Issue #17: Sesame Sourdough + Rogues
A seed-encrusted fermented loaf and a book about grifters, killers, rebels and crooks
Hello and welcome to Good Book/Good Bread! After a busy start to the summer, I’m now enjoying a month off in between leaving a job and beginning another. So far I’ve spent a week exploring the backcountry huts of Tetrahedron Provincial Park, taken many mid-day naps, eaten lots of ice cream, and am now packing for a canoe trip next week. It will be the first canoe trip I’ve done with our husky Pippa in tow (wish me luck!) And most notably, I’m getting ready to move to across the province to Revelstoke, B.C., and dreaming of massive snowbanks and Revelstoke Mountain Resort’s 1,710-metre vertical drop.
With a lot of moving parts and change in my life, albeit all very exciting, Patrick Radden Keefe’s Rogues: True Stories of Grifters, Killers, Rebels and Crooks has been the perfect book for me right now. This book is a collection of twelve long form journalism pieces by Radden Keefe, a staff writer at The New Yorker known for his stories about people who just can’t seem to behave. Each piece can be read in a sitting, and despite their shorter length, are engrossing, meticulously researched, and feature bold and cunning characters with total confidence in their ability to get away with anything. Keep reading below for a review of Rogues, and to see the bread I baked to pair with it.
Thanks for reading Good Book/Good Bread! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
Part 1: Good Book
Rogues: True Stories of Grifters, Killers, Rebels and Crooks by Patrick Radden Keefe (2022).
Setting the tone
I’m an Outlaw by Kurt Vile, here.
In a nutshell
Rogues brings together stories of intelligent, conniving people getting into real trouble—and eventually getting caught. Radden Keefe covers a massive wine fraud that one of the Koch brothers became intent on uncovering, the last months of El Chapo’s freedom, the endearing outlaw attitude of Anthony Bourdain, and a decades-long hunt for an international arms dealer. He also includes poignant stories about the people who stand up to rogues, like the sister of a Dutch crime boss who exposed her brother and now lives in hiding, and the whistleblower who called attention to money laundering at a Swiss bank. Radden Keefe also explores the people existing in complicated spaces around criminals, like a well-known American attorney who tries to keep her clients off of death row.
In addition to being an award-winning journalist, Radden Keefe has also written two excellent non-fiction books: Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland (2018), and Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty (2021).
Why I was drawn to this book
I love long form journalism, and having a dozen pieces together in one book made this an irresistible read for me. I also am always fascinated by the stories and psyches behind criminals and swindlers. These are the deeply reported insights we don’t get in breaking news stories. They require months, and sometimes years of research. For example, in the piece about the Dutch crime boss whose sister exposed him, Radden Keefe visits the sister in hiding and collects many anecdotes about their childhood to help shed light on a complicated sibling dynamic. I was very interested in an entire book that examined the many small steps that lead to the big event, con or crime some of these notorious characters are known for.
Three things I liked about Rogues
1. Best work anecdote ever
One of my favourite parts of Rogues comes in the preface, when Radden Keefe shares a shocking voicemail he received in 2014 shortly after he had published a piece in The New Yorker on El Chapo’s (aka Joaquín Guzmán) capture. The caller identified himself as an attorney for the Guzmán family.
“This was, to put it mildly, alarming,” writes Radden Keefe. He called the attorney back, terrified, and making sure not to use his home phone. He was stunned when instead of threats, he was offered the opportunity to ghost write El Chapo’s memoirs. He briefly considered it, enticed by the kind of insight he would gain into a notorious figure in the drug wars.
“The whole scenario felt a bit like Act I of a thriller in which the hapless magazine writer, blinded by his desire for a scoop, does not necessarily survive Act III.” Radden Keefe declined the offer, but uses this anecdote to illustrate the wild ride that reporting on real people can be.
2. The piece on death-penalty attorney Judy Clarke
Although many of the stories in Rogues centre on big, brash personalities who possess a level of daring and recklessness most of us could never imagine, the most memorable piece for me was The Worst of the Worst. This piece covers Judy Clarke, who Radden Keefe explains may be the best death-penalty lawyer in the U.S. She’s acted for Ted Kaczynski (the Unabomber), Zacarias Moussaoui (aka the twenthieth hijacker in the 9/11 plot), and countless others who have committed horrific crimes. This piece follows Clarke as she represents Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who along with his brother, was responsible for the bombing at the 2013 Boston Marathon. It is a fascinating look into the principles that drive Clarke, her process for keeping her clients from death row, and the moral struggles of fighting for the lives of people who have intentionally inflicted tragedy on so many others.
3. Radden Keefe’s ability to pull off “the writearound”
In journalism, the “writearound” is when a journalist writes a profile about someone who says no to being interviewed for the piece. The most famous example of this is “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold,” written for Esquire in 1966 by Gay Talese. Sinatra wouldn’t speak to Talese, so he interviewed many in his orbit to craft a rich portrait of the singer without ever speaking to him. Radden Keefe clearly has a gift for the “writearound,” shown both in pieces on reality TV producer Mark Burnett and El Chapo. For the former, Radden Keefe spoke to Burnett’s two ex-wives, and explains that he “learned more about Burnett from speaking to them than I would have from Burnett himself.” I found it engaging to read stories about people from the perspectives of those they had encountered throughout their lives, and it made me think about how we often view ourselves quite differently than those around us do.
“I was a junior in high school when I first fell for magazines. This was the late 1980’s, and magazines—the physical thing, these bright bundles of stapled paper—were ubiquitous and felt as if they would be around forever. In our school library, there was a “periodicals room,” where one wall was festooned with the latest issues of Time, Rolling Stone, Spin, U.S. News & World Report. And, of course, The New Yorker.
Nobody used the adjective “long-form” back then; that would come later, to distinguish the sprawling stories more typical of magazines from snappier pieces on the web. But even as a student I came to think that at least where nonfiction was concerned, a big magazine article might be the most glorious form. Substantial enough to completely immerse yourself in but short enough to finish in a sitting, these features had their own fine-hewn structure. There was an economy in the storytelling that felt, in contrast to the nonfiction books I was reading, both attentive to the reader’s attention and respectful of her time.”
—From the preface to Rogues
If you like Rogues, read:
Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou
American Prison: A Reporter’s Undercover Journey into the Business of Punishment by Shane Bauer
Billion Dollar Whale: The Man Who Fooled Wall Street, Hollywood and the World by Tom Wright and Bradley Hope
Part 2: Good Bread—Sesame Sourdough
Why this bread for this book?
Long form journalism entails the painstaking collection of many facts to create a cohesive narrative. I think of the hundreds of sesame seeds covering this loaf like the bread crumbs of facts building up the long form pieces in this book. By themselves they don’t tell us a lot, but together, they create something special. I was also looking for any excuse to make a sesame bread as I’m obsessed with the flavour created when sesame seeds baked at high temperatures release their oil into crust.
I used the Tartine Country Loaf recipe for this loaf, and my dough was 82% hydration. After shaping the loaf, I brushed the outside with a small amount of water. Then I rolled the loaf in a plate of sesame seeds before placing upside down in a banneton. I let the loaf rise in the fridge for about 27 hours. More often than not I do this, as I find the slow, cold rise makes scoring the loaves easier, and I think the flavour is preferable. I didn’t sprinkle rice flour on the bannetons as I usually do, because I had read that the sesame seed coating would keep the loaf from sticking. Also, I didn’t want rice flour all over the sesame seeds. This almost worked, but one small part of the loaf did stick, and it unfortunately deflated my loaf a bit when I tipped it out. If anyone has tips for getting seed-covered loaves not stick to the banneton, get at me!
Don’t worry, she got a lil piece.
New book I’m looking forward to reading:
Ridgerunner by Gil Adamson, here
Bread I’m looking forward to baking:
Pull apart cheesey garlic loaf, here
New album I’m looking forward to listening to while doing both of the above:
Regina Spektor, 11:11, here
Thanks for reading! If you liked this issue, feel free to share or hit the heart button (it helps other people find my newsletter!)