wrote about the book for the Washington Post.
And Leonard Pitts wrote about it for his syndicated column in the Miami Herald. “Karen Houppert has written a book of nightmares,” he begins.
Home Fires Burning
In this book, I spend a year in the lives of various military wives whose husbands have been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan and consider how feminism has—and has not—impacted military family policy.
Here is an excerpt from the intro:
Military wives stand with one foot inside the military camp and one foot in the outside world—and they wonder about the alternatives.
These families that are both a part of the military club but separate from it, may be one of the biggest challenges the U.S. military faces today. The army would like to bring these families inside the institution, to encircle them in a great, big camouflage cloak, settle some government-issues shades on their noses, have them look out at the world through olive-tinted glasses. The Army’s mission would be their mission, their loyalty to cause, khaki, and country complete. But the military cannot figure out how to do this.
For hundreds of years the military has adeptly trained soldiers to accomplish their missions, but when it comes to “training” their families the military stumbles. The boot camp methods that wring compliance from soldiers—break ‘em down then build ‘em up as a team—alienates wives. Mandating a sense of “bonding” too often fails. Efforts to win hearts and minds are transparent—and frequently resented. Occasionally, the drive for institutional loyalty works, sometimes this sense of being united for a larger purpose invigorates families, but just as often it seems to oppress them. Wives have a sneaking suspicion that what is in the best interest of the army is not always in their best interest.
This makes army brass nervous. These wives who straddle the insider-outsider divide, with their tacit resistance and subtle complexities, throw them. They’ve got a big problem on their hands.
It is this nexus of tension that the book explores.
I often tell my writing students that the thing I like most about being a journalist is being able to throw yourself into a topic and completely immerse yourself for a week, a month, a year and then—poof!—move onto something completely different.
I suppose this collection of some of the books where I’ve contributed articles or essays are a good example of that.
The W Effect includes my profile of an army wife who is also a pacifist.
In 36 Hours, a collection of New York Times travel pieces, I write about traveling to New Brunswick, Canada.
In 9/11 8:48, I joined my colleagues at NYU who in one month pulled together a book of eye-witness accounts and reflections by journalism students and faculty—including Ellen Willis, Jay Rosen, Peter Wong, Susie Linfield, and many others—publishing the book by the end of September 2001. My story, “Indignant Patriots,” describes my walk around the Ground Zero area two days after the World Trade Center Towers fell. (An aside: At the time, I was a relatively new faculty member and my graduate journalism students—per the syllabus—were to select a topic for a package of stories that they write on all term. Obviously, as our’s was the closest journalism school to Ground Zero, they wrote about the aftermath of the terrorist attack. When I think back on it, it is kind of incredible that they pulled this off as their first reporting assignment, especially given that many of them had just arrived in NYC for the first time ever the week before 9/11.)
Reading Interrupted: Reflections on Parenting
This “book” is still a manuscript—if any of you editors out there are interested in publishing this collection of essays. All of the essays are linked to books I’m reading at the time.
Many of the essays have already been published: “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter,” “Lady with a Lapdog: Finding the Subtext at the Bottom of a Bottle of Vodka,” “The Day You Were Born, Interrupted,” “A Thanksgiving Reflection on What is Said and Unsaid.”