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

 

On The Road by Jack Kerouac

Written from a generation and stand-point I will likely not understand, “On The Road” is a puzzling classic.

Written from a generation and stand-point I will likely not understand, On The Road is a puzzling classic.

2/5 stars.
Hardcover, 307 pages.
Read from June 13 to 16, 2016.

Really, why is it a classic at all? It is the question I had while dragging myself through this monotonous book.I had heard so much about this book without really knowing what it was about and was looking forward to finally reading it. What a disappointment. It wasn’t until I finished the book that I tried to understand from a different perspective. It didn’t make me like the book any more but at least I could almost see where it was coming from.

This book chronicles Jack Kerouac’s (Sal Paradise) time on the road with his new friend Neil Cassidy (Dean Moriarty). Sal is fascinated with Dean’s reckless-abandon personality and admires him. Dean is an ex-con and notorious womanizer who ends up having 4 wives and three children while Sal is trying to be an intellect and finish a book. So this unlikely duo hitchhike, drink and fuck their way through America where in the end Sal ends up being abandoned in Mexico as Dean begins to lose his mind.

I wish I could say that there was more to the plot than that but their isn’t really. The characters talk about Jazz music and America, and in the end Sal ends up reflecting a lot about Dean and his time with him. It’s a peculiar friendship that isn’t built on anything other than the men’s desire to do whatever the fuck they want, and the did.

This book is considered one of the pinnacles of beat generation writing, in which individuals dismissed notions of conventional society and valued self-expression. However, this is defintitely a “man’s book” and perhaps the beat movement was specifically about men too, as the men in this book pretty much got away with whatever they wanted to do leaving the women they wooed behind them in the dust and often with children. I’m pretty sure this book was never actually meant for female readers at all actually. I mean, you get tired of the way Sal and Dean used and disposed of women. Even Dean’s perpetual lover, Marylou, who in a way is living the beat lifestyle, is frowned upon for her promiscuous ways and is disposed of by both men as they really only want sex from her.

Having said this, we’re reading this novel from a different era. I’m not saying that the behaviors of the characters are worth condoning but it’s important to understand that this book is a small reflection of a point in time in which we can longer relate. The book is supposed to be about freedom, independence and doing your own thing and in it’s time, it is meant to be inspirational. I can see how throwing caution to the wind and hitchhiking across America in search of nothing other than freedom can be inspirational, it’s the generational context of it that I struggle with. That, and I didn’t find Kerouac’s writing to be all that inspiring. It’s extremely dry and there really isn’t a pinnacle climax to the novel. I found it down right boring, to be honest, and it wasn’t until I took a step back after reading it that I came to find any appreciation for it.

Overall, I am glad that I came to some sort of understanding with this novel. Would I recommend it? No, not really. I suppose you could attempt to read this novel with a base understanding of the time frame and just focus on the idea of freedom and you may find enjoyment out of it. Actually, this book might appeal to teenage boys because the men in this book behave like ones. If you want to read something from the beat generation then read Alan Ginsberg as his writing is by far more prolific, in my opinion. I am thankful this read is now over and done with.

 

Swann’s Way: In Search of Lost Time, Volume 1 by Marcel Proust

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Originally published on February 28, 2014. 

2/5 stars.
(ARC) ebook, 512 pages.
Read from November 14, 2013 to February 04, 2014.

Well, I finally finished it. It took me, what felt like ages to do so, but I finished it. Yale University Press has published this edition in celebration of it’s hundredth year in publication. This book is the first of seven volumes of Proust’s masterpiece In Search of Lost Time, which took Proust thirteen years to write. The volumes are meant to be read as one I believe but at over five hundred pages a book, I going to have to pass on that…

In regards to this specific edition, while I understand that this was an ARC, how this book appeared in my ereader was less than flattering and added to the difficulty of this read. For one, the formatting of the pages was off, no matter what size I set them to. I ended up having a full page and then when I would go to the next the content would only fill half of it. Additionally because of this the footnotes were never in the right place and I found myself back tracking to look something.

Proust opens this book with some early memories of childhood and gets into the specifics of his relationship with his mother (let’s all admit it here, Proust was a momma’s boy) and how he yearned and obsessed for more affection than he was given. From there, Proust then talks about the social realm his family keeps, to his hypochondriac Aunt (who was rather entertaining), he then goes into extreme details on the areas Proust and his family used to get home, the gardens, the flowers within them, oh, and few people they encounter along the way. At this point you’re about half way through the book when Proust start talking in detail about poor Mr. Swann. Mr. Swann is an unfortunate fellow who ends up falling in love with a woman named Odette. Odette is a woman of leisure that ends up having multiple relationships with men for their money. How this woman manages to keep a social circle and isn’t ever disgraced in this book I will never know. In the beginning, Mr. Swann doesn’t think much of Odette, he thinks that she is rather plain in the beginning actually, but after a romantic encounter with her involving some cattleya flowers and a car ride Mr. Swann has a change of heart. Mr. Swann’s relationship with Odette is by far the most intricate and interesting part of the story in my opinion. Proust takes you through the emotional turmoil and circle of jealously, love and fear and why Mr.Swann who, cannot for the life of him leave Odette despite her cruelty and obvious fidelity. I found myself wondering why Mr. Swann never did ask Odette to marry him. That would have been one way to secure something for him, and really solidify finances for Odette but it never came around.

In his younger days a man dreams of possessing the heart of the woman whom he loves; later, the feeling that he possesses the heart of a woman may be enough to make him fall in love with her.”

Now that, is the plot in it’s most bare form. What makes this book difficult is that the plot itself is not really the focal point. It’s the philosophical statements that Proust makes in relation to the plot where the masterpiece appears. His writing is truly beautiful and poignant but because of this it is also innately boring. In order to appreciate this book the reader needs to fully invest time into it, focusing on individual passages, reading every footnote and analyzing what appears to be a strange drawn out diary of a Frenchman. This novel is in itself a testament to its own time frame, which was one of leisure and art. Proust was a bold man to write out everything as he did.

Even in the most insignificant details of our daily life, none of us can be said to constitute a material whole, which is identical for everyone, and need only be turned up like a page in an account-book or the record of a will; our social personality is created by the thoughts of other people.”

In our world, that is so fast paced, to settle and take time to fully appreciate and relate to a novel like this is immensely hard. But not impossible. This novel is the kind of piece I wish I had the pleasure of reading in University when I was surrounded by other peers and could engage in discussion. I can already foresee some students loathing the novel and not seeing the point, viewing it as just another piece of outdated literature.

Tell me, does this quote not speak to you on some level?

The places we have known do not belong solely to the world of space in which we situate them for our greater convenience. They were only a thin slice among contiguous impressions which formed our life at that time; the memory of a certain image is but regret for a certain moment; and houses, roads, avenues are as fleeting, alas, as the years

What University student or person in general has not questioned their own position in life? If they should pursue their said education or if the timing of it was right? Or getting nostalgic when looking at a particular building or street that reminds them of a past memory? As Proust puts it so nicely, the places that we visit and choose to go don’t belong in just our own space and reality. It’s a creation of the realities and physical things and places of every thing surrounding us which is what forms our impressions and memories. What may be an image of regret for one person may not be for another and these memories, as the physical items that are associated with them, are brief moments in the terms of time and space.

Deep huh? This is just one of the many examples and reflections that exist in Swann’s Way. This piece is still immensely relevant if you are able to take the time to divulge in it. Now, the reason I’ve give this book two out of five stars is that despite the beauty of the writing and the reflections that it makes, it is for the most part, not an enjoyable read. I decided to stick with this rating because I am a reader in the 21st century and I do expect some amount of pleasure when I’m reading a book. I do no live a life of leisure in which I can notice an appreciate every detail of the surrounding in my life (despite that potentially being a negative thing). I want characters that I can invest in and a moderately relate-able plot. I enjoyed Proust as a boy, his strange Aunt and the troubles of Mr. Swann as those were specific areas in the book that get involved in. So when Proust spends so much of the novel, for example, going off about the specifics of a certain flower, my focus, is going to waiver. I think even them most scholarly reader will have to admit that.

With all that aside, I feel that anyone who is interested in amazing literature/philosophy or is looking for some perspective, insight and wisdom should take some time out of their busy life to read at least one of the books from this set. I know that I’m glad that I did.