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Portraits and Observations: The Essays of Truman Capote

4.28  ·  Rating Details ·  479 Ratings  ·  36 Reviews
Perhaps no twentieth-century writer was so observant and graceful a chronicler of his times as Truman Capote. Portraits and Observations is the first volume devoted solely to all the essays ever published by this most beloved of writers. Included are such masterpieces of narrative nonfiction as “The Muses Are Heard” and the short nonfiction novel “Handcarved Coffins,” as w ...more
Paperback, 518 pages
Published November 11th 2008 by Modern Library (first published 1995)
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Jun 28, 2013 Cheryl rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Essay lovers
Portraits and Observations, what a fitting title for this collection of poetic oddities and fluid cognizance. Capote's work is what you label belletrist, because be it fiction or nonfiction, the magnetism of his artful prose is the transfixing element. I was enthralled by “Master Misery,” and since then, I’ve bought Portraits and the nonfiction piece that helped transform journalism: In Cold Blood (which he discusses in this collection).

“I believe a story can be wrecked by a faulty rhythm,” Cap
Bryan Schwartz
I was introduced to Capote’s oeuvre, as is so often the case, when my high school psychology teacher instructed me to read In Cold Blood for a personal assignment. I had bonded with Mr. Christopher over a number of things including our mutual love of American literature and my passing interest in military history. During one of our many discussions, he produced a yellowed and shelf-worn copy of In Cold Blood and told me to read it carefully.

Considering that it took me just a few days to return i
Jan 21, 2016 Maureen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ooohh, such lovely writing that the topic is irrelevant. This is a collection of over 500 pages of Truman Capote essays from 1946 to 1984. It covers time spent in various American cities, plus vignettes from many other parts of the world. The longest is a diary written during the tour of an American troupe performing Porgy and Bess in Russia in 1956, at the height of the Cold War. The name dropping of his friends and acquaintances is legendary so we have intimate portraits of Marilyn Monroe, Eli ...more
Mar 09, 2012 Katie rated it really liked it
Having never read any Capote before, I feel this book was the perfect introduction. I wanted some thematically-appropriate reading while on vacation in New Orleans, as well as something substantive yet easy to pick up and put down. Capote's vignettes of people and places were lyrical, acerbic, vulnerable, all too revealing of the foibles of their subjects (and their author, who would sometimes retell the same allegedly-real anecdote in different pieces with significant details changed). Reading ...more
a little bonkers, perhaps, but man could he write...
Jul 04, 2009 Martha rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
the guy's brilliant.
Feb 19, 2017 Lorena rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: truman-capote
Very few people can make old gossip new and fascinating again. Truman Capote elevated gossip to an art form, and it was his downfall in the end.
Aug 09, 2016 Patrick rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
When I was growing up, I knew Capote only as a celebrity on talk shows; he'd probably have shown up on the Match Game and the Love Boat if he hadn't been such a snob. So who knew that he was actually an incredibly gifted stylist? In a sentence, he can beautifully describe a person or a scene so that you see them exactly. This collection of non-fiction work (in some instances, like Handcarved Coffins, take that "non-fiction" status with a heavy grain of salt) is what the title says it is, Portrai ...more
Jul 28, 2016 Tory rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wow. I read Breakfast at Tiffany's and In Cold Blood in high school, but didn't have any real memory of them, which I guess would indicate that they didn't have much of an impact on me. Portraits and Observations, however, was lyrical, beautiful, and excellent. I want to buy a physical copy and flip through it, reading essays at random. Handcarved Coffins was chilling; The Muses are Heard was fascinating; the various portraits of famous people were eye-opening. Who knew that Marilyn Monroe curse ...more
Jan 29, 2016 Annabelle rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It was a rainy day in September when I went into Fully Booked Cebu swearing not to buy any more books, as I was just there to drag Suyen away from yet another recipe book purchase. A glance at just one shelf, the one immediately in front of the entrance, was comforting--it was a bunch of boring essays. Suyen took an eternity of five minutes to come down, and in three I managed to end up with 7 books on the cashier counter--all from that single shelf! No regrets. This one is already the best of t ...more
Feb 26, 2008 Julia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ignoring Capote's obsession with celebrity life for a moment, this book does a great job of artfully describing real events, real people, real places. Some of my favorites: Lola, about a bird that he adopts that thinks it's a dog, The Muses are Heard, about the cast of Porgy and Bess and their journeys into the Soviet Union, and Ghost in Sunlight, where he writes about the filming of In Cold Blood. Throughout the book he interviews murderers, ordinary people, and Marlon Brando. And yes, he is a ...more
Nov 21, 2014 Sara rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What a pleasure to find some new stories I haven't read! My favorite was about the bird Lola. If I was an English teacher, I would make every kid read it. This book also makes me wish there was a contemporary writer of pop culture that was even 1/2 as insightful and observant as he was. He clearly cared about his craft and I don't know of anyone today who could write a story like In Cold Blood or Porgy and Bess. Truly a joy to read!
Louis Profeta Profeta
My writing was inspired by Mr. Capote, poetry of mine has taught me to gather two things, details, details and metaphor give depth to writing and Truman is great at both. Even the way he goes on tangents interests me, adding some humor. He carries many thoughts in a paragraph and it gets my interest plus his travels are extensive. A perfect teacher and a kind man of taste.Breakfast at Tiffanys, what can one say?
Aug 14, 2013 Bethany rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was incredible. I'm too tired to do a full review of it, maybe I'll do one later.

But I can say that it was incredible to read his impressions of such famous people, and incredible to read his growth and change of style as a writer over the years. I loved the novellas. I found that towards the end, the conversation-themed essay/script things got tiresome, but they were enjoyable nonetheless.
Nov 07, 2014 Seán rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Having visited Hotel Olaffson in Port-au-Prince in 2000, the Haiti chapter was exceptional travel writing. The Self Portrait chapter gave me some insight on how to write this type of work with students. These essays more than any other book illustrate Capote's strengths as an individual were as profound as his weaknesses were glaring.
Garnet Duke
Apr 26, 2016 Garnet Duke rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating, absorbing, deeply satisfying essays.
A hefty book full of his incomparable witticism and wordplay, he draws you in so completely and with such life that often, at times, you feel he's sitting at your table, telling you essays stories himself.
May 23, 2012 David rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I had not been familiar with his writing beyond what I had seen in movies and cultural folklore before I read this book - afterward, I realized he was a BRILLIANT social commentator! Stories are quite a snapshot of various decades throughout the 20th century.
David Traeger
May 08, 2008 David Traeger rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a collection of essays that have appeared in other of Capote's books. I wish that he had written more instead of wasting all that talent on rich people. Worth re-reading.
Jul 15, 2014 Caitie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Amazing. He was a truly great writer.
Mar 10, 2016 Shandygirl rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
So excited to find more Capote! Want to spend more time with this one.
Mar 07, 2012 Marichee rated it it was amazing
Really good. Read it a few times since I've gotten it. Excellent.
Debra Harrison
Jun 21, 2008 Debra Harrison rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is full of examples of the wonderful ways Capote had of creating art with words. His genius really shines here.
Jan 13, 2008 Mattie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Beautifully written of course. Self-absorbed, of course. Well worth reading.
Ashley Rangel
Oct 09, 2013 Ashley Rangel rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: gave-up-on
really good writer and I loved the section on Mae West but it was a lot of material to cover and I'm not sure what I'm looking for after reading Mindy Kaling
Jan 31, 2011 Megan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
An astute judge of contemporary culture. Fantastic writing.
Jul 18, 2010 Natalie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Over the last few years, Truman Capote has become one of my favorite authors. He is a writer I turn to, again and again, to learn about writing and, more importantly, about humanity.
Aug 31, 2014 Joseph rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Have reread some chapters numerous times. Not many books keep you coming back.
I love Capote but he makes me sad, so I'm going to wait a while before I try to finish this book.
Mar 12, 2009 Kandy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Incredible writing....the best book I have read in many years.
Jan 31, 2017 Ellen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I would give it six stars if I could.
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Truman Capote was an American writer whose non-fiction, stories, novels and plays are recognised literary classics, including the novella Breakfast at Tiffany's (1958) and In Cold Blood (1965), which he labeled a "non-fiction novel." At least 20 films and TV dramas have been produced from Capote novels, stories and screenplays.

He was born as Truman Streckfus Persons to a salesman Archulus Persons
More about Truman Capote...

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“I prefer to underwrite. Simple, clear as a country creek.” 7 likes
“she wanted to know what American writers I liked. "Hawthorne, Henry James, Emily Dickinson…" "No, living." Ah, well, hmm, let's see: how difficult, the rival factor being what it is, for a contemporary author, or would-be author, to confess admiration for another. At last I said, "Not Hemingway—a really dishonest man, the closet-everything. Not Thomas Wolfe—all that purple upchuck; of course, he isn't living. Faulkner, sometimes: Light in August. Fitzgerald, sometimes: Diamond as Big as the Ritz, Tender Is the Night. I really like Willa Cather. Have you read My Mortal Enemy?" With no particular expression, she said, "Actually, I wrote it.” 5 likes
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