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

 

Survival: A Thematic Guide To Canadian Literature by Margaret Atwood

A criticism and a manifesto of Canadian literature, and even to this day, it is one of a kind.

3/5 stars.
Paperback, 287 pages.
Read from May 9, 2017 to June 4, 2017.

“Literature is not only a mirror; it is also a map, a geography of the mind. Our literature is one such map, if we can learn to read it as our literature, as the product of who and where we have been. We need such a map desperately, we need to know about here, because here is where we live. For the members of a country or a culture, shared knowledge of their place, their here, is not a luxury but a necessity. Without that knowledge, we will not survive.”

You would think that as an English major and a Canadian that this book would have been included in my repertoire somewhere buuuuut it wasn’t. Having now read it, if I had the chance to talk to my Canadian Lit prof I would have asked him why the hell this book was not included in the curriculum. This book may have some dated references but its content is exceptional and still viable and relevant. This book is both a criticism and a manifesto of Canadian literature and even to this day, it is one of a kind.

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Atwood is a total babe.

This book was published in 1972 and it addresses a non-academic audience in attempts to define what makes Canadian literature specifically Canadian and different from other major publishing countries in the world.

“What have been the central preoccupations of our poetry and fiction?…survival and victims.”

Canada is a harsh place to live in terms of weather and this aspect of the country played a major factor in its history, shaping its people, and how they view nature. It’s not hard to surmise that survival and being that of a victim would play a part in Canadian literature. Atwood breaks down her theory into four victim types:

Position One: To deny the fact that you are a victim. This is a position in which members of the “victim-group” will deny their identity as victims, accusing those members of the group who are less fortunate of being responsible for their own victimhood.

Position Two: To acknowledge the fact that you are a victim (but attribute it to a powerful force beyond human control such as fate, history, God, or biology.
In this position, victims are likely to resign themselves to their fate.

Position Three: To acknowledge the fact that you are a victim but to refuse to accept the assumption that the role is inevitable. This is a dynamic position in which the victim differentiates between the role of victim and the experience of the victim.

Position Four: To be a creative non-victim. A position for “ex-victims” when creativity of all kinds is fully possible.”

Atwood’s work is enticing, clear, funny and easy to agree with. Not only is this book an essential part of what defines Canadian literature, it can also be seen as the basis for the Canadian identity as a whole. While many who criticised this work found it lacking in historical evidence, the literary examples, while now dated, are excellent. I would love to see this theory put to the test with some more modern pieces of Canadian literature.

Survival is a great and short read that should be a part of every literary major’s reading list as well any Canadians.

Shame: A Brief History by Peter N. Stearns

Shame, we have all felt it. However, the majority of people undermine how much it has shaped the world that we interact with everyday.

3/5 stars.
ebook, 182 pages.
Read from July 11, 2017 to July 20, 2017.

Shame, as an emotion, has a core meaning, in relating individuals to wider social groups and norms — real or imagined

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Shame, we have all felt it. However, the majority of people undermine how much it has shaped the world that we interact with everyday.  From our sexual behaviour, politics, self-worth, and even our upbringing.  What is shame and what makes it different from guilt? For many scholars, this has been a broad and difficult definition to tackle and an even harder topic to discuss in terms of history and its impact on modern society.  Peter N. Stearns attempts to address these grey areas with his new book which, is set to be published in September 2017.

Guilty people apologize and also take steps to avoid repetition. Shame, in contrast, is a more global emotion, which can emerge in response to the same kind of wrong act and violation of standards. It may develop earlier in life than guilt– guilt requires more cognitive sorting capacity– but above all it emphasizes self-abasement. It is the self that is at fault, not the commission of the act. This creates greater pain and intensity than guilt. A shamed person feels very bad indeed– but also makes it more difficult to escape.”

The novel opens with the widely debated matter of shame versus guilt and whether or not shame is a primal human emotion. In order to address the history of shame, the author breaks down the novel into four more additional chapters to address each stage in history and how shame is built and progresses through time.

The author draws from a wide-variety of knowledge and cultures to provide excellent examples of shame from across the globe.  The most impressionable chapter of the book was by far the last chapter which addressed shame in modern-day USA. The reason I felt this chapter was successful was that it was channelled and concise where as the previous chapters, while interesting and insightful, covered a globally large scope on shame.  As a result, I also felt that the author missed out on key topics of shame, specifically with women’s sexuality and minorities, both historically and for our present day. While it was mentioned and discussed to a point, surely a large portion of how shame is structured and how it has created our current social and cultural society was built and carried on the backs of shamed women and minorities? Perhaps it is too presumptuous for me to suggest that, however, this book would have benefited from discussing the effects of shame within one country or continent, rather than that of the whole world.

In the last chapter, the author also discusses how technology and social media has given rise to a revival of shame in the modern-day. I also appreciated the references and discussions that the author made in relation to other current researchers on shame, such as Brené Brown.

Overall, this novel is an intriguing look into how shame has shaped our world over the years and how it is currently effecting our everyday lives. The majority of this book is historical in nature but there are also some good sociological and psychological insights as well. I would recommend this book for those looking for an academic read on a topic that is worthy of more exploration.

A big thanks to Netgalley for providing me with an ARC copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.