non-fiction


Author Rating: A

Billy Budd, Foretopman (read 1981 and again 3/26/2013) Recommended

I’m not sure that what I read back in 1981 was the same as the version I have sort of read today. Included in a paperback copy of Six Great Modern Short Novels, published originally in 1954, is what is described as “the definitive transcription of F. Barron Freeman published by the Harvard University Press, corrected in accordance with the Corrigenda later issued with that volume.” The writing is extraordinarily obtuse and difficult to get through but, in hindsight, delivers a boatload of information. I will confess though, I didn’t have the patience to read the entire thing. Are other published versions of Billy Budd “cleaned up” to make them more readable? I don’t know, but if you have an interest in language and/or sociology, you can’t go wrong with this “definitive transcription.”

Moby-Dick; or, The Whale (read 1981) Recommended

About a man and a whale.

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Author Rating: A

In Cold Blood (read 1980 something) Recommended

A non-fiction book published in 1966 detailing the 1959 murders of Herbert Clutter, a successful farmer from Holcomb, Kansas, his wife, and two of their four children. It is an examination of the complex psychological relationship between two parolees who together commit a mass murder as well as an exploration ofthe lives of the victims and the effect of the crime on the community where they lived.

La Côte Basque 1965 (not yet read)

This looks like fun.

… the first installment of Truman Capote’s planned roman à clef, Answered Prayers, dropped like a bomb on New York society when it appeared in Esquire’s November 1975 issue. Iced out by the friends he’d skewered—such of his “swans” as Slim Keith, Gloria Vanderbilt, and Babe Paley—Capote began his slide into an early grave.

Other Voices, Other Rooms (not yet read)

A semi-autobiographical novel about a 13-year-old boy.

I have not personally read anything by Stephen Hunter but my nephew thinks he’s all that, so I took a look at what he’s written.

His fiction novels (of which there are currently 14) appear to be too violent for my taste, but he also writes non-fiction, including one that took me by surprise by its subject.

An attempted assassination of President Harry Truman:

Harry S. Truman, c1945. (Library of Congress)

Harry S. Truman, c1945. (Library of Congress)

On November 1, 1950, two Puerto Rican nationalists, Oscar Collazo and Griselio Torresola, nearly assassinated President Harry Truman. If this historical fact surprises you, you’re not alone. American Gunfight, a new account by suspense novelist and Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic Stephen Hunter and journalist John Bainbridge Jr., examines this largely forgotten episode in meticulous detail, including the conspiracy surrounding it and the misconceptions associated with the would-be assassins. As the book makes clear, it’s remarkable that these two men even came close to succeeding, given the disorganized nature of the plot. Intending to attack the president at the White House, they only learned in passing from a cab driver that it was being renovated and that Truman was in fact living at the nearby Blair House. When they made their assault on Blair House, they quickly lost their element of surprise when Collazo’s gun misfired, leading to a 38-second shootout in front of the residence that left Torresola and one policeman dead. Meanwhile, Truman witnessed the action from an upstairs window.

At his ensuing trial, Collazo was depicted as a crazed fanatic, but the authors argue that this simplified assessment unnecessarily dismisses a potential political conspiracy involving Puerto Rican nationalist leader Pedro Albizu Campos, who was believed by some to have masterminded the plot in an effort to bring attention to his cause. Hunter and Bainbridge provide in-depth portraits of Collazo and Torresola, as well as the Secret Service agent and three White House policemen who saved Truman’s life. The descriptions of the remarkably light presidential security of the era reveal much about 1950s Washington, D.C., a time in which the president would take a daily walk around the neighborhood with just a bodyguard or two in tow. As a result of the attack, the Secret Service would forever change the way it guarded the president. This fast-paced book reads like a detective thriller, shifting quickly between various story lines and characters, including a second-by-second breakdown of the gunfight itself. The potboiler narrative may seem over the top at times, with its conjecture and imagined internal dialogue, but this comprehensive account succeeds in bringing this unlikely plot vividly to life. — Shawn Carkonen