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In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

After reading To Kill a Mockingbird with my 9th grade class, I got pretty interested in Truman Capote (a close friend of TKAM‘s author, Harper Lee).  After all, it has been suggested that he was the true author of To Kill a Mockingbird and as a young boy was the model for one of the most hilarious characters in the book, Dill.  I was a little surprised that I had never read any of his work, so when my roommate offered to let me borrow Capote’s seminal work, In Cold Blood, I jumped at the opportunity… even though I had no idea what In Cold Blood was even about.

In Cold Blood is a true-crime story.  This genre is one that I don’t often read, because, compared to fiction, it’s not nearly as exciting.  The story follows the horrific murder of the Cutter family in the 1960s, and from the very beginning, you know who the killers are, so there is no suspense as in a traditional mystery novel.  However, the book still made for an interesting read.  I’m interested in psychology (I have a degree in it from UC San Diego and hoped to work in the field before teaching stole my heart).  And this book has no shortage of mental illness – though not explicitly described or diagnosed, which was interesting as a reader with some knowledge of the field.  Additionally, I found myself wondering throughout the book why the crime had been committed.  In this aspect, I was left unsatisfied, but by no fault of Capote.  I was looking for a reason good enough to justify cold-blooded murder of an entire family – including children.  And I was destined to be disappointed because, truthfully, there isn’t a reason out there to justify such an act.

Capote’s style was unique and engaging, and I really enjoyed not only the development of the case against the two murderers, but the author’s creative and pleasing way of stringing words together.  The personalities of the people in the town where the murder took place were well-developed and easy to imagine – much like his close friend, Harper Lee’s, character development in the much more light-hearted To Kill a Mockingbird.  I’m interested to read more of Capote’s work – especially his fiction – to see his highly individual style at play in a different genre.

Overall, if you like the genre of true-crime, you absolutely must read this book.  However, if it’s not your cup of tea, I’d consider reading another one of Capote’s gems – maybe Breakfast at Tiffany’s.  I give this book 3 stars.  ★★★

– Becca

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To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Hello readers,

I have to say, I very nearly did not write a post about To Kill a Mockingbird because, let’s face it, EVERYONE has read this book at some point in their education.  But, if you grew up under a rock and somehow missed this fantastic piece of literature in the process, go to the nearest place that sells books and buy it, read it, and love it.  It is so so so good.  And if you haven’t read it since your adolescent days, I recommend you give it a second read.  I recently read it for the first time since 8th grade to prepare to teach it and it’s amazing how much has changed for me as a reader the second time around.

So, backstory:  To Kill a Mockingbird is set in small-town Alabama during the 1930s and the narrator is Scout, a precocious tomboy, aged 6-8 throughout the novel.  The novel begins with vignettes from their small town, including some history, but mostly funny character studies from the lens of a child’s eyes as she explores her neighborhood with her older brother, Jem, and their sometimes-neighbor Dill (modeled after a young Truman Capote).  I loved this part the most when I read this as a student because I connected so much with Scout as a narrator – I remembered that child-lens through which she sees the world, and it was refreshing to relive those days and have the much coveted feeling as a teenager that you weren’t the only one who thought that way.

As the story continues, the real plot begins to unfold.  Scout and Jem’s father, Atticus (hands down my biggest literary crush of all time – even surpassing my beloved Mr. Darcy), is a lawyer who is appointed to defend a black man accused of raping a white woman.  While the courtroom drama unfolds, it is as captivating as you might imagine (I can’t be the only one who gets sucked in every time any litigious event presents itself to me, can I?)  But the real story is of Atticus – the father who knows he must do the right thing to be an example to his children, but who struggles with the reality of his children dealing with the ugliness from a town who doesn’t agree with his decision.  Lee’s writing isn’t particularly sophisticated – which is why I don’t buy the long-held suspicion that it may have been Truman Capote who wrote the novel – but she captures the subtleties of this predicament and how Atticus uses it to teach his children artfully.  The take-home messages: sometimes good people have faulty beliefs, but they’re still (usually) good people.  Do the right thing, even when it’s hard.  And these are all messages that I’m so excited to get to teach my 9th graders through literature, because NO ONE should make it through school without being exposed to them.

I’ve mentioned before that I love books that make you want to crawl inside them and live there, and this is one of those for me.  The characters are well-developed, Scout’s commentary is hilarious, and at the end of it all, you’re reminded that there is ugliness in the world (and there always will be) but there will also always be people who will stand up against it.  It’s an absolutely gorgeous book, and after reading it most recently, I had a good long cry for the first time in ages.  So go read it, whether it’s for the first time or the hundredth time.  It’s worth it, I promise.  So worth it, in fact, that I give To Kill a Mockingbird 5 stars. ★★★★★

– Becca