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review 2016-08-22 17:19
In Cold Blood / Truman Capote
In Cold Blood - Truman Capote

On November 15, 1959, in the small town of Holcomb, Kansas, four members of the Clutter family were savagely murdered by blasts from a shotgun held a few inches from their faces. There was no apparent motive for the crime, and there were almost no clues.

As Truman Capote reconstructs the murder and the investigation that led to the capture, trial, and execution of the killers, he generates both mesmerizing suspense and astonishing empathy. In Cold Blood is a work that transcends its moment, yielding poignant insights into the nature of American violence.

 

A hypnotizing look at a real crime. I’m giving this 4 stars for the reading experience, which usually means “I enjoyed it a lot.” But I can’t actually say that I enjoyed this book, more like I couldn’t look away.

It’s obvious from the book that Capote had sharp observational skills and a good ear for dialog. Taking an actual news story and making it fit a dramatic arc is a distinct skill, something uncommon in the “true crime” genre, where stating the facts sometimes takes precedence over telling a good story. Capote never lost sight of the shape of the narrative, while weaving the facts into a riveting book. The most amazing thing that he accomplished with this work, in my opinion, is humanizing everyone, even the killers.

It is “creative nonfiction” which probably means that Capote created some conversations and situations which make the story work better. At the time of writing, he was certainly accused of these inventions. Despite that, I thought that he treated all involved fairly. The Clutter family are presented as successful, community-minded, and unlikely victims of crime. The reader cannot help but feel for their remaining family members and their community. Neither, however, can you ignore the families of the killers, who also suffer in a different way, nor the law enforcement officers who were traumatized by the murder scene and exhausted during the long investigation.

Although we learn the facts of the murder, the gory details are not lingered on and the two murderers are not glorified in any way. Indeed by book’s end it is difficult to have any sympathy for them at all, as it is obvious that they care for no one but themselves. Rather ironically, Hickock was not nearly the tough guy that he liked to pretend he was and Smith was certainly not the sensitive soul that he portrayed himself to be. They cruise through the story like sharks, striking at others whenever they are given a chance. And yet, both of them are lonely and seem to desperately want real friends. Instead, they only get each other and notoriety for a crime which neither one would have committed without the other.

Not a book for sensitive souls, In Cold Blood looks evil in the face without flinching.

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review 2016-06-20 14:12
Creative Nonfiction: Researching and Crafting Stories of Real Life - Philip Gerard

The basics of what you need to know to go about writing creative nonfiction.

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review 2016-05-05 03:05
Mother, Can You Not? - Kate Siegel

This was another book that I really wanted to like, but just didn't. The book spiraled out of the Instagram account Crazy Jewish Mom, which posts screenshots of real text conversations between a 20-something and her #CrazyJewishMom. 

 

Turned into short stories, the concept didn't really land. The mom seems hilarious, but there are moments (the hyper-fixation on thinness) that are too much. The author tries to couch this by arguing that her mom wouldn't have to say such things if we didn't live in such a sexist world. That's a lukewarm argument if I ever heard one. And the writing simply isn't very good, unfortunately.

 

Alas.

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review 2016-02-14 20:06
Tiger, Tiger: A Memoir - Margaux Fragoso

Oh boy. This is a memoir of a girl who was sexually abused by the same man for her entire childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood. It's hard to read. And it's complicated to think about why anyone would want to read a book like this. That's probably why it took me nearly three full weeks to slog through.

 

What's the benefit of reading horrifying, painfully detailed descriptions of molestation? And what does it mean when I find myself wishing the memoirist was a bit of a better writer? All in all, I did not enjoy reading this. It made me sad and uncomfortable. But it also gave me a lot to think about-- big questions to wrestle with. And I think that's ultimately a good thing.

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text 2015-08-17 15:02
In a Sunburned Country (Audio) - Bill Bryson

I finally finished it! This book took me more than two weeks to slog through (I average a two day turnaround) which is seriously bizarre, because I really enjoyed it. Bill Bryson's writing is funny and captivating. I learned all kinds of cool stuff from reading this. I have no idea why I went through it at a snail's pace... I wonder if I'd have breezed through it if I were more familiar with or connected to Australia. At any rate, it was a fun and fascinating read.

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