In 1958, Truman Capote put his stamp on the American literary scene when he published his short novel, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, in the pages of Esquire magazine. Authors and critics were quick to recognize what Capote had accomplished here. The always opinionated Norman Mailer would say that Capote “is the most perfect writer of my generation, he writes the best sentences word for word, rhythm upon rhythm. I would not have changed two words in Breakfast at Tiffany’s which will become a small classic.” About that, Mailer was exactly right. Breakfast at Tiffany’s is now a classic book – not to mention a classic film too (watch the trailer with the iconic Audrey Hepburn here). And now let’s rewind the audiotape and take you back to 1963, to the great 92nd Street Y in New York city, where Truman Capote reads from his little classic in his own distinctive voice. This audio clip runs about 17 minutes. Have a listen.
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But even so, it’s worth recapturing the voice of the American literary giant – especially when we can hear him read from his own work. The reading is called “In Harry’s Bar in Venice,” and it was recorded with a pocket recorder sometime in the late 1950s. You can access the recording (thanks to HarperAudio) in multiple formats here: .au format, .gsm format, .ra format. Or you can buy it as part of a larger collection called Ernest Hemingway Reads Ernest Hemingway.
It’s a creative take on Oscar Wilde. And Erika Iris Simmons doesn’t stop there. You can find more of her creative “paperwork” creations on her web site. Beethoven, Hitchcock, Einstein – they’re all here… (For more of her work, also see Simmons’ Flickrstream.)
Dean’s performance is superb, and the episode (edited to 6 minutes) is a parable of the cultural tensions of the time — with drugged up, beatnik delinquents invading the home of a decent couple to subject them at gunpoint to jazz and slang: “man,” “fake it, Dad,” “you dig me,” “that’s crazy,” “don’t goof on me now.” It’s a quite fitting scene, especially given that Reagan went on to be the icon of the conservative movement, while Dean became emblematic of the rebellious youth culture to which Reagan’s movement was a reaction. But while the overt moral lesson of this episode is anti-rebel, there’s no doubt that powerful depictions like these–in which Dean’s expressiveness is as charismatic as it is frightening–only contributed to making rebellion cool.
Wes Alwan lives in Boston, Massachusetts, where he works as a writer and researcher and attends the Institute for the Study of Psychoanalysis and Culture. He also participates in The Partially Examined Life, a podcast consisting of informal discussions about philosophical texts by three philosophy graduate school dropouts.