The Life of Bon: July Book Club: IN COLD BLOOD

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

July Book Club: IN COLD BLOOD

Book club time! BOO YAH!

(If you are new around here and want to join in for book club, it's super easy!  Just read the book and then come back here on the last Thursday of the month to discuss.  Full details are here.)

 (If you link up I'd love you to slap this image on your post somewhere.  Please and thank you!)

2014 Book Club Schedule:

January: The Husband's Secret by Liane Mortiary (January 30)  Discussion here.
February:  I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai (February 27) Discussion here.
March: Divergent by Veronica Roth (March 27) Discussion here.
April:  Night Circus by Eric Morgenstern (April 24) Discussion here.
May:  The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman (May 29). Discussion here.
June:  Matilda by Roald Dahl (June 26). Discussion here.

July:  In Cold Blood  by Truman Capote (July 31)

August:  Brain on Fire:  My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan (August 28)
September:  Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell (September 25)
October:  Z by Therese Ann Fowler (October 23)
November:  Wonder by R.J. Palacio (November 20)
December: My Story by Elizabeth Smart (December 30)

Alright folks!  It is time to talk about one of my favorite books of all time- In Cold Blood. If you didn't quite get to it this month, I totally encourage you to still read it.  It is killer! (See what I did there?) I haven't met anyone who read the book and wasn't totally fascinated by it. Truman Capote is an excellent writer and pays strict attention to detail.  He is a gifted story teller, so the true account reads like a suspenseful thriller.  Capote goes beyond the surface and delves into the psyche of the two characters- why they did what they did and everything in their lives that led up to that point for them.

A bit of background...
In Cold Blood is the true account of two men who senselessly and without apparent motive murdered four members of the Clutter family.  It was published in 1965, six years after the murders and five years after the two men, Dick and Perry, received the death sentence.  Truman Capote, the author, spent hundreds of hours with the two killers while they were on death row.  He developed a close friendship with Perry, especially, and was rumored to have had romantic feelings for him.  His sympathy for Perry is obvious in the book, often portraying the softer and more sensitive side of the man.  (He does this to some extent with Dick, too, although I would argue not nearly as much.)  Due to the amount of time spent with the killers, the book is incredibly thorough and looks deeply at the lives and histories of the men.  He doesn't pass judgment on the killers, but lays out all the facts and allows readers to do it for themselves.  (One of my favorite things about an author is when he or she trusts you and allows you to make your own conclusions instead of doing it for you.)

(Also interesting about Capote- he was best friends with Harper Lee.  Dill, Lee's character from To Kill a Mockingbird, is based on Capote.)

On sentimentality-
One thing I love about books is that they represent a time and place in my life for me. I first read In Cold Blood the semester I lived in Hawaii for a postmodern literature class.  I'll never forget walking from Taco Bell to campus, and I was so engrossed in this book that I was literally reading it as I walked.  I don't think I've ever felt like a bigger nerd, but I just couldn't stop reading.  I suppose I can be quite sentimental about books, so I love how this book has taken me back to that place in my life.  I have spent most of my time reading the book this go around while I have been nursing.  It is sweet to me that in ten years when I read this book again I will be reminded of these first weeks after June's birth, staying up late at night feeding her and reading In Cold Blood.

Why I love this book-
I've always had a sort of fascination with serial killers.  My dad once told me that I should spend time reading books about people I admire and look up to, not people who do terrible and disgusting things.  I can't help it, though, the mind of a killer is absolutely fascinating to me, and I think what makes In Cold Blood so dang good is that Capote really does a good job of getting you to understand these two men.

Dick Hickock on the left and Perry Smith on the right.

For example, here's just a smidgeon of the information he gives us about the killers:

About Dick: 
"Envy was constantly with him; the Enemy was anyone who was someone he wanted to be or who had anything he wanted to have."

"Dick loves to steal.  It's an emotional thing with him- a sickness.  I'm a thief too, but only if I don't have the money to pay.  Dick, if he was carrying a hundred dollars in his pocket, he'd steal a stick of chewing gum." (Perry's words.)

About Perry:
"They never hurt me.  Like other people.  Like people have all my life.  Maybe it's just that the Clutters were the ones who had to pay for it." (About the Clutters)

"After everybody had gone, and I'd started to wash some dishes- I heard him crying.  I turned on the radio.  Not to hear him.  But I could.  Crying like a child.  He'd never broke down before, shown any sign of it.  Well, I went to him.  The door of his cell.  He reached out his hand.  He wanted me to hold his hand, and I did, I held his hand, and all he said was, 'I'm embraced by shame.'" (-The lady who worked at the prison after Perry received his sentence)

I guess I love this book so much because it challenges me to look at the killers as people and to understand what brought them to that place in their life.  I still ultimately agreed with the decision that they receive the death sentence for their actions, but I appreciated Capote's ability to make me sympathize and feel for these men.  It blows my mind how Capote made me love these killers by the end of the book.

I can't wait to hear your thoughts about the book!  Here's some questions to get you going if you need it.  Answer any or all or none of them!  I will be responding to all comments on the blog- I hope to get a strong, lively discussion going here! (If you wrote a post on your blog, make sure to put the link in your comment!)

- What about Capote's writing style drew you in? (Or drove you out?)

- Did you feel sympathy for the killers?  Why or why not?

- Perry stopped Dick from raping Nancy the night of the killings.  Does that redeem Perry in your mind?  (But then, ironically enough,  Perry was the one who killed Nancy and her family members- is rape worse than murder?)

- It was Dick's idea and plan to kill the family and he dragged Perry into the scheme, but Perry actually killed all four members of the family.  Who do you hold more responsible?

- Perry had a terrible home life whereas Dick had a much more supportive family and upbringing.  Should this factor into the sentences they were given?

P.S.  While you're commenting on the book, give me some new book suggestions, will you?  I am spending a lot of time these days nursing my baby- I need some good books to read!

P.P.S. August's read is Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness.  Make sure to get reading!  (Has anyone read this already?  I admit, I'm totally nervous to read it.)


  1. Anonymous6:10 AM

    I wish I had taken the time to jump into this months book club! I have been reading from afar and wishing I joined each month for about 5 months now. I think August is going to be that month. It looks like a book I would NEVER read on my own, so I'm going to do it! Congrats on Little June by the way! She's precious:)

  2. I am interested Im going to see if it is at the library!

  3. I haven't read that book in years, but I remember absolutely loving it! One of the first books I read in high school when I really got into reading books in my free time. It was fascinating!

    As for book suggestions, have you read The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls? I just finished it and it was really good! Kind of sad, as it's a memoir about growing up in poverty, but also kind of great (you get to see how her and her siblings cope and where they end up in life). Totally recommend it!

  4. I read In Cold Blood years ago and absolutely loved it. I completely agree with you that the way Capote draws the reader into the story is so masterful. And he brings you into the mind of the killers in a creepy, but perfect way.

  5. I read Brain on Fire a few months ago, and I couldn't put it down! It's amazing what the human body can go through and how resilient it can be. (Also, now I'm freaked out that I'm going to go crazy one day for no reason, ha.)

  6. I really loved the book when I studied it in college as well. I also have always been fascinated by the mind of a killer too. To me, Capote was a little too biased with Perry. It is still a remarkable read.

    For book recommendations. One of my favorites recently has been Looking For Me by Beth Hoffman and then Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick. Two completely different books, but I love them for different reasons.

  7. Anonymous7:56 PM

    Hi Bon! I love this book too! I read it for the 5th or 6th time a few months ago. I really do love how deeply Truman Capote dives into the minds of these men and makes them humans who did a terribly inhuman thing. I would love to recommend "Dead Man Walking" by Helen Prejean. It's anti-death penalty but she manages the similarly amazing feat of making monsters into human beings. She never excuses or downplays what they did, and she is very clear about the suffering and pain these men caused. I think this book absolutely embodies what God means to me, forgiveness, grace, and the complexity of our hearts. It can be difficult at times to get through (the ending leaves me sobbing) but it is well worth the difficulty.
    I also really love Kathryn Harrison's While They Slept, about the Gilley family. Billy Gilley kills him father, mother and youngest sister but spares his older sister, Jody. He goes to prison for his crimes while his sister is given a chance to break free from the life she was born into. Very compelling and absolutely fascinating. Like Sister Helen and Capote, Harrison spends years speaking to the man who committed these horrific acts and really drills down into what led him to kill his family,
    Finally, Between Good and Evil: A Master Profiler's Hunt for Society's Most Violent Predators is an amazing book by Roger Dupue. He was one of the pioneers of the FBI's behavioral analysis unit and has come face to face with people who do terrible things, but he has so much hope and grace. There's a story from 9/11 at the end that I had never heard, and I cried so hard reading it and thinking about it. I still tear up just remembering that story. It is ultimately a very hopeful book despite its subject matter, and I will probably read it again soon!
    I'm a therapist so I love reading these kinds of books. Glad to know I am not the only one. :)
    P.S. Baby June is absolutely adorable!

  8. I"m also weirdly fascinated by serial killers and currently reading Helter Skelter. It's not as good as In Cold Blood (which is the best true crime I've read and stiff competition) but it definitely hits on the creepy factor. Don't know if you want to read it while nursing sweet June though...

  9. These write-up seemed to be identified by means of article author Truman Capote soon after this kind of dreadful criminal offense seemed to be devoted. It started a good compulsive exploration by means of Capote that would Cold-blooded sort very last for quite a while and might finish a couple of months following perpetrators, Perry Johnson and Richard Hickock, ended up hanged because of their criminal offense. To help your pet look into the murders.

  10. This book--yes! yes! yes! Does this make me sounds like a dark and twisted person? Perhaps, but I too enjoy these kind of books. I think Capote is fascinating, too. And I have read a lot about his relationship with Harper Lee, and her role in this book [basically it wouldn't have happened without her, because people in Kansas didn't take to his flamboyancy but adored her]. I think I recommended "Columbine" to you, which is in the same vein as this book and blew my mind.

    Just wrote a post recently about books I've read this summer but here are a few at the top of the list if you haven't read them:
    - Breaking Night
    - A Million Miles in a Thousand Years
    - Same Kind of Different as Me [not out-of-this-world writing, but the story is beautiful]
    - Serena was interesting, but not my favorite of ones I've read recently

    I am just starting All the Light We Cannot See which has come very highly recommended.

    Glad that nursing is going well for you. It was pure hell for me with Blythe, but has been SO much better with Becks. I actually read now, instead of grimacing and crying the entire time ;)

  11. I was really nervous to read this book, but once I started it I could barely put it down. Truman Capote is a genius at the way he tells this story. I was afraid it was going to be creepy and dark, but Capote made this story so intriguing. I had to remind myself more than once as I was reading that this was not just a story, it had actually happened. I loved that Capote portrays ALL the characters in a way that helps us to understand and relate to them, not just the killers. I felt like I knew the Clutters as my own neighbors. When Dick and Perry turned down the lane leading to the Clutter's house I caught myself thinking, 'no, not them' as if they were people I really knew.

    And to my great surprise, I did end up sympathizing a little with Dick and Perry. Capote helped us to understand them as real people, with real lives and families and dreams and ambitions. I found myself contemplating all kinds of 'what-ifs' so that they wouldn't do what they did. What if Perry had met up with Willie-Jay in Kansas before he met up with Dick? What if Perry and his dad hadn't argued and Perry had gone to Alaska instead of to Kansas to meet up with Dick? What if they had just turned back around like they were going to originally? I think they are both equally responsible, as neither one of them would have done anything without the other.

    It is a chilling story, but a fascinating look into the minds of the killers. I too, appreciate that Capote just lays out all the facts without passing judgment to allow us as readers to come to our own conclusions. I definitely would have never read this book on my own, thanks for letting me join in.