Tag Archive: classics


Banned Book Week 2014: In Cold Blood

In Cold Blood

Banned Books Week is Sept 21 – 27th. Ever since I took a class on Young Adult Literature in Graduate School, I’ve been interested in why books are banned and how I can  get people to read these banned/challenged books in protest of the censorship. I found this Ray Bradbury quote the other day, which is rather appropriate: “You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.” For that YA class, I did a paper on Chris Crutcher’s book Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, an awesome book, that has been challenged by at least one school district. My way is by getting the word out there is via book reviews, as the main purpose of the week is to celebrate freedom to read whatever you want.

Smith and Hickock Mugshots

Perry Smith (above) and Dick Hickock (below)

I have chosen to read Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood for my review this year. Most people have at least heard of the book through the movie they made a year after the book’s release, in 1967, or the 2005 biopic Capote starring the late Seymour Hoffman. I have seen neither film, although the Capote film does interest me as it is the author’s story of researching for the book. I picked this book this year because I enjoy narrative nonfiction (especially true crime) and this book is supposed to be the birth of the true crime genre. The author had this to say about the book “This book was an important event for me. While writing it, I realized I just might have found a solution to what had always been my greatest creative quandary. I wanted to produce a journalistic novel, something on a large scale that would have the credibility of fact, the immediacy of film, the depth and freedom of prose, and the precision of poetry.” The book was an instant sell-out and made the author incredibly famous, though he already had a taste for that when the studios nabbed his short novel Breakfast at Tiffany’s and turned it into a movie.

All that being said, I rather enjoyed reading the book. Obviously this book has been reviewed a lot since its serialized release in 1965 and book release in 1966, but I will give a brief summary to those who have no idea what I am talking about. On November 15, 1959 Perry Smith and Richard “Dick”  Hickock broke into the Clutter Family’s home in Holcomb, Kansas in the middle of the night after being told by a fellow inmate months before that the Clutters were really rich and possibly had a safe on property. Dick planned on robbing the prosperous wheat farming family, and I believe brought Perry along as muscle, using him to tie up their hostages. When they realized that the Clutters only had about $54 in cash at the house, as Mr. Herb Clutter only paid for things by check, they killed Herb and his wife Bonnie, along with his 16-year-old son Kenyon and their 17-year-old daughter Nancy with a shotgun blast to the head. They evaded capture for about six weeks before the inmate that had tipped them off about the money also decided to collect a reward by tipping them off to the police.

Clutter-Family

Yes, it was a bit hard to read due the literally cold-blooded reaction to the murders by the men.  The crime scene photos, which were not in the book, are particularly horrifying even 50 years later. But it was fascinating and overall I enjoyed the book. You really felt like you were there with Alvin Dewey, lead investigator for the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, the team in charge of the Clutter murders. You can see him getting frazzled as he hasn’t been able to find any leads in the case and is smoking 60 cigarettes a day and not eating anything. You see the easy going attitude of Dick Hickock as he is not fazed by the newspaper reports on the murders, how paranoid Perry Smith is in contrast. While Smith has no trouble with violence, he thinks Hickock is disgusting in the way he cannot control himself sexually around young girls, and even goes so far as to say to Dewey that he threatened to beat Hickock up before he would let him rape Nancy Clutter. We even learn a little about the Clutter family, the victims in this case. Herb Clutter was well-respected in his community and at church and Bonnie was a shy woman and spent most of her adult life moving from hospital to hospital to cure her “nervous disposition”. Nancy was friends with everyone and though she was incredibly busy, always spent time helping others out. She wanted to go to college with her best friend Sue and study art together. Her brother Kenyon was shy like his mother, and spent most of his time driving around with his “Coyote Chaser” and building furniture in his basement workroom. They were simple country folk who met an untimely end. The two murderers, Hickock and Smith, were hung about five years after the murders.

Now for the censorship part of the post. According to the ALA’s Banned and/or Challenged classic book list, In Cold Blood was “banned, but later reinstated after community protests at the Windsor Forest High School in Savannah, GA (2000). The controversy began in early 1999 when a parent complained about sex, violence, and profanity in the book that was part of an Advanced Placement English Class.” According to the Marshall University Library, there was a challenge again in 2012 in Glendale, CA when the “Unified School District officials and parents attempted to block a request by a high school English teacher to add the text to the district’s advanced English curriculum because the nonfiction book was “too violent for a young audience;” the school board voted 4-0 to approve the book for Advanced Placement students.”

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More Hollywood Glamour

Singing in the Rain

I am a classic movie fan, have been ever since I was little. I grew up watching Hollywood musicals of the 1930s-60s, which branched out into many different kinds of pre-1970s films over the years. I took a couple film history classes in college and just like to watch classic movies whenever I am able (having only a couple in my personal movie collection and no cable does limit this). Nine days ago, I posted on my favorite Hollywood costume designer, Edith Head. Now my hubby and I have been watching this series on Netflix called Hollywood Treasures, which is about an auction company in Los Angeles that specializes in selling Hollywood/TV/pop culture artifacts. They have sold some really cool stuff and we’ve got to see people with some really cool collections. Anyways, a couple of days ago we were watching an episode where the classic screen actress Debbie Reynolds had called them up and asked them to help her sell her collection. For those who have no idea who I am talking about, she has starred in such classic films as Singing in the Rain, Tammy and the Bachelor, and The Unsinkable Molly Brown (for which she was nominated for an Oscar). She is more famously known as “Princess Leia’s mom”. She was going to create a Hollywood Museum with her artifacts, but ran out of money to fund it, so she has decided to sell the individual pieces instead. It contains a lot of really famous and lesser-known costumes, props, cameras, collectibles, books and posters. On Hollywood Treasures, they showed that she owned the most famous dress Marilyn Monroe wore in The Seven Year Itch. I thought it was sad that the collection didn’t become a museum as it had some really nice pieces in it that needed to be preserved.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

So today, I was browsing through music concerts in the Phoenix area for the next 5 months and saw that Debbie Reynolds was going to be doing a performance nearby and was wondering what it was on. When found the venue and clicked on her name, it took me to her Hollywood collection shop, so I started browsing through the different section to see what she was selling, as I was curious from when I had watched the show. If only I had a spare $5-45,000 to spend on this stuff! Lol, sadly most of the stuff was out of my price range. But it was nice to look. Here were some of my favorites:

The other sad thing is that Debbie Reynolds’s collection would’ve been great if it had opened, as there really isn’t a large number of Hollywood-themed museums. There is The Hollywood Museum in Hollywood, at the site of the old Max Factor Building, where the makeup giant did up the stars. I totally want to check this one out whenever I finally get to visit Los Angeles. Aside from this place and the museums that the big name studios still in Hollywood have (Paramount, Universal, Fox etc) and a few celebrity museums scattered around the country, there aren’t a lot dedicated to film costumes. This is why I am so excited that this Hollywood Costumes exhibit is coming to Phoenix March – July 2014! The exhibit was originally created by the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, and is only showing in Phoenix on the West Coast and Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond on the East Coast. So if you can make it to either of these places to see it, I recommend it!

As I said in yesterday’s post, it was World Book Day and Shakespeare’s birthday. It was also apparently the anniversary of the death of Miguel Cervantes, author of the classic Don Quixote. “To celebrate World Book Night, the second time this event has been held, authors, booksellers, librarians, publishers and simply passionate literary fiends gave away 500,000 free memoirs, novels and non-fiction titles in the United States and 1 million in the United Kingdom, where it was started last year.” The article that the preceeding quote comes from describes how librarians stood outside New York’s Public Library last night and handed out copies of books to passersby. I think this is a fantastic idea and a good way to get people not only reading, but also into libraries themselves. If they publicized the event more, just think of how many people could be reached with these free books!

Speaking of Shakespeare, I wanted to share this link I found today. I also  figured I would talk about him a bit and share some things with you. I have not read all of his plays, but I loved reading his plays in high school and college, and my favorites would probably be Hamlet and Much Ado About Nothing. My favorite movie versions of the plays are Franco Zefferelli’s 1968 Romeo & Juliet, Kenneth Branaugh’s Hamlet and Much Ado About Nothing, the 1999 Midsummer’s Night’s Dream (though I was very surprised to see a semi-nude very young Judi Dench as Tatania in the 1968 Royal Shakespeare Company film version), and the 1948 version of The Taming of the Shrew done as the movie Kiss Me Kate (which not only has some of the best songs in movie musical history but also some of the best dancing, courtesy of the legendary Bob Fosse, Ann Miller and Tommy Rall). Now the last film makes me want to talk about classic movie musicals, but I’ll leave that for another day’s post. What are some of your favorite Shakespeare plays and why?

Ok I will admit it. I own a Kindle, even though I said I would never own one because I loved holding real books and reading them way better. Mine, however, was free and the most I’ve paid for a book on it is $3. I like that there are so many books in one place and somewhere down the line I will probably get a fancier one (mine is a Kindle version 2 and I would like a Kindle Fire). I do not ever plan on getting rid of all of my personal collection of books though it has been weened down since we moved to the new house (out of necessity more than choice). This guy knows what I mean when I talk about actual copies of books, and I particularly like this quote from the article: “To my mind, there’s something comforting about holding a book.  It’s a tactile pleasure to feel the lightness or the heft, to see the tattered edges of a used book jacket (or the crisp, glossy cover of a new one), to savor the distinctive smell of a dusty old used tome, to flip through its pages while absorbing all the enriching literary treasures that lie within.”

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