Book Review: Into Cold Blood – Truman Capote

Overview: A well-known family, the Clutter’s, lived in a small town known as Holcomb, located in Kansas. They were headed by Mr. Herbert Clutter, who was respected and renowned in the community. He had a wife and two children. Unknown to him and virtually everyone else, two inmates in the Kansas penitentiary once spoke about how Mr. Clutter kept a safe that always contained $10,000. The inmate, Richard Hickock who was receiving the information, decided to take the information and do the worst with it. This story is about what Richard and a troubled former fellow inmate did to the Clutter family, and how they were caught for their crime afterwards. This is a compelling book into the sick actions of troubled human beings, and sadly, these unnecessary troubling events happen far too often. It is a true story that took place in 1959. Capote gives the reader a look into both sides of the coin. Both the crime and the justice.

Lesson: A complete stranger is capable of doing terrible things to you for no logical reason whatsoever.

Important Passages (Per Sean):

Like the waters of the river, like the motorists on the highway, and like the yellow trains streaking down the Santa Fe tracks, drama, in the shape of exceptional happenings, had never stopped there.

At the time not a soul in sleeping Holcomb heard them— four shotgun blasts that, all told, ended six human lives. But afterward the townspeople, theretofore sufficiently unfearful of each other to seldom trouble to lock their doors, found fantasy re-creating them over and again— those somber explosions that stimulated fires of mistrust in the glare of which many old neighbors viewed each other strangely, and as strangers.

The Rupp family were Roman Catholics, the Clutters, Methodist— a fact that should in itself be sufficient to terminate whatever fancies she and this boy might have of some day marrying.

“Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is.”

He may successfully accumulate, but he does not accumulate success, for he is his own enemy and is kept from truly enjoying his achievements.”

“When Homer died, I used up all the fear I had in me, and all the grief, too. If there’s somebody loose around here that wants to cut my throat, I wish him luck. What difference does it make? It’s all the same in eternity. Just remember: If one bird carried every grain of sand, grain by grain, across the ocean, by the time he got them all on the other side, that would only be the beginning of eternity. So blow your nose.”

Imagination , of course, can open any door— turn the key and let terror walk right in.

They were crazy about each other, but he was jealous as hell, and he made her so miserable, being jealous and always thinking she was passing it out behind his back, that she shot herself, and the next day Jimmy put a bullet through his head.

Whether you realize it or not— your present confinement is embarrassing to me as well as Dad— not because of what you did but the fact that you don’t show me any signs of SINCERE regret and seem to show no respect for any laws, people or anything.

He can seem so warmhearted and sympathetic. Gentle. He cries so easily. Sometimes music sets him off, and when he was a little boy he used to cry because he thought a sunset was beautiful. Or the moon. Oh, he can fool you. He can make you feel so sorry for him—”

Envy was constantly with him ; the Enemy was anyone who was someone he wanted to be or who had anything he wanted to have.

The trouble was that they were forcing each other to mourn and remember what in fact they wanted to forget.

fits in with the psychoanalytic hypothesis that the child’s exposure to overwhelming stimuli , before he can master them, is closely linked to early defects in ego formation and later severe disturbances in impulse control.

However, even an attorney of moderate talent can postpone doomsday year after year, for the system of appeals that pervades American jurisprudence amounts to a legalistic wheel of fortune, a game of chance, somewhat fixed in the favor of the criminal, that the participants play interminably, first in the state courts, then through the Federal courts until the ultimate tribunal is reached— the United States Supreme Court.

Parenting Balancing Act & the Associated Joy

I’ve been a dad for one and a half years now. While I haven’t written much about being a dad or my daughter up until this point (the act of physically sitting down and typing it out), it doesn’t mean that I haven’t thought through some of the things that I would write. When you write, you hash out a huge portion of it in your head long before you even put your hands on a keyboard. Maybe I’ll start writing about being a father more, maybe I won’t, but for certain I will never stop thinking about being a dad, and how to be a better one.

Being a parent is hard. So far, it hasn’t really been hard in the ways that I thought it might be hard when I was counting down the days to my daughter’s delivery date. Warming up a bottle is easy. Anyone can change a diaper. Playing and keeping a toddler entertained, even for hours at a time, isn’t really a physically or emotionally exhausting endeavor. The hard part, and probably the hardest part for most parents, is trying to measure up to the standards you set for yourself as a parent while trying to balance out all of the other crap that we have to do as adults.

Your kid needs a place to live, they need food to eat, clothes to wear, health insurance, toys, et cetera. In order for these terms to be met, you likely have to dedicate a large proportion of your waking hours each week towards securing the above items. This means that automatically parents are thrown into an uphill battle. You probably won’t be able to afford the time that your children deserve. And the more children you have, the more that time might be divided. I’ve lost more sleep battling with thoughts about how I can devote more time to my daughter than I have lost having to wake up and feed her in the middle of the night. This could just mean that I am lucky that she has been sleeping through the night since she was four months old.

I’m not going to delve further into the difficulty of the balancing act. The point is that human development requires a lot of work. The more you outsource it the less impact you have on the end result. That truth is the most difficult thing to me about being a dad. Some things you can’t control, and one of those things might be that you aren’t going to be able to commit as much time directly to your child as you might like.

So as a parent you have to find a way to be content in doing the best that you can. One of the best ways that I have found to be content, happy even about the difficult balancing act, is to let yourself get lost in the joys of your child every chance you get. When your kid is laughing about the exact same thing for the twelfth time in a row, when you see them walking for the first time and they look like your friend during spring break in college, or in my case, when my daughter says “night night” to any and all living and material things at all times of the day, let yourself slip into their world. Let their joy take you away from all of the crap that comes with being an adult. Once upon a time, long before all of the overhead, responsibility, you lived with that same intense curiosity, that supreme innocence, and you too once might have said “night night” to a battery powered fake candle the moment that it was turned off. If you can’t fully engage yourself when you are with your child, then you are probably eventually going to let all of the extra crap diminish your influence on the opportunity that sits right in front of you.

The best part about being a parent to a young child is getting the opportunity for them to take you away from the crap. Maybe you get to spend all the time in the world with your kid, and maybe it is only a few hours a month. Maybe it is strictly through long distance video calls. Whatever the situation might be, be grateful that you get the opportunity to be swept away by your kid, as long as you let yourself be taken.

Right now I have tears in my eyes, which might be one of the reasons I usually do the writing about being a dad in my head, and not in front of the computer.

I have attached a video of my daughter walking into a wall moments after she put a towel over her head. It might not have been one of those moments of joy for her, but good god there are some amazing moments when it comes to witnessing human development. If you have a child, the next time you see them, do the best you can to fully engage in their little, ever expanding world.

Hitting the wall

Book Review: Doomed – Chuck Palahniuk

Overview: I didn’t get into this one as much as I hoped, but I did mostly enjoy it when I was reading. The main character, thirteen year old Madison Spencer, has been damned to hell after a failed Halloween ritual. She visits her somewhat disturbing past and what her life has consisted of during her damnation, and ultimately realizes that she has always been a pawn in Satan’s grand plan. As with all of his books, Palahniuk uses nihilism brilliantly to tell a uniquely twisted story.

Lesson: A billion people would shout obscenities every chance they got if they thought it would give them a good shot at getting into heaven.

Important Passages (Per Sean):

When you die , trust me, the most difficult person to leave behind is yourself.

“Religions exist because people would rather have a wrong answer than no answer at all.”

Like it or not, the road to Hell is paved with sustainable bamboo flooring.

Death isn’t the end of peril. There are deaths beyond death. Like it or not, death isn’t the end of anything.

“It’s ironical,” he says, “but I’ve got to die to make a living.”

Granted, we might develop some skills, achieve some profound insights over a lifetime, but by and large who you are at eighty-five is who you were at five. One is either born intelligent or not. The body ages , grows, passes through near-lunatic phases of reproductive frenzy, but you are born and die essentially the same person.

Civilization is a condition which unsocial misfits impose on the rest of popular, easygoing, family-oriented humanity.

Nothing except deep misery leads to real success.

It’s exhausting, the energy it takes to unknow a truth.

You never know the complicated deals two people negotiate in order to stay married beyond the first ten minutes.

I yearned for the impact because I knew that nothing else would shift the parent/ child balance of power as effectively. If I could goad them into slugging me just once, forever afterward I could cite that incident and use the memory to win any argument.

I wait. There it is, my greatest weakness: hope.

The public has contracted out their own self-expression. All love must be mediated through greeting cards, assembly-line diamond jewelry, or professionally arranged, factory-farmed bouquets of roses.

Suppressing a lifetime of social conditioning, I resolve not to comment about the weather.

How could you ever bring yourself to love so deeply if you truly knew how brief a lifetime can be?

 

 

Book Review: Invisible Monsters – Chuck Palahniuk

Overview: I am a long time fan of Palahniuk, and lately I have been focusing on reading some of the stuff of his that I haven’t read. Invisible Monsters fits in with his normal style. It is dark and enters a realm that most people wouldn’t dare to go. The story follows the narrator who experienced an accident where she lost her jaw. The story jumps around with each chapter, sometimes talking about events before the accident and sometimes after. Sometimes after she meets Brandy, the only person in the hospital who didn’t treat her like a monster. The only person who she wasn’t invisible to. Together they rob houses of drugs and make the worst decisions they could possibly make for no just reason. Before the accident the narrator was a model, and afterwards a monster.

In a weird way the story reminds me of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. It takes you on twists you wouldn’t have predicted and the characters are completely ridiculous. And sick, really.

Lesson: The quest for eternal beauty and attention can be the ultimate downfall in life.

And of course, the book is littered with passages that can be applied to several different walks of life, which is why Palahniuk’s stuff is so appealing.

Important Passages (Per Sean):

It’s all mirror, mirror on the wall because beauty is power the same way money is power the same way a gun is power.

No matter how careful you are, there’s going to be the sense you missed something, the collapsed feeling under your skin that you didn’t experience it all. There’s that fallen heart feeling that you rushed right through the moments where you should’ve been paying attention.

Brandy, and any smart woman knows a beautiful man is her best fashion accessory.

I’m living the life I love, I tell myself, and loving the life I live. I tell myself: I deserved this. This is exactly what I wanted.

Besides, it happens fast for some people and slow for some, accidents or gravity, but we all end up mutilated. Most women know this feeling of being more and more invisible everyday.

The whole time I was in the hospital, no way could I fall in love. I just couldn’t go there yet. Settle for less. I didn’t want to process through anything. I didn’t want to pick up any pieces. Lower my expectations. Get on with my less-than life. I didn’t want to feel better about being still alive. Start compensating. I just wanted my face fixed, if that was possible, which it wasn’t.

I saw my blood and snot and teeth splashed all over the dashboard the moment after the accident, but hysteria is impossible without an audience.

The same’s those talk shows on television, it’s so easy to be honest with a big enough audience. You can say anything if enough people will listen.

“The only reason why we ask other people how their weekend was is so we can tell them about our own weekend.”

Game shows are designed to make us feel better about the random, useless facts that are all we have left of our education.

People are all over the world telling their one dramatic story and how their life has turned into getting over this one event. Now their lives are more about the past than their future.

The uglier the fashions, the worse places we’d have to pose to make them look good. Junkyards . Slaughterhouses. Sewage treatment plants. It’s the ugly bridesmaid tactic where you only look good by comparison.

Almost all the time, you tell yourself you’re loving somebody when you’re just using them.

“Don’t you see? Because we’re so trained to do life the right way. To not make mistakes.” Brandy says, “I figure, the bigger the mistake looks, the better chance I’ll have to break out and live a real life.”

It’s because we’re so trapped in our culture, in the being of being human on this planet with the brains we have, and same two arms and two legs everybody has. We’re so trapped that any way we could imagine to escape would be just another part of the trap. Anything we want, we’re trained to want.

The feeling is of supreme and ultimate control over all. Jump to the day we’ll all be dead and none of this will matter. Jump to the day another house will stand here and the people living there won’t know we ever happened.

I was tired of staying a lower life form just because of my looks. Trading on them. Cheating. Never getting anything real accomplished, but getting the attention and recognition anyway.

Be famous. Be a big social experiment in getting what you don’t want. Find value in what we’ve been taught is worthless. Find good in what the world says is evil. I’m giving you my life because I want the whole world to know you. I wish the whole world would embrace what it hates.

Book Review: Monsters: The 1985 Chicago Bear and the Wild Heart of Football – Rich Cohen

Overview: Before I say anything else, this book is awesome. This is coming from someone who is not a Chicago Bears fan and never before reading a book about the Bears. Rich Cohen takes you down a path of the history of football, which ultimately leads to the 1985 Chicago Bears and their dominating season which led to a Super Bowl championship. Maybe it was so interesting to me because I didn’t know much about the origins of the sport. Did you know that football basically started as a league of average people who were playing on factory teams? The learning experience combined with Cohen’s sarcastic writing style resulted in me not wanting to put the book down.

Cohen does an amazing job at building the back story of the coaches and players that made up the 1985 team. You also get a look into how the sport has evolved, and how different the game is played with the knowledge of things like brain damage caused from getting and delivering hits. Even if you aren’t a diehard football fan, I think the story of the 85 Bears is a story anyone can enjoy and value.

Lesson: There are quite a few things someone could take away from this one. For me, the one the resonated the most, was that football players just like anyone else will probably at some point face the end of one life chapter and have to enter a chapter that is entirely different. Playing football is a completely different world than the world of being a realtor. But everyone gets old, every human body wears down, and you cannot play football forever. I think most people have their own version of football, and everyone will struggle with the stark difference between the life with football and the life without.

Important Passages (Per Sean):

It was a peak moment in our lives and, though we did not realize it , a peak moment for them, too. These were young gods, as vivid as the astronauts in Tom Wolfe, as free as the cowboys in John Ford, gunslingers drinking rotgut and throwing dice, but it would not last. Before long , they would fall back to our world , rejoin the masses they left behind in tenth or twelfth grade.

So this is why people suffer through mediocre season after mediocre season, I thought. So this is what’s on the other side of all that losing. It’s not just the victory. It’s being among the winners, sinking the humdrum concerns of your life into a raucous crowd, being welcomed by the mob.

You don’t think about what it will mean when you’re forty. You just think , Whoa, I’m missing it! It’s panic. It’s like that bad dream you have when you’re a kid. It’s the day of the big test and you’re late for school.”

When people say I was great in my day, I say, No, I was just able to control my mind for those few seconds before impact. I never slowed down . I sped up . That’s what makes a hitter. Not size, not speed. It’s the ability to suppress your survival instincts.

America has become endless childhood, where any passion can take you pro.

Only two original franchises survive: the Chicago Bears and the Arizona Cardinals, who previously played as the St. Louis Cardinals, the Chicago Cardinals, and the Racine Cardinals, not because they were based in Racine, Wisconsin, but because the roster was made up of guys who hung out on Racine Street on Chicago’s South Side.

In the early years, most NFL teams played in baseball stadiums, and many took the name of the host team. Hence the Pittsburgh Pirates, who played in Forbes Field, and the New York Football Giants, who played in the Polo Grounds .

A coach was now able to operate from a position of omniscience , the position of a god, where he could linger over each move the way a chess master lingers, his hand resting on the rook, considering each consequence before committing.

We’re all going to get hurt and die. The only freedom is the freedom to choose how we respond.

People know this story from Brian’s Song, a movie about Sayers and Brian Piccolo, who shared the backfield in Chicago. Piccolo died of cancer in 1970. That movie— a story of rivalry, friendship, disease— is etched in the memory of a generation of fans.

Very few players make it to college, fewer still to the pros , and most of those, stars at every other level, flame out. You see them years later, pushing a broom or carrying boards at a construction site.

It was one of those trials that come in every life, a moment in which you know , just know, that if you weaken or lose focus, you’ll be washed away by malaise, slide into dissolute wandering.

In his relationship with his grandfather, McCaskey stands for my generation in our relationship to the tough old America: we inherited a country we did not build.

He’s you raised to the highest power, a kid who wished the same wish, only his came true.

“I like doing what I do now, which is pretty much whatever I want. Didn’t make a lot of money in the game , but I put four kids through college, so I did all right.”

He’d been so busy planning the future that he never noticed the dream country from every window of the bus.

As you grow up you become too tasteful to enjoy things that once filled you with pleasure. Past thirty, most of us become too smart for our own good.

It was the feeling you get on Sunday night after a long weekend times a billion. I looked out the window. What is this life? I asked myself. What does it mean? Why does every minute pull me away from everything I love?

“I miss being twenty -five years old and playing with my friends,” said Plank. “Now we’re scattered across the country and it’s all in the past. If you’re lucky enough to experience something that intense when you’re young, you pay for it the rest of your life.”

And is it better to accept the world as it is and be happy or to struggle and be miserable?

Team Win Retroactively Changed After Metal Helmets Discovered

 

Is it a coincidence that the same week that the New England Patriots are accused of using deflated footballs, that the little league team known as the Philly Willies were caught using metal helmets in their championship game against the McDonald’s All-Stars? Some might think that they were working in collusion, some might just call it an act of God.

Last Sunday, just before the Patriots embarked on a stomping of their own, the Philly Willies shut out the All-Stars 35-0. Initially the Willies were granted the championship title, each member of the team getting a first place trophy. One of the angered parents of the opposing team stole a helmet from the sidelines at the field, and once home discovered that the helmet was abnormally heavy as it had an inch layer of reinforced steel inside of the outer plastic lining. We were able to get a quote from the man who discovered this surprising find, “I knew something fishy was going on when I picked it up. Once I saw the steel, I thought to myself, no wonder they won, the kids must have been scared to death to get hit!”

The average age of the players on both teams is 7.5. After the head officials running the league discussed the issue they decided to retroactively strip the title from the Willies. Due to the fact the children are not old enough to understand the situation, they were allowed to keep their first place trophies, but their name will be erased from the championship record archive. This outcome has spun up a significant amount of controversy.

We interviewed several players of the All-Stars, all of whom stated that they didn’t notice anything unusual about the helmets of the opposing team. Additionally, game footage from parents show that there were no big hits whatsoever during the play, and the staff on the Willies claim that the steel is simply used as a safety measure, nothing more.

What are your thoughts on the issue? With the lifelong health effects of playing football coming out, should all teams be wearing steel reinforced helmets? Or was the decision by the league a just call?

With Tom Brady and the Patriots taking up all the limelight over the deflated balls, we thought it was important to fill in the public about this overlooked, yet equally important issue. In both cases all you really have to do is look at the score. I think there was more to the outcome of the games than the balls and the helmets, but then again what do I know, I don’t get paid to analyze sports.

This story is 100% fabricated. I am working on a novel which mocks the tragedy of modern news, and this is what I call practice.

Book Review: Dying Every Day – James Romm

 

Overview: I have read modern translations of Seneca’s work, but before reading this book I didn’t know too much about the life of the stoic. James Romm takes you through Seneca’s life as he takes on the role of a mentor and father figure for the young Nero, who becomes the Emperor of Rome as a teenager. With Seneca’s guidance Nero runs the empire with a level head and actually makes positive changes. However, as time passes, Seneca’s influence over the young man starts to waver, and he takes Rome on a path of destruction.

Through the madness Seneca battles with sorting through his morale stance while attempting to maintain some sort of influence over the increasingly deranged emperor. Nero manages to take Rome into the dumpster and Seneca is forced to press the issue of an honorable death all the way up to the end.

The story reveals that Seneca lived in a difficult time, and his situation was unique relative to other famous stoic’s of history. Overall the story is intriguing, and it gives you a better understanding on how delicate life was back in first century AD. Romm does a great job exploring this niche of ancient history.

Lesson: Even with a moral philosopher as a mentor, one is still able to head down a path of insanity when they have access to an abundance of wealth and power.

Important Passages (Per Sean):

Marcia’s grief, for Seneca, exemplifies a universal human blindness. We assume that we own things— family, wealth, position— whereas we have only borrowed them from Fortune. We take for granted that they will be with us forever, and we grieve at their loss; but loss is the more normal event— it is what we should have expected all along. Our condition, could we see it aright, is that of an army assaulting a well-defended town: every moment might bring the bite of a barbed arrow. Then, shifting metaphors, Seneca compares our lot to that of a condemned criminal: “If you lament a dead son, his crime belongs to the hour in which he was born. A death sentence was passed on him then.”

We wrongly say that the old and sick are “dying,” when infants and youths are doing so just as certainly. We are dying every day, all of us.

Elevating the lowborn or fallen, thereby making them dependent and loyal, was a time-honored strategy for Roman rulers, as it has been for autocrats everywhere.

Intellectual musings, she felt, were not what a future emperor needed. She wanted her son taught the more practical arts he would need as princeps, above all rhetoric and declamation.

It did not matter much how the young couple felt about each other, for imperial unions were hardly love matches. Their function was to produce an heir and to win Roman hearts by showing them a model of virtuous womanhood. From this second perspective, Octavia made an ideal empress . The Romans liked what they had seen thus far of her sobriety and self-possession. As time went on, Octavia’s popularity would rise ever higher, and Nero’s mistreatment of her, as will be seen, would provoke riots in the city’s streets.

Only those who study philosophy are truly alive, in that they move outside the prison of time into the realm of eternals. All others, those who follow worldly pursuits, are squandering their time, merely running out the ever-ticking clock of mortality.

After the Fates snip the thread of the emperor’s life, Claudius farts loudly and pronounces his last words: “Oh Lord, I think I’ve shit myself” (to which the narrator adds, “Whether he did or not, I can’t say, but he certainly shit all over everything else”). The palsied, limping emperor appears at heaven’s gates and is greeted as a deformed monster. An assembly of gods is convoked— a parodic version of the Roman Senate— to debate Claudius’ request for admission, and stern voices are raised in opposition. The deified Augustus rises to condemn Claudius’ abuses, recounting with outrage the murders that have thinned out the imperial family.

Nero was still sixteen, yet reigned over an empire larger than Alexander’s had ever been.

Perhaps one is offended by drunken jesting at a dinner party . Perhaps another is jostled at a rich man’s door by a self-important doorkeeper. A third is seated at a banquet table in a spot lower than he feels he deserves. Seneca urges his readers to forgive such slights and take themselves less seriously: “Pull further back, and laugh!”

The passions of unbridled women could destroy that realm and rush the world headlong toward apocalypse.

Nero began sallying out of his palace incognito on rapacious nighttime jaunts, helping himself to merchant goods, drinking and carousing, assaulting passersby. Caught up in the exuberance of power, he wilded in the streets of the city, sexually molesting women and boys alike. It was an early sign of the troubles that awaited Rome. The new princeps was turning out to be a lawless teen with no moral compass.

Seneca, now at the peak of his literary powers, was writing like a man running out of time— as indeed he was.

To endure torture or wasting disease is brave, he concludes, but to do violence to oneself and end these conditions is also brave.

By insisting that death is everywhere and cannot be escaped, Seneca seems to relieve himself of the burden of action. For indeed, Seneca was taking very little action in these years to help himself or others.

Soldiers bared their necks and senators slit their arms, all going passively, peacefully , resignedly to their dooms. Some even took their own lives after they were out of peril.

It was as though the ekpyrosis, the world-ending conflagration of the Stoics, had arrived but in a different form than expected. Rather than cleansing the world of a corrupt human race, the blaze claimed only the best and the brightest, the flowers of Rome’s literary elite and military officer class.

Had Seneca lived a century later than he did, he might have sat at Marcus Aurelius’ right hand, rather than serving as Nero’s footstool. But at least history in the end bore out the thesis on which Seneca had based his life: that moral gravity was not out of place in the halls of imperial power. The Romans had at last gained what many of them, apparently, had hoped that Seneca , despite all his flaws, might be: a philosopher king.