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Guest Writer

Guest writer Amanda Benwell graphic

Amanda Benwell
Bookstagram Bonanza Edition

Guest writer Amanda Benwell graphic

October 28, 2020

Dear Book Worms,

Happy Wednesday! I am thrilled to share with you that Amanda Benwell is on the blog today writing to Mr. Hemingway about one of her favorite books of all time. Amanda is the creator of the wonderful Bookstagram account, @lilacsandliterature where she highlights her love of reading and all the books you can possibly imagine. If you need a book recommendation, Amanda will steer you in the right direction. If you don’t believe me, ask one of the 9,000+ followers she has. Amanda is the real deal!

Amanda is a born and raised Mainer, and shares a home with her husband of twelve years and their three sons (see why I like her)! When she is not spending time with all of the men in her life or quietly reading, she enjoys anything and everything true crime: podcasts, documentaries, etc. as well as bad reality TV and cooking! She lives for the nostalgia of growing up a 90s kid and is a huge fan of 70s soft rock, country music and CHRISTMAS! Amanda shared with me that she could never live without caffeine, comfy blankets, sarcasm and pasta! This my friends… is someone I can trust!

Though Amanda and I both live in Maine, we have never met in person (unless you count ZOOM). Did I mention that Maine is a really big state with slow moving “highways” and country roads? The minimum time it takes to get anywhere feels like 25 minutes, and Amanda and I live miles away from one another. I look forward to enjoying a cup of coffee or fabulous cocktail with this Bookstagram Treasure one of these days. I hope you enjoy her letter to the big guy and check out all of her bookish love over on instagram.

❤️❤️❤️

Kelly

P.S. The book Amanda eagerly chose to share today started from one small article in the New York Times in 1959 and resulted in an Edgar Award in1966 for best fact-crime novel and a Pulitzer Prize nomination that same year, not to mention multiple film adaptations as well (hmmm…have you guessed yet?)

___________________________

Dear Mr. H.,

Fall is here in Maine and as a lifelong resident I can easily say this is my favorite time of year. The leaves are changing, the weather is much cooler, the sky turns darker earlier, and there is nothing that says “reading time” to me more than a blanket and a cup of tea. In case you were wondering, decaf chai spice is my go to right now. And as I contemplated what book I would want to chat with you about, it really wasn’t very difficult to choose. When I was a high school student (I won’t date myself but it was roughly two decades ago – keep this between us?) I read a book that would forever change me. Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood shocked me and instantly made me a fanatic of all things true crime – documentaries, books, tv specials – you name it and I devoured it. And even now, in the age of podcasts and Netflix where true crime is a thriving brand, I’m still taken back to years ago when I first read the story of the Clutter family from Holcomb, Kansas.

I am by definition, not a re-reader. I can probably count on one hand the number of times I have read a book more than once. I’m not sure exactly why that is. Part of it is because there are so many good books out there that I hesitate to choose something I’ve already read over the adventure of a new story. I am also a staunch anti-synopsis/spoiler reader which means I do not read the synopsis of a book before I dive in, as I do not even want the generic plot revealed. This is for a few reasons – I read many thrillers where there is often a “twist” in the book and even reading a synopsis has me guessing it all the way through and can easily ruin the excitement for myself. But there are a few books I’ve read over the course of my life as a reader – and one could argue I’ve been a reader since birth as books have always been my escape – that have been so powerful that I would read all over again. And this brings me to this amazing book. 

A note to readers: In Cold Blood is not for the faint of heart and deals with four savage murders so please continue reading with caution. 

In 1959 in the small town of Holcomb, Kansas lived four members of the Clutter Family – Herb, the patriarch, Bonnie, the timid “afflicted” mother, Kenyon, the high school son, and the teenage sweetheart Nancy, who was the town’s pride and joy. One Sunday morning, Nancy’s friend arrives at the Clutter’s house and finds it silent which is highly unusual. What follows is the discovery that the entire family has been murdered – and worst of all there is no apparent motive or any suspects to name. The Clutter family was widely known, very well liked, and not an overly wealthy family, although they did just fine on their sprawling ranch. But it doesn’t appear much was stolen from the house, and everyone knew Mr. Clutter never carried cash, choosing to pay for everything by check. So what happened here? Why did this horrific crime – shotgun blasts in close range to the entire family – happen? Was it personal? But why?

Capote’s writing is unlike anything that came before or after, and broke the true crime genre wide open. He interviewed absolutely everyone he could – from friends and family of the Clutters to people who knew the eventual suspects – and who of course turned out to be the perpetrators. But the most important aspect of the novel is not how much time and research was spent on the information, but how it was presented. In Cold Blood reads like a titillating crime novel, fictional in its appearance, but every word of it true. Capote was able to put you inside the Clutter home on the night of November 15, 1959 with the wind whistling across the plains and the silence of the country roads. You can taste the fear of the family, the shock and terror as they realize this isn’t your run of the mill robbery and that evilhad entered their home. 

As the entire town scrambles to understand this horrific crime, Capote not only takes us through the journey of law enforcement, but also takes us along for a ride with the two men who committed the crime. We learn everything about them, including their childhoods, what they ate after the brutal murders, and everything in between. It is an unprecedented look at both the victims and perpetrators that was unheard of at the time. No one writes with such amazing detail as Capote. He captured the emotions of all those around, not only the family, but the murderers as well. 

I cannot recommend this book enough, even for those who would not consider themselves interested in the true crime genre. This was written well before “click-bait” and the obsession with serial killers and every sensationalized detail. Capote wrote the truth, and it was more chilling than any horror movie or fictional verse. He also takes an approach to the death penalty that has much validity in the conversation even now. 

So here we are, Mr. H. I hope you take my suggestion into consideration and pour yourself a cup of chai, wrap up in a nice cozy blanket and meet the Clutter family with me. Herb, Bonnie, Kenyon, and Nancy will stay with you. And you might just meet your new obsession: true crime and the desire to understand the darkest parts of humanity. It’s been 20 years and I’m still in deep.

Your true crime bookworm friend,

Amanda

P.S. Click on the book pic below to purchase!

Book cover of Truman Capote's In Cold Blood

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