Good Minds Suggest: Melanie Benjamin's Favorite Books for Truman Capote Lovers

Posted by Goodreads on February 29, 2016

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Amid the glitz, glam, and gossip of 1950s-era New York City, a literary star rose on the wings of swans. The star? Truman Capote. The swans? Bebe Paley and the high society ladies who ruled the city's headlines. This is the world of Melanie Benjamin's dazzling new historical fiction, The Swans of Fifth Avenue. She sweeps readers behind the scenes, to a troubled writer searching for stories—and to the life-altering friendships (and scandals) he found along the way.

This isn't the first time Benjamin has revealed the hidden stories behind a big name. The American author brought Anne Morrow Lindberg's life to the page in The Aviator's Wife, and in Alice I Have Been she revealed what happened to Alice Liddell Hargreaves after Lewis Carroll sent her fictional alter ego down the rabbit hole.

Benjamin shares her favorite books that capture the brilliance and eccentricity of Truman Capote.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
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"When did we first realize that the character of Dill was based on Harper Lee's childhood friend Truman Capote? It seems to me it was a gradual dawning; very few people realize it the first time they read the book, but then over time, as we reread this beloved classic, we become aware of this surprising piece of literary lore. I think we're all fascinated that these two literary legends, so different as adults, were childhood misfits together. Lee's version of their childhood is mesmerizing. She is both aware that Dill is an odd child, always testing, yet she treats him with such empathy and loyalty, much as Harper Lee viewed Truman throughout his life."

The Grass Harp by Truman Capote
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"This is Truman's version of his childhood—or one version of it, at least. In this sweet novella he turns a very loving and nostalgic eye on his Southern childhood, making magic out of the harsh reality of being abandoned by both his parents and left to be raised by eccentric cousins. It's lyrical and lovely and quite unlike the later Capote."

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
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"Capote's masterpiece, his grand 'nonfiction novel.' We all know the circumstances surrounding the writing: How he read of the murders of the Clutter family in the newspaper, told The New Yorker that it might make an interesting article, took his friend Harper Lee down there to investigate, and ended up spending years waiting for the deaths of the killers before he could finish the book. Those years took their toll, and after this triumph, Capote suffered one whale of a writer's block. But the book is astounding! When I was young, my mother had it on the bookshelf but wouldn't let me read it because it would be too scary. Not so; when I finally did read it for research for The Swans of Fifth Avenue, I was completely carried away by the characterizations, the human stories of both the doomed family and the murderers. That's Capote's strength: his ability to get inside the skin, to empathize with each and every person. Never have I felt such sympathy for a cold-blooded killer!"

Party of the Century: The Fabulous Story of Truman Capote and His Black-and-White Ball by Deborah Davis
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"What a delicious read! I first discovered this book years ago, before I ever thought of writing about Truman. It's the first book where I really understood his world and the world of his swans. This is a nonfiction book about the famous Black and White ball that Truman threw for himself in 1966, after the publication and astounding success of In Cold Blood. This is Truman at his peak, surrounded by beautiful people, celebrating himself, celebrating the rarified world he lived in."

Answered Prayers by Truman Capote
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"And then we come to the end! Answered Prayers was published posthumously, after Capote's death in 1984. From the sentimental, generous writer of The Grass Harp comes a collection of really nasty short stories, fascinating for their glimpses into the hidden side of society. And of course, the story—THE story—that got Truman kicked out of his beloved high society (and sent him on a downward spiral), La Côte Basque 1965, is included. This is the story in which he betrayed all his dearest friends; it was the reason I wrote The Swans of Fifth Avenue. Truman was a brilliant observer of life, but by this point he chose only to observe and celebrate the more sordid, gossipy aspects. Still, it's a must-read for anyone who wants to experience all the sides of this frustrating, talented writer."

Vote for your own favorites on Listopia: Best Books of the Decade: 1950s

Comments Showing 1-6 of 6 (6 new)

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message 1: by Liza (new)

Liza Looking forward to reading "Answered Prayers" & "Party of the Century". This last one has been on my "must-read" list for a while.
I'll be checking out "The Swans of Fith Avenue", now I'm very curious about it.

message 2: by Cathie (new)

Cathie Benton The Swans of Fifth Avenue was a wonderful book! I am looking forward to reading Answered Prayers and Party of the Century.

message 3: by Bassam (new)

Bassam Hi

message 4: by Lee (new)

Lee Killough I've always found Capote fascinating. I read Swans of Fifth Avenue and found it a great book. It sent me to re-read In Cold Blood, which I first read and was impressed by years ago. There was much in it I didn't remember from before. It still impresses me.

message 5: by Evangeline (new)

Evangeline Ahad I have enjoyed ''To Kill A Mocking Bird'', and ''The Grass Harp''. He works magic and realism into his work, but i was saddened by his biography when even his closest friend abandoned him to his despair. It made me think, if any one can truly trust another under all and any circumstances. It made a skeptic out of me with the belief that taking chances is just that. Perhaps, the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle applies universally after all.

message 6: by Michele (new)

Michele Just finished Swans of Fifth Avenue. A wonderful book. Would highly recommend. Have read all of Truman Capote books except, Answered Prayers. Next on my list. Then Party of the Century.

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