Category Archives: Truman Capote

A Christmas Memory – Truman Capote

I always think I don’t have that many quirks, or OCD moments, when it comes to reading and books yet it seems I have more than I think. One such quirk which you might have heard on the festive episode of The Readers is that I only like reading Christmas books at Christmas if I can help it. I often actually plan a small Christmas selection in advance the first of which was Truman Capote’s collection of three festive stories A Christmas Memory, which I picked up on a bargain hunt back in August when I was in Washington DC, part of my American haul, that I have been saving to read until now.

The Modern Library, 1956 (2007 edition), hardback, short stories, 107 pages, bought by my good self

The Modern Library, 1956 (2007 edition), hardback, short stories, 107 pages, bought by my good self

A Christmas Memory is, as it says on the tin pretty much, as selection of three Christmas memories from Truman Capote’s past that he has fictionalised in some way. Interestingly I didn’t actually realised they were all from the same narrator ‘Buddy’ until almost the end of the second story, and so we see through Buddy’s eyes a world of nostalgia with the additional vantage of hindsight  these three particular festive moments which have lasted in the boys mind.

The first A Christmas Memory tells a wonderful story of Buddy and his friend Mrs Sook, and her dog Queenie, have been saving up all year to make over 30 Christmas cakes. Some are for their friends locally, though interestingly not so many for the distant relatives that Buddy lives with, and for more random people further afield, like the president. It is a tale of a happy nostalgic ritual and how they go about keeping the tradition when times are hard.

It’s always the same: a morning arrives in November, and my friend, as though officially inaugurating the Christmas time of year that exhilarates her imagination and fuels the blaze of her heart, announces: “It’s fruitcake weather! Fetch our buggy. Help me find my hat.”

The second tale One Christmas is the shortest of the three and sees Buddy leaving the home he has been sent to with distant relatives, to spend a Christmas with his estranged father. This is an interesting tale which starts of quite magically and ideally and then takes on a slightly more and more sinister turn of events as father and son try to work out the relationship between them. It also looks at how Christmas is changing in modern times, the classic Christmas against the commercial and contemporary.

Snow! Until I could read myself, Sook read me many stories, and it seemed a lot of snow was in almost all of them. Drifting, dazzling fairytale flakes. It was something I dreamed about; something magical and mysterious that I wanted to see and feel and touch.

The third and final tale is The Thanksgiving Visitor which tells of Miss Sook getting into the spirit of hospitality and charity (which has vanished if you look at what happened on Black Friday this year) when she invites a stranger to dinner. The stranger happens to be Buddy’s worst enemy at school, Odd Henderson, bringing a new tension into the young boy and older woman’s friendship and also brings about a tale of revenge which backfires somewhat.

Talk about mean! Odd Henderson was the meanest human creature in my experience.
And I’m speaking of a twelve-year-old boy, not some grownup who has had the time to ripen a naturally evil disposition.

It is an interesting, if a little strange, collection this one. A selection of almost fables. The whole collection brings about the childhood of a boy who isn’t living the stereotypical life with a stereotypical family, as his parents have split up he stays with distant family members as I mentioned before. In this scenario the wonderful friendship between Buddy and Miss Sook, who seems to have some form of learning difficulties and is in many ways childlike herself, is utterly beautiful and in the title story completely gorgeous and moving.

The slight problem I had with it though is that there lies a hint of bitterness in the second and third stories. Whilst the first is all about the good in people Christmas can bring One Christmas is really about greed and the commercialisation of Christmas, and The Thanksgiving Visitor is a tale of someone seeking revenge and that revenge sort of back firing. True enough, both these tales end well (and we can see the moral of the story) yet there is a certain negativity in them, or still lingering anger which Capote may have seen this as therapy for, which made the book have a rather miserable after taste. I am a Scrooge enough as it is at Christmas, this ended up leaving me feeling glum when what I needed was something lighter and more chipper maybe?

Either way you cannot fault the writing. Capote is an author whose craftsmanship with words is just a marvel, simple as that. Maybe it should be no surprise that with his love for the macabre, as in In Cold Blood, and the darker side of the happy story (if you have read Breakfast at Tiffany’s rather than see the film you will know what I mean), this would be about the shadows behind the Christmas tree rather than the ones in front. I just wish they had all been like A Christmas Memory which I think is possibly the perfect modern Christmas tale.

Have you read this collection and if so what did you make of it? Have any of you seen the film which I have only just discovered exists? Finally, am I the only person who likes to only read about Christmas at Christmas?

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Filed under Review, Short Stories, The Modern Library, Truman Capote

Books of 2009

As the end of the year draws in I find that I become quite reflective. I have actually had a bit of an issue with reading this week and wonder if that is an end of year thing, more on that at some other point. 2009 has been a big year for this blog; it’s also been a big year for my reading. It seems a delightful coincidence that today as I wrap up my best reads of 2009 it is also my 500th post which I think deserves some fireworks…

My original idea of doing my ‘best of’ like I did last year with The Savidge Dozen just wasn’t working. I have read too many brilliant books and so I thought I would instead do two separate top ten’s. The first being my favourite books published or re-issued in 2009 itself which was hard and actually I got down to a final twelve but I had to cut the delightful books Notwithstanding and ‘The Earth Hums in B Flat’ and be tough to make the ten which are (click on each title for full review)…

10. Legend of a Suicide by David Vann – One of the most emotionally raw novels I have ever read. Fictional accounts of a father’s suicide, the events leading up to it and the effects of this tragedy on his son and others around him, based in parts on the authors own fathers suicide. Moving and masterfully written.  

9. The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood – The first of two Atwood novels that truly made my year. This dark (and often darkly funny) tale of the future of humanity starts off sounding like something out of a sci-fi novel yet disturbingly slowly reads as a not too distant possibility.  

8. After The Fire, A Still Small Voice by Evie Wyld – Without question the debut novel of the year for me. A book many are labelling as being a ‘War book’, I wouldn’t 100% agree with that as its so much more. The author calls it a ‘romantic thriller about men who don’t speak’ I would call it ‘a book about the dark truths behind the faces of those we love’ a compelling and moving read.

7. Howards End is on the Landing by Susan Hill – Some loved it some hated it, I revelled in it. Susan Hill’s thoughts on some of her books and the people she met who wrote them. And she popped by and made a comment or two.

6. The Taste of Sorrow by Jude Morgan – A fictional account of those famous Bronte Sisters which sadly didn’t get the Man Booker notice it should have. This brings the Bronte’s to life and you will think of them slightly differently. Made me want to read every Bronte book I could… as yet I haven’t started but a possible resolution for 2010, that or read all of Morgan’s prior works.

5. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel – The deserved winner from the Man Booker Shortlist and the one I guessed (though I was hoping a certain other book would win, see below). I thought that there had been Tudor fiction overload, I was wrong just as I was wrong that reading a book about Thomas Cromwell that was huge would bore me to death, I was enthralled and enwrapped.

4. Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie – The only way I can think of to describe this book which skips such a huge expanse of time is ‘a war torn epic’. I thought this was marvellous and was thrilled I got to hear her speak about it and even ask her a question; I was a bit in awe.

3. Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks by John Curran – Definitely the non fiction book of 2009, well published in 2009. Getting a glimpse into the private world of such a marvellous author and how her criminal mastermind brain worked and plotted was utterly fascinating.

2. Henrietta’s War by Joyce Dennys – Technically not actually released originally in 2009, but thankfully brought back from the past thanks to the wonderful Bloomsbury Group. The tale of Henrietta and the villagers she lives with during the war had me laughing out loud all over the place.

1. Brooklyn by Colm Toibin – A book I fell wholly in love with from start to finish. It might not have the biggest plot or be brimming with a huge cast of characters but its simplicity is what makes it so stunning. An interesting look at the life of a woman who is sent to be saved from the poverty in Ireland by being shipped to America, only not everyone wants to be saved. Utterly stunning and quietly intense.

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Then I had the ridiculous task of finding the ten ‘best of the rest’ which in a year where I read such delights as The Secret Scripture (which lost a point or two for the ending I won’t lie) and the joy Miss Garnett’s Angel and had a Sensation Season was going to be tough. OK, so it’s not quite ten but it’s as close as I could get. The final ten (cough, eleven) are…

10. Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith – I wasn’t convinced that a thriller based on a child murderer in the time of Stalinist Russia would work for me. I was utterly wrong as I think for me it’s been the thriller of the year. Also thrilling was getting to go to Tom’s house for coffee and questions.

9. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood – Proof that sometimes books can be hard work but all that hard work is definitely worth it. Opening with the suicide of the narrator’s sister, this becomes an epic novel of the lives of the Chase sisters and the effects of the Second World War. Also comes with an intriguing novel inside the novel and a sci-fi-ish novel inside that one, are you keeping up?

8. State of Happiness by Stella Duffy – I am a big admirer of Stella and her work and this to me is her best fiction yet (oh but wait for the next one in 2010) despite loving her latest book The Room of Lost Things in 2008. This is a tale about love and ultimately death and it broke my heart and made me cry quite a lot. If you are up for an emotional journey and wonderful writing you simply cannot miss this book.

7. Lady into Fox by David Garnett – Wonderful surreal and touching fable of a husband and how he deals with his wife randomly turning into a fox one day. This is may only be 96 pages long but each page is perfection.

6. Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell – Most of the planet with have read this novel so I will simply say a modern classic masterpiece about a dystopian future where we are all under the watchful all seeing eye of Big Brother and should ever be fearful of Room 101.  

5. The Shuttle by Frances Hodgson Burnett – My first year of reading Persephone books and this one just took me on a journey that I wasn’t expecting. A sensational tale of rich American heiresses, one whom meekly marries an Englishman for a title and vanishes, the other a forthright woman who wishes to seek her sister out and solve the mystery of what has befallen her.

4. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes – A total surprise hit of 2009 for me. I never thought that a ‘sci-fi’ book about a mentally handicapped man and a genius mouse would grab me let alone move me to tears and yet this frankly marvellous book did exactly that.

3. Small Island by Andrea Levy – Really this is a modern masterpiece. A tale of two completely different women brought together through war and adversity. Also a tale of forbidden love, war, racism and hope, a remarkable book I was glad Granny Savidge Reads recommended so strongly and so often.

2. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote – This book is what I may now consider the greatest nonfiction book I have ever read (so far – though unlikely to be beaten). A true tale of the ruthless killing of a family in America, and a thought provoking quite often disturbing study of their murderers. In parts bleak and horrific, it’s also emotional (I cried at this one too) and yet a darkly fascinating insight into the minds of killers.  

1. East Lynne by Ellen Wood/Armadale by Wilkie Collins – Technically I am cheating but I really couldn’t decide between these two. The epic scope, characters and thrilling plots of each of these was utterly remarkable. In a year where I rediscovered my loved of all things sensational I found these two new favourite books. Both of these are genuine gems of sensation novels and couldn’t have more mystery, twists, dramas or thrills if they tried.

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I have to say I don’t think that minimal short snappy reviews are my fortes so do visit the full reviews, they are much better. Should you be really tough and ask me which out of this final twenty one would be my favourite of the year I would have to go with… Brooklyn by Colm Toibin. I know some people will be surprised after my sensation fiction love in and some of you won’t agree and that’s fine, though don’t push your negative comments below this post (ha, ha, ha), for me it was just wonderful and a true surprise delight in this years Man Booker Longlist read-a-thon. There will be much more Toibin to come in 2010 I promise you. Now I must dash as I have a party to prepare for (attending not hosting) and some resolutions to make… What have been your best books of 2009?

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Andrea Levy, Books of 2009, Colm Toibin, Daniel Keyes, David Garnett, David Vann, Ellen Wood, Evie Wyld, Frances Hodgson Burnett, George Orwell, Hilary Mantel, John Curran, Jude Morgan, Kamila Shamsie, Margaret Atwood, Stella Duffy, Susan Hill, Tom Rob Smith, Truman Capote, Wilkie Collins

In Cold Blood – Truman Capote

I am thrilled that Novel Insights is back in the UK (though I am not sure she is going back to blogging or not), after what has felt like absolutely ages as we have been friends for 24 years, she has come back from her travels around the globe and so it was time for us to catch up with ‘Rogue Book Group’. Only I had forgotten to read one of the books that we had chosen to do. We actually were a bit flummoxed as we were pretty sure that we had chosen five books and though we could remember Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Blind Assassin’, Linwood Barclay’s ‘No Time For Goodbye’, Daphne Du Maurier’s ‘The Parasites’ and the one book I hadn’t yet read Truman Capote’s ‘In Cold Blood’ we were stuck on the fifth. Then after much research we realised it was just the four… typical. Anyway in order to do ‘Rogue Book Group’ (we had a picnic in the park) I needed to finally read ‘In Cold Blood’ which was easy as I found I was unable to put it down! 

In Cold Blood is a non-fiction account of the mass murder of the Clutter Family in Holcomb, Kansas in 1959. Where Herb Clutter, his wife Bonnie and two of their four children Nancy and Kenyon were horrifically murdered for what seemed like absolutely no logical reason whatsoever. Capote writes of the events leading up to the deaths of this family, onto catching the killers, their trial and then their execution through the eyes of the people of Holcomb and some of the detectives in the case as well as having had many meetings with the murderers Dick Hickock and Perry Smith to try and work out why people could do this and how these people could get caught.

At no point does this book ever feel like a text book which some non fiction can do for me. All the characters from the family and villagers to the killers and all those involved in the case and the trial are fully formed. You know the types too for example many of the gossips in the village who start to mistrust each other and spread rumours. It shows how a village that was in the middle of nowhere with no crime record dealt with such a shocking event, so in some ways it’s a study of humans and how they react. You also get to feel that you know the family and this adds to the trauma of when the events that actually took place that night, from the mouths of the murderers, it makes the impact greater and also makes what is a very emotional and gruesome event even more so.

The characters that you do get to know the best, possibly because Capote was fascinated by their motives and what drive people to do something so callous (and in the end only for $40 which was all they found in the house), are the killers themselves. Capote has researched their backgrounds, gone through letters, diaries and interviewed family members to find out if someone’s background and environment can create a murderer. It does appear that Capote was more interested in Perry Smith than Dick Hickock as the former is a much more researched and mentioned during the novel (some people, including those who made the movie believe Capote was obsessed/besotted with the killer, I am not so sure) and you feel that you have much more insight and time with him.

What I think made this book such a fascinating, with a subject like this especially as its real I don’t think you can call it a wonderful book, book to read was how Capote wrote it. The day of the murder is written so vividly and the settings so descriptively you could almost have been there. Note for the faint hearted the same applies when Perry actually admits what happened on that horrific night (I actually got quite upset by it). Undoubtedly it has to be said that this is an absolute masterpiece both of non fiction and as a book as a whole and I would recommend this read to anyone and everyone, particularly if you like crime. It has stayed with me for days since I closed the final page.

Many people say that In Cold Blood was Capote’s finest work and after so far this year reading Summer Crossing and Breakfast At Tiffany’s I certainly think that that statement isn’t far from the truth, though I have many more of his books that I desperately want to read. However I don’t think you can judge it along side the other two as it is a work of non-fiction. I am not the biggest fan of non fiction, I like the odd autobiography, diary or selection of letters but it’s not a genre I am drawn to. If I found more non fiction like this I think that I would possibly overdose on it all as this was utterly fantastic.

Hmmm, that’s quite a gloomy post! Maybe I should leave you with a picture of me and Novel Insights when we were lying full to the brim with summery picnic food and had exhausted the discussion on all four books which we agreed we loved all of.

Novel Insights & Savidge Reads Full of Fiction (& Picnic)

Novel Insights & Savidge Reads Full of Fiction (& Picnic)

As well as the new Book Group which I have started with Kimbofo (and which Novel Insights is also coming too) I am going to be carrying on with Rogue Book Group too. The next book that we have chosen is Tess of the D’Urbervilles!

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Filed under Book Group, Books of 2009, Penguin Classics, Review, Truman Capote

Summer Crossing – Truman Capote

How delightful that as I type the words ‘Summer Crossing’ that the sun is actually streaming through the windows and I can see a cloudless sky, it oddly feels like we’ve skipped spring and summer is actually already here, well in London anyway. Mind you knowing the British weather it will be a rain filled thunderstorm we are greeted to when we wake up tomorrow. I don’t wish that by the way it’s just a thought. Anyway enough of that back to the book.

Summer Crossing is the newly discovered first novel by Truman Capote. It’s taken from four school notebooks and various additional notes in the New York Public Library’s Truman Capote Collection. Various experts and editors have then put it all together, and the part that doesn’t quite agree with me, edited it and added parts where it was illegible. Now this is a double edged sword. The negative is that you don’t know if Capote ever wanted this story read and it partly isn’t a story he totally read or finished (thankfully no one has tried to finish his final novel) and has been fiddled with. The positive is that we get to see more of his work and with this novel in particular we get to see what may have been the beginnings of Holly Golightly forming and Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Summer Crossing is a tale of first love. Grady’s parents leave her in New York City alone (her sister Apple lives not to far away but is easy to elude and avoid) aged only eighteen. Grady is a bit of a minx. Having previously fallen for her fathers married friend she has actually tried to seduce him when his wife was pregnant whilst also being his wife’s closest friend during her pregnancy. You can tell we have quite a feisty heroine pretty much from the start especially with the conversations with her mother as she stubbornly refuses to go away on a cruise with her or be paraded at any dances where she might meet a potential match.

As we find out Grady is already in love, though not with the sort of society boy her parents would wish for. Clyde is a Jewish Park Attendant who she is immediately attracted and devoted too. What follows is a hedonistic summer where drink and drugs are mixed with early freedom and desire proving a tragic, dangerous and dramatic mix. I loved Grady as a character I thought she was absolutely fantastic. I just didn’t feel I knew any of the other characters really and in that sense you could tell it was an unfinished work and possibly the vague plotting of Holly Golightly.

I kind of wish I had read Breakfast at Tiffany’s after this. Not because I was disappointed or didn’t like Summer Crossing more that it just never quite matched up. I do get the feeling that if Capote had finished it he would have made it a lot longer, taking more time to introduce some of the characters and their personalities and back stories. I also would have liked to have known if the end is the ending he chose (quite possibly as it’s quite shocking and dramatic) or if he had further plans for Grady who is a wonderful, wonderful character. I could have read a lot more about her and her adventures in the past and possibly beyond the book.

All in all I would say if you loved Breakfast at Tiffany’s or are a die hard Capote fan then this is a book you wont want to miss out on. For everyone else it’s a good read but on which you might find you drift away from as you turn the page.

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Filed under Penguin Books, Penguin Classics, Review, Truman Capote

A Month in Books: February

Summing up their month of reading is something that I am seeing on a fair few book blogs now and there is something I really like reading so I thought ‘oh, I’ll join in’. It won’t be a really long blog as I have a manic weekend this weekend but I thought would be a little something to keep you all going.

Now having just finished Summer Crossing by Truman Capote literally a few minutes ago my total of books read this month is ten, I’d love to sneak another read in today but its not going to happen. This is despite having some really bad readers block during the month that sent my planned TBR and reading habits into a slight meltdown. Thanks to Susan Hill and some of her crime fiction I was soon sorted out. It also beats January as I read eight books in a slightly longer month and is also three more than I read in February last year.

This seems to have been an unintentionally crime based month with Susan Hill, Sophie Hannah and David Ebershoff. It has also of course been a month filled with Richard and Judy books which I know often get frowned upon for me however a fair few of this months best reads have come from their selection. I had read Kate Atkinson prior to this month so can’t count it, if I had read it this month it would have been my favourite book hands down. My TBR pile has gone crazy thanks to publishing houses and second hand shops, what was a pile of 702 books to read has in the space of a month gone to 754 which is verging on the excessive. Anyway here is a quick summary of my month, which from now on I shall do every month… it feels a bit like the Oscars.

New author I want to read ‘the works of’: Truman Capote (by new I mean one I haven’t read before)
Favourite character of the month: John Cromer from Pilcrow, Holly Golightly from Breakfast at Tiffany’s or Marianne Engel from The Gargoyle
Best crime: Hurting Distance – Sophie Hannah (so clever and so full of twists)
Best non-fiction: The Bolter – Frances Osborne
Surprise of the month: The Gargoyle – Andrew Davidson
Book of the month: The Bolter – Frances Osborne or Breakfast at Tiffany’s – Truman Capote, both were wonderful.

What about you? What were your highlights of a fiction filled February? What are your plans for March? Me, I think my aim is to get a few more classics under my belt. I was also going to say that I would try and restrain the number of books that come through my door (not from publishers) but it’s my birthday in March and that invariably means lots and lots of book vouchers… hoorah!

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Filed under Andrew Davidson, Book Thoughts, Frances Osborne, Sophie Hannah, Truman Capote

Breakfast At Tiffany’s – Truman Capote

I haven’t read any Capote before but have always wanted to, so when the lovely people at penguin sent me a few as part of their gorgeous new modern classics range I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep myself away from them for long, but which one should I read first? I plumped for Breakfast at Tiffany’s because I had seen the movie, which is the opposite way to how I normally do the whole book to film routine, but with a new author as Capote was to me I thought that it might actually help with the reading and in some ways it did.

The story itself is much darker than the one in which Audrey Hepburn starred. Holly Golightly (which I think is a fantastic name) is a much darker and more ruthless and naughty character than the one in the film. I could instantly see how the narrator of the tale was drawn to her, her first scene is arriving a little drunk with a gentleman caller waking the neighbours by forgetting her keys, and she then causes quite a scene on the stairwell. I knew from then on I was going to enjoy the book a lot. She is ‘irresistibly top banana in the shock department’. I also didn’t realise how tragic she is in her own way. Once again the book is better than the movie which is of course a classic.

I found the way Truman uses her to describe people and social etiquette and climbing in New York in the 1940’s really insightful. You can of course see that in people today, I just wasn’t expecting it to be so dark, and I like a novel with dark parts mingled amongst cocktails parties and wonderful characters. There is no doubt in my mind that if you haven’t read the novel then you should and you should get this one.

Not only does it have possibly the best ‘film cover’ I have seen on a book, as most of them lets be honest can be pretty horrid, but there are three more stories there two of which I was completely taken with. My least favourite was ‘The Diamond Guitar’, I kept thinking of Fitzgerald’s story ‘A Diamond as Big as the Ritz’ for some reason. Though it wasn’t a bad story and the relationship and friendship between two prisoners was impeccably written it didn’t get into my head as much as the title story or the other two.

‘A Christmas Memory’ is delightful told from the eyes of an unnamed seven year old who bakes cakes every year with his sixty plus year old cousin and sends them to various people including the president. It is as it says simply a memory but one that made me think of all the special times I have had with different members of my family. However the gem hidden away (again bar the title story) for me was the story ‘House of Flowers’ which tells of another lady of the night like Holly called Ottilie.

Ottilie, who despite her job in a house of ill famed repute, desperately wants to fall in love. She is told that when she does she will know because she will be able to pick up a Bee and it won’t sting her, for a while she gets stung until she meets the unlikely love of her life Royal. She leaves the brothel to move in with him where she meets his bitter mother. I won’t say anymore than that – oh apart from the fact that it’s like a dark modern fairy tale. It’s brilliant as is the collection and I know I will be revisiting this collection again and again.

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Filed under Books of 2009, Penguin Classics, Review, Short Stories, Truman Capote

Some More Incoming…

If I have missed any then I apologise to the publishers I have just been swamped with new books but here are the most reecent, I won’t put the blurb of everyone as I think that might make for dull reading! But heres whats come of late…

Child 44 – Tom Rob Smith
The Stone Gods – Jeanette Winterson
The Confessions of Max Tivoli – Andrew Sean Greer
State of Happiness – Stella Duffy
In Cold Blood – Truman Capote
The Swimming Pool Library – Alan Hollinghurst
Death in Venice & Other Stories – Thomas Mann
The Secret Scripture – Sebastian Barry
Hotel de Dream – Edmund White
Me Talk Pretty One Day – David Sedaris
Breakfast At Tiffany’s – Truman Capote
The Indian Clerk – David Leavitt

How should I order them on my TBR, which ones can you recommend? Actually I should really concentrate on getting my current reads all finished.

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Filed under David Sedaris, Edmund White, Sebastian Barry, Stella Duffy, Tom Rob Smith, Truman Capote