Book choice for September 2008

In Cold Blood [suggested by Kate Bermingham]

front cover

"Until one morning in mid-November of 1959, few Americans - in fact, few Kansans - had ever heard of Holcomb.  Like the waters of the river, like the motorists on the highway, and like the yellow trains streaking down the Santa Fe tracks, drama, in the shape of exceptional happenings, had never stopped there."  If all Truman Capote did was invent a new genre - journalism written with the language and structure of literature - this "nonfiction novel" about the brutal slaying of the Clutter family by two would-be robbers would be remembered as a trail-blazing experiment that has influenced countless writers.  But Capote achieved more than that.  He wrote a true masterpiece of creative nonfiction.  The images of this tale continue to resonate in our minds: 16-year-old Nancy Clutter teaching a friend how to bake a cherry pie, Dick Hickock's black '49 Chevrolet sedan, Perry Smith's Gibson guitar and his dreams of gold in a tropical paradise - the blood on the walls and the final "thud-snap" of the rope-broken necks.

In Cold Blood is considered the originator of the non-fiction novel and the forerunner of the New Journalism movement.  It details the 1959 slaying of Herbert Clutter, a wealthy farmer from Holcomb, Kansas; his wife, and two children.  When Capote learned of the quadruple murder before the killers were captured, he travelled to Kansas to write about the crime.  With his childhood friend and fellow author Harper Lee, he interviewed local residents and investigators and took thousands of pages of notes.  The killers were arrested not long after the murders, and Capote ultimately spent six years working on the book.

The story weaves a complicated psychological story of two parolees who together commit a mass murder they were not capable of individually.  Capote's book also details the lives of the victims and the effect the crime had on where they lived.
[adapted from and the book's Wikipedia page.]

About the Author

Truman Capote, best known for his extravagant, celebrated, and outrageous lifestyle as much as his famous works Breakfast at Tiffany's and In Cold Blood, reached a level of success few writers, celebrities, and socialites dream of.

Capote's professional career exploded with the literary acclaim of several short stories published in Mademoiselle and Harper's Bazaar and his first novel Other Voice, Other Rooms.

Shortly after critical acclaim for his nonfiction novel In Cold Blood, Capote hosted his famous Black and White ball in NYC.  This was the height of his social climb and he soon began his descent into drugs, alcohol, and reclusivity as his friends sharply rejected his thinly veiled portrayal of them in Answered Prayers.

The above taken from the homepage of Capote Bio. Naturally, he has his own Wikipedia page.


Shortlisted for this month

The nominator can now decide whether to bring one, two, or three books to be chosen by the group (or mandated in the case of only one book being selected).  This month, Kate suggested one other book besides the above:

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

This is probably the finest of Le Carré's novels.  His great creation, George Smiley, is repsonsible for finding a Soviet mole in the heirarchy of British Intelligence which has done immeasureable damage for decades.  George is the most unlikely hero - ponderous, old, shy, retiring, but posessed of enormous compassion and iron will.  This who-dunnit story plays against a general background of betrayal - the betrayal of the mole against the British state, the betrayal of the agents run by the mole, the betrayal of Smiley's wife's infidelity, the general betrayal of idealism in the Circus to the mundane self-serving ends of its leaders.

And then there is the setting - Britain in all its drab, mundane 1960's/70's glory.  Drab colours, poor food, rain soaked days, steamed up car windows, snobbery and poverty.  And the dialogue is second to none.  So world weary, so wise.  And the intelligence world rings true in this book too, it feels realistic, it feels about right.  The moral ambiguity is embraced by Le Carré.  Though there are heroes and villians in this book, the boundaries are fairly blurred. [from]

TTSS is the second of this month's books to be famous enough to warrant its own Wikipedia page.

About the Author

John le Carré is the nom de plume of David John Moore Cornwell, who was born in 1931 in Poole, Dorset, and was educated at Sherborne School, at the University of Berne (where he studied German literature for a year) and at Lincoln College, Oxford, where he graduated with a first-class honours degree in modern languages.

He taught at Eton from 1956 to 1958 and was a member of the British Foreign Service from 1959 to 1964, serving first as Second Secretary in the British Embassy in Bonn and subsequently as Political Consul in Hamburg.  He started writing novels in 1961, and since then has published twenty titles.

The above taken from the official John le Carré website.  In this case, he is SO famous he also has an "unoffical" (sic) website as well as a Wikipedia page.


Previous Months' Book Choices

August 2008
July 2008
June 2008
May 2008
April 2008
March 2008
February 2008
January 2008
November 2007
October 2007
September 2007
August 2007
July 2007
June 2007
May 2007
April 2007
March 2007
February 2007
January 2007
November 2006
October 2006
September 2006
August 2006
July 2006
June 2006
May 2006