Today on Alphabet City: Due to budgetary constraints, Jon Paul finds the perfect summer read in the unlikeliest of places.
Just before we departed for the airport for our recent Mexican mini-break, I realized I had forgotten to plan for one of the most important events in my life.
“Oh my god, I don’t have anything to read!” I screamed to Chef.
“Sweetie, just grab something from that bookshelf,” he said.
Chef was referring to a special display area I created when I was implementing tricks for cutting our budget. I downsized my frequent newly released book expenditure by rounding up all the novels scattered about the house that I hadn’t read. My reasoning was that if I could see them all in one place that I’d be less tempted to add to the collection. It would be my own little in-house display of “new arrivals” or “suggested reads.” I could keep myself stocked in bestsellers-at-one-point-in-time for nearly two years!
Instead, books languished on the shelf. Every time I passed, a thought bubble popped up labeling the books “old and uninteresting.” The more they sat on the shelf, the more I thought, “well, if I haven’t read them by now, they must not be that good.” Christopher Hitchens’ God Is Not Great and Al Gore’s The Assassination of Reason are grouped together—at what point was I so pretentious that I asked for that duo for Christmas? Now they just languish in the “probably outdated” category of the shelf along with the dog-training treatise Cesar’s Way and Cherie Blair’s Speaking for Myself. Oh, and don’t forget the laugh riot, page-turner Pol Pot: Anatomy of a Nightmare. Those heady and heavy hard covers were certainly not breezy summer reads.
And now here I was stuck. Having been so busy traveling the country pitching Alphabet City as the “perfect beach read,” I was now without one for vacation. In a panic, I grabbed In Cold Blood out of the “Southern Gay Writers with Alcohol Problems” section. My father very nicely helped create this category a few years before he died when the last Christmas gift he ever gave me was a complete set of Truman Capote’s work. Truthfully, I am new to this (in)famous writer’s work. Having only watched Breakfast at Tiffany’s, I secretly thought my gay literary history badge might be revoked if anyone found out.
A few days later Chef caught me crying early one morning in the living room of his family’s home with the paperback by my side.
“Maybe true crime stories are too much for you. Sort of like why you don’t like vampire stuff,” he said.
“It’s not that. I find it so sweet. Makes me think about having kids,” I stammered through tears.
That’s right, Truman Capote’s ground breaking examination of the 1959 multiple homicide killing of the Clutter family in Holcomb, Kansas was making me reconsider my position on parenting. Capote’s writing is so captivating and lyrical when describing the interaction of the tight-knit clan that I found myself engaged from the first page—and then couldn’t put the book down. Like a master manipulator, Capote had me practically wishing I were part of the family even though I knew they were about to get mowed down mercilessly. Then, just a few chapters later, I was almost rooting for the pathetic criminals as I sat alongside them on a brilliant narrative ride on the lam through Mexico. At points, Capote’s book is less a revolutionary narrative of an appalling true crime and more of a travel narrative. The love and concern he lavishes on a middle-of-nowhere Kansas town gave me a new appreciation for the dynamics of small town America.
Every moment I could steal for myself at the family retreat outside Mexico City, I would set up a chair by the pool and read. At one point, Juan Pablo’s Aunt Jacqueline came traipsing over.
“I see you’re reading Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood,” she said.
I eyed her suspiciously.
“I read the original in The New Yorker, you know. He quite captures a loving family and the lawlessness that can be Mexico, don’t you think?”
I smiled and motioned for her to sit by my side, delighted to hear about what she thought when Capote’s articles about the case first appeared in The New Yorker in the early ‘60s.
The problem I have with a really great read, though, is the mild depression that sinks in after I finish one. I find myself casting about for a replacement, not quite loving anything else I pick up, not finding what I need on the special shelf. I decided Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine was not what the doctor ordered, and that I couldn’t quite stomach Gael Greene’s Insatiable.
Then I saw a little book hiding in the corner—the cover featuring a quirky little man with red pants, a jaunty hat and a dog, reminding me of my eccentric Uncle Cleigh. Bingo. The Complete Stories of Truman Capote. Now there’s a book that could last me a lifetime. After all, he’s an author whose true crime book made me consideration adoption.