Thoughts of an Author in Training
Classic- what I would define as a work of literature that challenges the status quo and makes me a better writer in reading it. By this In Cold Blood is definitely a classic. I didn’t know what to expect in already knowing the author’s reputation but not being familiar with any of his work. As much as I knew about Truman Capote was that Phillip Seymour Hoffman won numerous award for his leading role as Capote.
I got this book on a random whim in the coolest book store in all of Greece. Atlantis Books was built on the island of Thira off the mainland of Greece and is the only bookstore on the island. For this they get wonderful attention. It’s built underground and the walls are the stereotypical classical white Greek buildings in the side of the earth. The store its self is run by a man from the UK and he operates the store with rotating volunteers that not only work for the business but live in the nooks and crannies of the shop. It’s a beautiful disaster when you walk in, with bookshelves everywhere guiding you through the place and art overwhelming you with excitement. As a book nerd I felt completely like I was on vacation and at an amusement park all at the same time. You can even escape through a narrow stairway up on to the roof in what they call their reading room- overlooking the sea, no big deal.
Regardless of my empty pockets, I had to buy something from this store and get the authentic Atlantis stamp on the inside cover. In Cold Blood happened to be the one that stood out and on a recommendation from the owner as a wonderfully eerie written tale I was sold on the book. I couldn’t put it down once I started. Capote has a talent that as much as I try to do naturally, for me it’s forced. He took the details of a horrible murder that changed the history of a small town and created a lively and interactive narrative. Part of the time I didn’t think I was reading non-fiction. The characters were so vibrant and you were let in to their consciousness, as much as one could with non-fiction. I was on edge the whole time. The chapters flip back and forth, after the murder, between the detectives that are sent to find the killers and the killers themselves fleeing the scene.
As an author he mastered highlighting the human aspect in such an animalistic situation. I couldn’t believe that in the end I would be empathetic with the two killers, feeling so sorry for how the world had afflicted so much pain on two young souls. Only a really great writer could make you feel this way, make you challenge your moral apprehensions when it’s so obvious that brutally murdering a family of four in the interest of money deserves no sympathy.
I admired the creativity and language that the author used to make a fact based case, which would bore most, in to an intelligent and interesting story. Even from page one, his descriptions of the town draw you in so you’re not just trying to imagine a small town. He wants you to know and be in this small town. By emphasizing the absence of the big city drama, unfamiliarity, and disassociation, the murders of the Clutter family are more devastating to the town as it becomes personal.
As the book jacket says that this book that made Capote’s name, “is a seminal work of modern prose, a remarkable synthesis of journalistic skill and powerfully evocative narrative,” and I fully agree.
I began reading this in an attempt to better understand some research I was trying to conduct on the taboo of our music culture being closely associated with drugs. I find myself challenged by scientific and research books, it reminds me too much of the work I did in school that didn’t apply to my life or interests. But I was surprised to find that this book was more of a light and easy read than any sort of text book.
In order for the author to begin his argument and present his ideas on how music is a pleasurable and integral part of our human development, he first broke down how things worked, where we were examining, and even the difference in basic studies of the brain vs. the mind. As much as this is common sense, they way he did it is way I was able to keep reading. He managed to present all of the foundation facts without making me feel like an idiot for not knowing what things were or reducing the information to a level of dumb. I felt comfortable with the information he was submerging me in and I definitely felt smarter even within the first two chapters.
What I found most interesting where the associations of music and memory. Without memory the brain can neither comprehend music literally or emotionally. The activated lobes when listening to music, process what they’re hearing and break it down to a grammatical structure, categorizing the rhythm, beat, tone, and words. Without memory each song couldn’t be recognized as musical or pleasurable because we would have no frame of reference to catalog what we were hearing. Noise and music would be one in the same, despite all our arguments against parents who always seem to think music of the generation is noise.
We use this catalog to then break down each song in to different categorizations of sound using feeling. When hearing a song for the first time the brain takes in the environmental factors and then uses any reference of previous songs or knowledge to create a brand new memory and feeling about the song. These factors in short and over simplified terms are the reason why there is so called good and bad music. We all have different preferences, emotions, and memories that effect how we feel about music.
I’ve of course oversimplified years of research that Levitin spent his life on and does a much better job of explaining. But in all it was a very enjoyable read that was both informative and fun to check out.
If you’re looking for an adult fairy tale book, which you always should be, then David Sedaris has nailed it once again. He’s created an illustrated narrative using woodland creatures to tell the difficult tales of the human experience. He uses a paradoxical approach equating animal “first world problems” like cross breading, being sacrificed to farmers, parasites living in your anus, and storks explaining the miracle of childbirth, in order to highlight some of the idiocracy of human nature. All in a light and colorful manner.
At least that’s my take on the overall themes of the short stories. He thought so wildly out of the box that when you start to think of how absurd the story is, the context however is very much a parallel to what some might see as outlandish in our own lives, but what we would brush off as natural. He uses an outside perspective to explain the ridiculousness of our over reactions and cultural calamities to expose humor in life. He does it so well as usual, that by the end of the story I’m overwhelmed with a new thought and excitement towards a situation. Of course he masters the humor in his writing as well. Whether it’s a sick lab rat being criticized by his new tank mate for bringing the torture upon himself, or the devastating realization that chipmunks and squirrels can’t be life mates because they don’t understand the definition of jazz, it’s funny.
The illustrator as well is to be accredited with the skill of capturing pages of text in to one picture. The illustrations are humorous and creative, lively with feeling and over realistic characterization. Again, it’s like a fairy tale book for adults. The pictures keep it entertaining and the text keeps you turning the pages. I would recommend it to anyone and I’ll probably read it multiple times. It makes for some very lively and outrageous dreams if you can find someone willing to lull you to sleep with a good read.
It’s another David book, but this time it’s Rakoff. I listen to his stories on NPR and have read a few of his essays, but none of them truly prepared me for the difficulty of Rakoff’s writing mind. He’s a complicated author and essayist, even in his later plagued by AIDS (may he rest in peace) the man had a rare talent for fluffing up a story in the most complicated way. He tends to make you feel like a complete ass if you don’t read him thoroughly and with dedication. This book took me much longer to read than I thought, especially being a little more than 200 pages it shouldn’t have taken long, but unless you are an expert on Rakoff speak it takes a minute to process what he’s saying.
I mean this all in the most respectful manner. He is a phenomenal writer, whose life experiences and tragedies make for a compelling basis of wonderful essays. He just has a natural talent for describing something like taking drugs to relax on a flight as, “I break off half a Xanax and place it under my tongue, and magically, the brief flight to the town of Keene in an aluminum cigar tube of a plane is reduced to nothing more than a hazy, placid glide over snow-covered piney hills.” Beautiful and the book are filled with descriptions and illusions that light up the imagination. He lights up a whole different side of funny for me. Using his descriptive language he kind of attacks the brutally boring and mundane status of life by using his witty and sarcastic attitude. He seems to dread a good deal of the assignments his hired for, many of which any writer would kill to be a part of but he’s very realistic. He’s not going to fake that he loves hiking and being exposed in nature climbing 14ers, where most of us would try to love every minute of it he takes the reality of the raw details and the mishaps of his inadequacy in nature to create an overall dark humored assessment.
I would certainly recommend this book. If not the whole thing then pick apart some of his individual essays, “Christmas Freud,” “I’ll Take the Low Road,” “We Call It Australia,” and “Including One Called Hell,” where among my favorites. Make sure to give his descriptions and humor a good deal of thought- not so much a bed-time-story book.