Tag Archives: Non-fiction

In Cold Blood

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If there was ever a staple in the true crime genre, Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood would be it. Well deserved, too. This book was in a college town’s Goodwill, which was lucky not just for it’s $1.99 price tag but also for the pages of notes and highlights I found while I read. My mother saw me pick out the book and nearly shuddered, “I don’t know why’d you want to read that. It’s scary.”

Her reaction made it more enticing. It was one of the few books I’ve bought on a bargain hunt that I immediately started reading when I got home. And is it any wonder? It’s tense, literary, undoubtedly spellbinding as advertised on the cover. After I finished, I wondered how Capote accomplished so much. All based in fact, but how much is true? Plus, the interesting part of this story is not really why did two strangers senselessly murder a family “in cold blood” — but actually what made the writer investigate this story? How did it change him afterward? 

In One Sentence: Two young criminals murder a family for no reason in a quiet Kansas town.

Favorite Line: “At the time not a soul in sleeping Holcomb heard them — four shotgun blasts that, all told, ended six human lives. But afterward the townspeople,theretofore sufficiently unfearful of each other to seldom trouble to lock their doors, found fantasy recreating them over and again — those somber explosions that stimulated fires of mistrust in the glare of which many old neighbors viewed each other strangely, and as strangers.” — p. 5

Review: From beginning to end, the details and prose of this piece are on point. Capote set the bar high with the idea of the non-fiction novel. Sure, there are the ever-present questions of credibility of scene and place but the story behind the creation of this book says enough as to Capote’s dedication to showing as complete an image as possible. (He spent years taking notes and doing interviews alongside writer-friend Harper Lee. Then again — he may have also been set on writing the masterpiece of his life.) Perhaps dramatic, perhaps clouded by his own biases, but it’s important nonetheless. The climax is in the full description of the gory details as opposed to the mystery behind the murderer as in the whodunit narrative. The reader knows how it’s going to end immediately. It’s still interesting and there’s more I want to find out. In an odd way, the only “truth” that is completely left out is the writer. Capote made himself a part of this case when he investigated the murder and got to know the culprits, Perry and Dick. Yet, he’s absent. There are long conversations and monologues taken from different people involved, but not a word on who they were talking to. I’m not sure it’s a problem, but it’s an interesting decision for a non-fiction writer trying to remain objective (and ultimately created it’s own mythology around the place of the writer as depicted in the film version, Capote.) Anyway, unless you are morally opposed to reading about violence, stop what you are doing and read this book.

The Book Would Have Ended A Lot Sooner If: No one in Holcomb, Kansas spoke to Truman Capote.

The Influence of Short-Story Technique:

Truman Capote got his start writing short stories and credits the medium for allowing him to learn the art of control over story-telling. I loved this idea he explored in a Paris Review interview:

CAPOTE: … Finding the right form for your story is simply to realize the most natural way of telling the story. The test of whether or not a writer has divined the natural shape of his story is just this: after reading it, can you imagine it differently, or does it silence your imagination and seem to you absolute and final? As an orange is final. As an orange is something nature has made just right.

INTERVIEWER: Are there devices one can use in improving one’s technique?

CAPOTE: Work is the only device I know of. Writing has laws of perspective, of light and shade, just as painting does, or music. If you are born knowing them, fine. If not, learn them. Then rearrange the rules to suit yourself.



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A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genuis


Libraries are still the most cost efficient place to find a good book – and not just with a library card. It was a Saturday afternoon, at a Southern California library used book cart that I picked out Dave Eggers’s A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius for only ten cents.

I’ll be honest – I have seen this book before, and avoided it. I had read essays by Dave Eggers and have always been turned off by the style. He writes experimentally, which I usually appreciate, but overall has always come off a touch too contrived – somehow inauthentic. That afternoon, I was in the mood for non-fiction (or creative non-fiction, in this case) and felt maybe I could give Eggers another chance. Plus, I had ten cents.

In One Sentence: A memoir about a college graduate who must raise his younger brother in the Bay Area after the tragic death of both of their parents.

Favorite Line: “We are waiting for everything to finally stop working – the organs and systems, one by one, throwing up their hands – the jig is up, says the endocrine; I did what I could, says the stomach, or what’s left of it; We’ll get him next time, adds the heart, with a friendly punch to the shoulder.” – p. 17

Review: This is a polarizing read – you either love it or you hate it. And so, that is how this review will feel. There were sections of the book I love and could not put down, other parts that I hated and sludged through. I found the first section of appendixes unreadable; just a show without much substance. Once I got into the actual book, I found the first half incredibly fresh and enjoyable. Eggers opens up about the experience of losing his parents and the struggles of taking on a new life in California. Growing up in the Bay Area, I recognized the cities and places he lived. His story is more about the emotional experience than recording the actual events -which I found to show the authenticity I had been craving from Eggers but failed to find in his essays. I related to parts of his story and found his mix of both fiction and non-fiction created a unique reading experience. However, the second half of the book lost my attention as it seemed to show more distance — discussing philosophy or characters speaking for the sake of an idea and not in their truest form. I do think this is a book that should be read, and I admired many passages of writing, but overall would not necessarily recommend it for every reader.

The Book Would Have Ended A Lot Sooner If: The story was told from beginning to end, without so much added fluff. I mean, sixty pages of an interview conversation that NEVER HAPPENED?!


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