Content Tagged ‘Truman Capote’

Space cadets

November 5, 2015 | 4 Comments

Guides to craft & style

September 23, 2015 | 2 Comments

Autumn is a good time to put pen to paper, when one season restructures itself into another. Several respected writing guides have also emerged in altered forms this month. What both have in common is a recognized concept, outlined so clearly by Truman Capote in the quote above: Learn the rules before you break them.

The most well-known rules have been found in Strunk & White’s classic, The Elements of Style. The fourth edition came out in 1999. Maira Kalman also illustrated a lovely version.

Ursula K. Le Guin and Steven Pinker compose words at far ends of the spectrum in their individual work, but both do it extremely well. In their guides discussed here, they each refer to Strunk & White. Le Guin says it’s the grammar manual she uses, calling it “honest, clear, funny, and useful,” but notes “an opposition movement” has arisen due to Strunk & White’s “implacable” views. Pinker claims a sense of “unease” and “discomfort” with such “immortal” rules that won’t bend, while acknowledging that much of Strunk & White is “as timeless as it is charming.”

The new second edition of Le Guin’s Steering the Craft embodies Strunk & White’s well-known maxim of omitting needless words. She completes this voyage in approximately 150 pages, trimming at least thirty from the first edition while shrinking the page size as well. It’s lighter, too, by seven ounces, and also available for Kindles.

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Desire in a thirsty land

May 28, 2014 | 16 Comments

We read literature to escape, if only briefly, our own subjective silos. We yearn to piggyback upon someone else’s experience of life. And we seek, as well, clarity: the meaning someone has harvested from her existence—also the order and beauty in that restless act, that hero’s effort to distill coherence from the quotidian.

Here is a story; here is its wisdom.

The wonderful thing about this fine memoir, Julene Bair’s recent The Ogallala Road: A Memoir of Love and Reckoning, is that it shines so brightly in both dimensions. Here is why books remain quietly important. Why they’re still honored in an age of louder, less personal mass media and of jittery, flash-in-the-pan social media.

The Ogallala Road opens with Bair on a quest for water, which she loves, this child of a thirsty landscape. She’s roaming beside a creek in the High Plains of western Kansas, trying to assess the effects of irrigation. She’s researching an essay. And then she meets, trespassing on his range, the Marlboro Man.

Not exactly, but Ward is rather iconic. A cowboy, not a sodbuster; a horseman, not a tractor jockey. In some ways, he’s very different from her dirt-farmer father, but like him he epitomizes Kansas itself. He’s also read her first book, the essay collection One Degree West: Reflections of a Plainsdaughter. He’s handsome, sure, but the fact that he reads seals the deal.

Julene, 53 at this point and twice divorced, is long single. Sparks fly between this feminist environmentalist trying to make amends—with Kansas, with its remnant prairie and streams—and this macho cowboy just looking for a sweet ride across Earth’s trampled face. (Politics be damned: this thing between women and men never ends.) You wonder if it’s too late for her son, though; a boy who has always openly craved a father figure, he’s become a rebellious teenager.

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Art and suffering

February 6, 2014 | 14 Comments

One day in the winter of 2008 I fast-walked across a frozen landscape to our town’s art cinema on the edge of the campus where I worked. I snuggled down in my seat in the dark empty theatre, still wearing my black overcoat, having just finished teaching, and watched with growing amazement Synecdoche, New York. It had premiered at Cannes in May, and had made it finally to our wintry corner in Appalachian Ohio.

The script by Charlie Kaufman and the performance of Philip Seymour Hoffman were equally astounding—like nothing I’d ever seen on film or dreamed of seeing. The film’s plot is at first easy to follow. Hoffman plays a theatre director whose genius and ambition far outstrip his paltry achievements; his wife is an artist whose paintings are, in significant contrast, such miniaturized images that they require special glasses to view. Though he loses his wife, who takes his daughter to Berlin and becomes famous, he wins a MacArthur genius grant, and with it enough rope to hang himself. He pours his money and life into a vast warehouse set that’s peopled with actors who endlessly portray aspects of his past as he ages and disintegrates. The film gets weird and challenging—and achieves its freakish glory—as the lines blur between his artistic vision and his nonlinear inner life. The pair make a Jungian collage, or an incomprehensible mess, depending on how you experience it.

It took my breath away. After classes the next day, I ran right back and watched it again.

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Time to call ‘In Cold Blood’ fiction?

February 10, 2013 | 18 Comments

Why Truman Capote’s slippery masterwork keeps making news. Everyone acknowledges that true stories can never be fully known—too many details lack corroboration, too many witnesses disagree about what really happened.—Jane Smiley, Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel Reading the excellent new writing book Good Prose: The Art of Nonfiction, by Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd, I was a tad surprised to see Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood extolled on page five for its magisterial opening. Capote’s start is gorgeous, with …

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The 100 best nonfiction books?

February 26, 2012 | 14 Comments

The Modern Library on its website lists the “100 best” English-language books in fiction and nonfiction. Alongside each are the best according to an online poll—and the readers’ choices consist of much trash: the top three slots of each list, fiction and nonfiction, are filled by Ayn Rand and L. Ron Hubbard. Modern Library’s own considered nonfiction list is fascinating because it’s wildly diverse, reflecting the genre’s diversity, no doubt. It mixes histories and works of philosophy that have had …

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Flannery O’Connor, Harper Lee, Walker Percy, Fannie Flagg

October 12, 2011 | 11 Comments

My southern fiction orgy last summer started with Flannery O’Connor. Since I often dip into her stories, I bought and read the latest bio of her, Flannery: A Life of Flannery O’Connor by Brad Gooch. I hoped to learn how she got so wise, and so dark. Apparently, her mother and their ouchy relationship. And Flannery’s imaginings: she seemingly nudged her own prickly ways a bit to depict sullen grown children like the nasty daughter-with-PhD in “Good Country People”; she …

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