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Review: Picking Cotton

May 8, 2012

When Jennifer Thompson was a student at Elon College, she was raped at knifepoint.  She kept her cool, though, and did her best to try to remember every detail about her assailant’s appearance so she could identify him later.   She thought she did just that when she picked Ronald Cotton out of a police line-up.  Based on her testimony and circumstantial evidence, Ronald Cotton was found guilty and sent to prison – maintaining his innocence the whole time.

Ronald Cotton did what he could to get by in prison and asked his lawyers to do what they could as well.  After they thought they’d exhausted all avenues, they dropped his case.  Several years later, a professor from UNC and several of his students came to Ronald’s defense and got him exonerated through DNA evidence.

Jennifer was overcome with emotion when Ronald was released from prison and didn’t really know how to feel.  Would he come after her for retribution or would he stay as far away from her as possible?  After hearing an interview with him she decided to ask to meet him and the two forged an unlikely friendship.

Picking Cotton, by Jennifer Thompson-Cannino and Ronald Cotton is a remarkable book.  Alternating between Jennifer and Ron’s points of view, it gives a little background of each, then tells of the rape, the trial, and how they each managed to go on with their lives afterward.

Ronald spent eleven years in prison and decided to make the best of it.  I am amazed that he was able to come out of prison with no ill feelings toward Jennifer and no bitterness.  This man knows the true meaning of forgiveness.  Jennifer went on with her life after the trial but Ron’s release rocked her world.  Not only was she somewhat fearful, she was full of guilt for what she had done to an innocent man.  The friendship these two have is remarkable and I admire the fact that they’ve become advocates for judicial reform and social justice.

I listened to the audio version of Picking Cotton and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Ron and Jennifer’s story is one of those true stories that seems stranger than fiction.  I liked the way the story alternated between their points of view – it made the story feel personal.  The audio version is narrated by Karen White and Richard Allen.  I was taken with Karen’s voice as Jennifer immediately and wondered how she could read the emotional scenes so well since I cried as I listened to them.  It took me a little while to warm up to Richard’s voice but, after a while, I thought he was the right choice.  The unabridged audio lasts approximately 8 hours.

Review copy provided by Tantor Audio.  I am an Indiebound Affiliate.
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43 Comments leave one →
  1. Amritorupa Kanjilal permalink
    May 8, 2012 4:39 am

    This is one of life’s truth-is-stranger-than-fiction moments… sounds like an amazing story. but the pun in the title was in slightly weird taste, don’t you think?

  2. sandynawrot permalink
    May 8, 2012 5:37 am

    I really take to stories like this…the ones that are inspirational and that if made up, would make no impact. Karen White has narrated some of Sarah Addison Allen’s books and I did not warm up to her voice. In fact, I partially blamed the narration for my dislike of the book. Maybe with a different character it would be OK.

  3. May 8, 2012 7:10 am

    I think I’d have a hard time listening to this story. I remember being upset when I listened to Lucky, ALice Sebold’s story about when she was raped. (I know this is more about Cotton, but still, don’t think it’s for me)

  4. May 8, 2012 7:47 am

    Sounds like a powerful story.

  5. May 8, 2012 8:20 am

    This sounds like a powerful story.
    Ann

  6. Beth F permalink
    May 8, 2012 8:28 am

    I have been curious about this one — I’m not quite sure it’s for me but it sounds like such an emotional book.

  7. May 8, 2012 9:13 am

    I think I would really enjoy reading this story. Cotton sounds like an amazing man and I would like to hear his thoughts on the ordeal he endured.

  8. May 8, 2012 9:27 am

    This does sound like an amazing story, and one that would probably have me very emotional and surprised. I am glad that you loved it, and think that I need to look for this book when I can. It sounds tremendously interesting! Great review today, Kathy!

  9. May 8, 2012 9:42 am

    This is a wonderful review but I don’t think I could stand to read the book, let alone hear it in audio format. Too close to the quick.

  10. Beth Hoffman permalink
    May 8, 2012 9:43 am

    I can’t wrap my mind around how Ronald Cotton lost eleven years of his life because of this, and I cringe wondering how many others have been wrongly imprisoned.

  11. May 8, 2012 9:59 am

    Wow, this sounds like an amazing story. I don’t know if I could spend 11 years in prison for a crime I didn’t commit and then become friends with my accuser.

  12. May 8, 2012 10:02 am

    This one is new to me, but it sounds amazing. I’ll be adding this one to my wish list.

  13. May 8, 2012 10:12 am

    My first reaction is “whoa!” That’s heavy but it also seems like it’d be an endlessly fascinating book. My mom is especially keen on non-fiction, so I’ll have to pass this idea along to her for Mother’s Day.

  14. May 8, 2012 10:45 am

    I don’t do well with rape stories. Especially real ones. It amazes me that he harbored no ill will towards her. That part fascinates me.

  15. May 8, 2012 11:36 am

    This sounds fascinating. Disturbing, but fascinating.

  16. May 8, 2012 12:15 pm

    I could never become her friend, I would have been so freaking mad

  17. May 8, 2012 12:25 pm

    Wow — how emotional and fascinating. I love the title, too — and wonder if they ever found the truly guilty person. Guess I’ll have to read to find out . . .

  18. May 8, 2012 12:47 pm

    Wow. What a powerful story, from both sides. The fact that they were able to come together is remarkable. I really think I need to read this.

  19. May 8, 2012 1:19 pm

    Great review, Kathy! It does sound like a fascinating story.

  20. May 8, 2012 2:50 pm

    wow this book sounds incredible! i love reading nonfiction books and this one is definitely being put on my wishlist.

  21. May 8, 2012 2:50 pm

    This is an amazing story! I saw a couple of 60 Minutes shows about this story. I couldn’t believe it. I felt badly for Jennifer Thompson, imagine how awful she might have felt. and so badly for Ronald Cotton. I was surprised and amazed that he wasn’t upset with Jennifer. He’s a remarkable man. It’s inspiring that they have a strong friendship now.

    I didn’t know they were writing a book. Great post, Kathy. I’m glad you liked it!

  22. May 8, 2012 2:54 pm

    Wow — gah. This sounds fascinating — I’m not sure I could stomach it but the premise…!

  23. bookingmama permalink
    May 8, 2012 3:15 pm

    This story is truly amazing! Watch the 60 Minute clip about them.

  24. May 8, 2012 3:42 pm

    This story amazes me every time I hear about it.

  25. May 8, 2012 3:43 pm

    Wow! This book sounds so good. I just can’t believe he harbored no ill feelings toward her considering she put him away for so many years. Talk about a forgiving man. Thanks for this great post about a book I’m not sure I would have found on my own 😉

  26. May 8, 2012 4:52 pm

    I just can’t imagine being that good of a person like Mr. Cotton. What a remarkable story this is … and a testament to how people can overcome almost anything in a relationship.

  27. May 8, 2012 5:31 pm

    I too don’t think I could either be Mr. Cotton, or Jennifer. My college roomate was brutally raped, and I don’t think she ever recuperated, she moved far away, and her assailant was never found. This would be a little too much for me to read/listen to.

  28. May 8, 2012 6:01 pm

    Wow, this sounds like an amazing story!

  29. May 8, 2012 6:30 pm

    This is another one of those stories that half of me really wants to hear about, and the other half would get really upset over!

  30. May 8, 2012 6:54 pm

    this sounds fascinating..

  31. Patty permalink
    May 8, 2012 7:21 pm

    It sounds intense and soul stirring…and sad, too!

  32. May 8, 2012 8:06 pm

    Wow, this one sounds very powerful! I’m really curious about how the two even managed to be friends.

  33. May 8, 2012 8:48 pm

    Sounds full of emotions!!

  34. May 8, 2012 10:07 pm

    Hmm. What is up with the title? This sounds like an amazing read but I don’t know if it’s for me.

  35. May 8, 2012 10:54 pm

    What a powerful story to tell. I’m amazed at the willingness of both of them to put the past, not behind them, but deal with it together.

  36. May 9, 2012 1:56 am

    I read about this case. I thought it as horrifying on many fronts. I felt it was especially difficult for women who were truly raped and knew their attackers… Thanks for your thoughtful review, as always. I loved reading about the book. :] Deb

  37. May 9, 2012 9:53 am

    I hadn’t heard of this book before but it sounds like a good book and one I’d like to read.

  38. May 9, 2012 9:06 pm

    Wow! Makes me want to download the audio immediately. That is the true act of forgiveness for sure. I’m sure it would be so hard carrying around hatred and anger for so many years. I hope she forgave herself!

  39. May 9, 2012 10:44 pm

    This does sound like a remarkable read! It’s a book I would definitely pick up since I like good non-fiction books.

  40. May 10, 2012 7:39 pm

    Thanks for such a thoughtful review, Kathy. I wanted to say a couple things to those who might be squeamish about the book’s subject matter. Of course there are disturbing events and issues in the book, but I found them to be well overbalanced by the hope and beauty of Ronald’s forgiveness. The use of eyewitness accounts has changed a great deal since his conviction, due to a better understanding of memory and it’s lack of reliability and vulnerability to suggestion, all of which is included in the book. In addition, both authors have since become very involved in the Innocence project, which works to free wrongfully convicted prisoners. It was inspiring to see them both turn their pain into action.

  41. May 10, 2012 7:59 pm

    Wow, this sounds really intense, especially in an audio book where you can hear the emotion like that.

  42. May 11, 2012 8:20 am

    What a crazy story. I’m so impressed that Jennifer could bring herself to reach out to Ron, and that he could forgive her enough to form a relationship.

  43. May 12, 2012 9:15 pm

    Wow, somehow my radar missed this one until I read your review. Sounds super interesting, not to mention probably a good lesson on forgiveness! adding it to my list!

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