Saturday, June 10, 2006

Readin' like a mofo...

I finished two books today and both were quite enjoyable. Notice, I didn't READ both of these today (I wish I was that motivated and speedy), I just finished them both today.
Here are the blurbs I wrote for a book group:
While In Cold Blood has been on my bookish radar for ages now, I never remembered to buy it when I was perusing the stacks at the used book store, or even to check it out when perusing the library shelves at random. However, like many people these days, I watched Capote, and the urge to read this literary masterwork was born. And I'm SO GLAD I finally picked it up.
I come from a family of non-fiction readers (call me black sheep), and my mother in particular is a lover of true crime. I've read a few ofher books, but I've never felt a pull toward the genre with its straightforward serial killer histories and what strike me as hard facts. However, Capote's work--of what might most appropriately be labeled creative non-fiction--is strikingly beautiful. As I read the story of this brutal murder, I was particularly interested in the way that Capote is able to create a sympathetic character in one of the murderers, Perry Smith. Capote tells Smith's story with such heartbreaking detail that it becomes an awkward situation for the reader to reconcile his crime with his moments of deep compassion and troubled life. For me it was a bit like reading Lolita and sympathizing, at some level, with Humbert Humbert. The man in question is a "monster," yet we feel deeply for him.
To my mind, one of Capote's greatest contributions in writing this book is his ability to emphasize the grey area in human nature. While we may simplify, especially when it comes to a crime of this sort, and conclude that the perpetrator is purely evil, rarely is life black and white, but more a swirling collection of grey.
This is the story of Shawn McDaniel, a 14-year-old boy with cerebral palsy. His father, a Pulitzer Prize winning poet, thinks him in pain, so he contemplates killing his son to put him out of his misery. What the father doesn't know is that Shawn comprehends everything that goes on around him, and his intellect borders on genius.
Very interesting book that confronts issues of perception. While his father thinks him damaged, Shawn lives a normal life internally and deals with his everyday struggles in a funny, thoughtful way. My professor taught this one in an adolescent lit class last semester when she was dealing with issues in disability theory and "invisibility" in adolescent lit. We'll also be reading it in the Problems in Adolescent Literature class I'm taking in the fall.
Listening: "Aurora"...Foo Fighters


  1. P.S. The second book discussed here is Stuck in Neutral by Terry Trueman. I forgot to put the title in there somewhere, it's hard to read on the cover, and I didn't want to edit the post because it'll destroy the formatting.

    Go forward with this knowledge and do with it what you will.

  2. Perhaps I'll be motivated to finally read In Cold Blood.

    Were you the one telling me about Empire Falls? I picked it up at the bookstore today.

    By the way, I finished Beast this morning and enjoyed it thoroughly. I reminds me a lot of Hustvedt and The Blindfold. I love all that dark, borderline creepy stuff.

  3. That was me that mentioned Empire Falls, but I said I hated it. lol Maybe you'll have better luck.

    Glad you liked Beasts! I started A Plea for Eros tonight, and it's yummy.

  4. I'm jealous. I haven't finished a book in days. This whole leaving the house and doing things is wreaking havoc on my reading schedule. lol

  5. I think you've probably read about the best True Crime book that's been written, Andi. Isn't one of the innovative apsects to Capote that he 'invented' the genre?

    Have read my share of true crime over the years and, while the books usually are rivetting as stories, Capote's is worth the journey for the writing, imho.

  6. LOL, Sassy. I prefer to stay home and read myself. I can be quite the hermit sometimes!

    Suzz, certainly he's terribly innovative for having invented the genre, but I still think of In Cold Blood as something apart from "regular" true crime. Perhaps I feel that he's using a bit more creative license than most true crime writers as I think of them...whether that's an accurate assumption, I have no idea. Definitely need to read up on the bg of this book some more. Would love to hear any info you might wanna pass along, Suzz. :)

  7. Andi, I think your assumption about Capote vs. the true crime that came after him is right on target.

    I've read most of the big authors in true crime at different times. They can all tell a good story but are lacking in taking you into the people as Capote did. Well, I guess it's like reading a plot-driven novel vs. a character-driven one .. come to think of it.

  8. Good point! And I agree, he really takes us into the characters. I definitely felt very close to Perry through the book and without that reader/character relationship I doubt this one would've achieved the status it has. That knowledge of the killer really brings a whole new perspective to the crime. The murders were horrendous, but the understanding of Perry makes it simultaneously creepier, even more horrendous, and overwhelmingly sad.


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