Thursday, July 12, 2012

Their Eyes Were Watching God

Title: Their Eyes Were Watching God
Author: Zora Neale Hurston
List: #23 on Radcliffe’s Top 100 20th Century Novels
Worth reading? Yes.

The most remarkable thing about this novel is the intense imagery that Zora Neale Hurston evokes with her use of language. Seemingly without effort, she paints a scene in a way you would not have thought possible but in a way that describes the emotions, like love, or the events, like a hurricane, perfectly. She also draws the reader into the scene by blending the dialect spoken by the characters with the standard English of the narrator. Although I originally found the dialogue difficult to read because I am used to reading very quickly, once I became accustomed to the rhythm of the dialogue I almost felt like I was sitting on the porch listening in on the conservation.

And that conversation told the story of how a woman found herself and learned to follow her heart. It is quite the feminist story. At first, the woman follows the advice of her grandmother, then her husband, then her second husband without taking the action her own heart demands. But in the end, she learns to do what is important to her and what is necessary for her own soul to thrive.

I am not sure I would have found this book on my own, so I am very glad it was included on one of the lists and I recommend reading it if you want something a bit different.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

In Cold Blood

Title: In Cold Blood
Author: Truman Capote
List: #53 on Radcliffe’s Top 100 20th Century Novels
Worth reading: Not really.

In Cold Blood is a bit of an interesting choice for inclusion on Radcliffe Publishing Course’s list of Top 100 20th Century Novels because it is definitely not a novel. Instead, it is a “true crime” non-fiction celebrated as the first of the true crime genre. Perhaps Radcliffe included the book on its list because of criticism that Truman Capote altered facts and dialogue and added scenes to suit his story. I have no information on how widespread or accurate that criticism is, I only know that Capote cited extensively to written and oral materials. So extensively, in fact, that he included pages and pages of excerpts from those materials. And while it was nice to see primary sources, it definitely broke up the story, especially when the excerpts went into irrelevant details. This was particularly jarring when the excerpts dealt with people only peripherally related to the story.

Perhaps I did not appreciate In Cold Blood as much as some readers who read it when it was first published did because I have become used to a higher standard of non-fiction writing. I have read many excellent non-fiction books that also make extensive use of primary sources. The difference is that those books make sure everything is related to the main story and do not include pages upon pages of excerpts. Instead, they use only the most pertinent sections or use the information in those sources to tell the story and form dialogue.

The story described in In Cold Blood is an interesting one. And Capote did an excellent job gathering background information on the murderers in an attempt to explain why they might have committed the atrocious act of killing four innocent people in rural Kansas. But I think Capote could have done a better job putting his information together in the book. I also think interested parties could get the same information from shorter articles on the internet without sacrificing any potential depth added by Capote. And so, unfortunately, I do not think this book is worth reading.