Friday, February 1, 2008

Friday Night Frozen Dinner and an Intellectual: Truman Capote

The past three Friday evenings I have spent reading a collection of short stories by Truman Capote. The first story was a novella entitled "The Grass Harp." The rest were eight stories from a short story collection, "The Tree of Night and Other Stories." I read them here in Morgantown, WV at my parents house. Here I generally do not eat frozen dinners but eat Mom's home cooking. In the summer, I generally read American literature, and so I decided to try something new. Having an image of Truman Capote the celebrity in my mind, I wanted to see what Capote the author could produce.

Capote had great style and wit. Whether his stories took place in the deep south or in New York City, he knew how to make the reader feel they are there. His ability to describe nature and urban life was great. Even in stories only ten pages long he could bring characters to life. Yet after finishing these stories, I get the feeling it was time not well spent. I was entertained, but at times I was disturbed. The disturbance I felt was not the good kind that the best literature produces, the kind that causes us to question ourselves or the world around us. No. I felt I was in contact with a mind that was a bit twisted so that it could not achieve the potential its talents seem to promise. His stories are filled with eccentric characters. So are the works of others, like Faukner and Flannery O'Conner and Dickens. Yet the eccentricity these authors portrayed had symbolic importance. Capote seems to be fascinated with eccentricity for its own sake. This fascination prevents him from producing genuine works of beauty. Some works of art change our characters, some cause us to view the world in a whole new light, some cause us to take some sort of action. Art can make us feel enobled just for being in contact with it. None of what I have read of Capote produces any of these reactions. The characters he created are not worth keeping company with. Too bad. I think he was capable of better things. Will I read any more of his works? I am not sure it would be worth the time.

I am altering my reading roster for this feature again. As the fourth of July is approaching, I will read two recent works on our nation's founding. The first will be "The American Gospel" by Jon Meacham. The other I will not actually read, but will listen to. That will be an unabridged reading of David McCullough's "1776." My brother Andrew gave it to me for Christmas two years ago and I have not yet had a chance to listen to it. After that, "Friday Night Frozen Dinner and an Intellectual" will feature a book of essays by African American Commentator Thomas Sowell called "Black Rednecks and White Liberals." I am spending more time in WV than I have origionally planned, so my reading list is changing. I might work in another American novel or two this season.

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