In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

“I thought that Mr. Clutter was a very nice gentleman. I thought so right up to the moment that I cut his throat.”

3/5 stars.
Hardcover 343 pages.
Read from June 6, 2017 to June 13, 2017.

Said to be the first of its kind, In Cold Blood, was ground-breaking back when it was first published back in 1965 and was once considered the original non-fiction novel and a pioneer of the true-crime genre.

The novel takes place in Holcomb, Kansas and follows Herb Clutter, a well respected and self-made man, and his family. On November 15, 1959, Herb, his wife Bonnie, and two of their children: Nancy and Kenyon were murdered. Each of them tied up before being individually executed with a shotgun. The police were at a loss as to who would have had a motive to kill such a well-to-do family. As the story unfolds, Capote describes the two fugitives in detail and just how the police were finally able to bring them to justice.

Dick Hickock, a young man with a normal upbringing was sadly disfigured in a car accident in 1950 and as a result of his head injuries he was never quite the same. He married and left numerous wives and children behind and quickly turned to petty crime after his family could not afford to send him to college. It was apparently Dick’s idea to rob the Clutter’s as he was tipped off by a convict that use to work for the Clutter’s claiming that the family kept a safe full of cash.

Perry Smith was a different sort of character. Perry suffered a horrific upbringing of physical and emotional abuse. His father was abusive and his mother was a drunk. After their mother left their father and then passed away from choking on her own vomit, Perry and siblings ended up in an numerous orphanages were they were further abused by caretakers. Two of Perry’s siblings committed suicide as adults. Perry served in the Korean war where injuries to his legs left him in constant pain which he often treated with copious amounts of aspirin. While it may have been Dick’s idea, it was Perry who carried through with the killings of the Clutter family.  With that, Perry’s character is still by far more sympathetic, as he comes across more honest and has even said that he stopped Dick from raping 16 year old Nancy before she was killed. Capote became close friends with Perry during the time that Capote spent interviewing him for the book and it has long be rumoured if there was anything more to the relationship.

“There’s got to be something wrong with us. To do what we did.”

While this book was generally well received a the time, there were some questions as to how concise certain characters and events were depicted. Capote’s long time friend and author, Harper Lee, was his research assistant for this book and contributed more than 150 pages of notes. While Lee was placed in the acknowledgements section of the book she was not credited for her research which, apparently left her with hurt feelings. While the two remained friends after the book’s publication, they grew apart.

Lee and Capote, 1966

Learning about the men who committed such an atrocious act was really intriguing. No wonder people were blown away by its content at the time. However, reading this book in the present day does not have the same effect, making it was easier to criticize Capote’s writing style. I found the novel to be dry and was curious as to how Capote could so easily say that everything her wrote was the absolute truth. The book reads very much like a story and so it is easy to forget that these atrocious murders actually took place and that you’re not just reading another mystery novel. Considering the writing style, it is also hilarious to me that anyone could have ever though that Capote helped Harper Lee write To Kill A Mockingbird, a long held belief that was debunked in one of Capote’s letters to his aunt.

Overall, the novel was decent for its psychological qualities depictions of the murderers but without the shock value of the content, it does not hold up to today’s standards. However, it is still an iconic book, and worth reading if you are true-crime fan or even a Harper Lee fan considering the long history of her friendship with Capote.


References:

http://time.com/4230925/harper-lee-truman-capote-friendship/

http://www.al.com/entertainment/index.ssf/2016/02/did_harper_lee_help_truman_cap.html

https://www.monroecountymuseum.org/#!myth-buster/ccb7

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/In_Cold_Blood

 

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D Salinger

While this book came with mixed reviews from the millions of people who have read it, I personally enjoyed this timeless novel.

“I am always saying “Glad to’ve met you” to somebody I’m not at all glad I met. If you want to stay alive, you have to say that stuff, though.”

4/5 stars.
Paperback, 230 pages.
Read from December 13, 2016 to December 21, 2016.

If you know anything about my reading habits, it is that I like to read classics. I often feel like a neglectful reader and English major if there is a classic novel that I have not yet read so I try to work my way through as many as I can. While this book came with mixed reviews from the millions of people who have read it, I personally enjoyed this timeless novel.

Holden Caulfield is a teen on the brink of adulthood during 1949 in New York. Holden’s family is upper-middle class and as the eldest there is as a lot expected of him. Yet he fails to stay in the prestigious schools his parents keep enrolling him in. While Holden does well when he puts in the effort at school, he cannot seem to fake the persona needed to socialize and be successful in school. He is tired of the ‘phony’ people and these perceived necessary social constructs that he can neither understand and barely tolerate. His younger sister is the only person he feels he can be honest with as she is young enough to not be hindered by social constructs.  After getting kicked out of yet another school, Holden decides to put off tell his folks for a while and shacks up in a cheap hotel for a few days. Excessive drinking, wandering, flirting and sex ensue as Holden waivers between childhood and adulthood over the phony aspects of people and society.

I believe a lot of people don’t understand how this book can be timeless, or perhaps don’t understand the big deal that this book became, and that is because in this day in age we all pretty much do what we want. In the 1950s, children were raised to do what they were told and to do what was expected of them. They were literally expected to be seen and not heard and were restricted in expressing their individuality. This struggle that Holden goes through spoke to a whole generation of frustrated people. Salinger’s work was the first to be this honest and the types of feelings he depicted lead to the revolutions that you see in the 1960s and 70s where free spirit and individuality started to take presence.

I  believe this book is still timeless. Though we have that freedom of expression, Holden’s feelings of misplacement and being unsure with what to do in the next part of his life is practically universal for every youth.  Even the constant questioning of the world around him is consistent with youth all over. While Holden’s story reflects a different era, his feelings cross generations.

I would recommend this novel for any classic novel who has not yet read it and for those looking for a pragmatic read.

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

“On what slender threads do life and fortune hang.”

I like big books and I cannot lie and this big book is an action-packed classic.

4/5 stars.
ebook, 1276 pages.
Read from July 19 to September 02, 2016.

Everyone has one. A big book that has been recommended to you a million times that is just sitting around collecting dust. You believe that those recommending the book are sincere, but every time you look at it you find yourself overwhelmed with its barbaric size. Well I am here to say, that it is time to bite the bullet and give that big book some love. It is worth it. My big book was this one, The Count of Monte Cristo, and after countless glances at it from across my living room, to getting tired of not being able to check it off as read when it comes up on reading lists, I gave it go. Sadly, my hard copy of this book is in Canada so I had to settle for the ebook, which, given its size was probably for the best.

Edmund is a young and ambitious man. He has been promoted to Captain of a ship and is going to marry his love, Mercedes. However, as ambition goes, there are always those that are jealous. On the night of his wedding, Edmund is arrested for a crime he did not commit and thrown in jail without a trial. Behind a gaunt prison wall, Edmund spends his youth. He befriends a man Faria in the cell beside him who teaches Edmund everything he knows. The two of them plan to escape together. However, when things do not go as planned, Faria insists that he go on alone and that he go and find the massive stash of treasure that he has hidden on the Isle of Monte Cristo. After escaping and finding that these riches are real, Edmund changes his identity to discover and plot revenge on those that had wronged him so cruelly.

Did you know that this story is based on true events? Dumas took the idea from the a book complied by French police-archivist Jacques Peuchet. Peuchet tells the story of a shoemaker, Pierre Picaud, living in Nimes in 1807 who was engaged to marry a rich woman and his three jealous friends accuse him of being spy for England. Picaud was placed under house arrest and had to be a servant for a very rich man. When this said rich man died, he left all of his money to the Picaud, whom he had come to love as a son.  Picaud then spent the next few years plotting revenge against his accusers. One of his old friends had even married Picaud’s ex-fianceé.

This first half of this book is a solid 5-stars. I couldn’t put it down. However the last half wavered for me. I had to re-read some sections to follow some of the many new characters that were introduced and I found some of the content a bit dry compared to the action that I was reading before hand. However, the ending was worth it. When it all comes together, it is clear why this books is a long standing classic.

This is a timeless read. So I encourage you, if this is one of the big books that you have not tackled yet, I promise you that you won’t be disappointed.