Monday, June 26, 2017

Great Gatsby Read-Along: Chapter VIII

As I write this post, I am treating myself to a moonshine truffle bar from the Chocolate Moonshine Co. in honor of Jay Gatsby.  Supposedly, this truffle bar has real moonshine in it.  Supposedly, Gatsby made money selling moonshine.  It's all good.  Especially the chocolate, which I have to say is WAY better than actual moonshine.  Which I have also had, and not the stuff they sell in gift shops along the interstate in Appalachia, but real white lightning that was confiscated from an illegal still.  It was like what I imagine swallowing acid would be like.  Tasteless, odorless, clear as water -- and how it burned! 

Actually, this chocolate kind of tastes the way Fitzgerald's words feel in my mouth -- rich and smooth, with a little edge to it.

Anyway!  

I really don't know how to write about this chapter.  It kinda breaks my heart, in a fictional way.  I've realized over the past couple of days that I feel very protective of Jay Gatsby -- I want to jump into this book and rescue him from himself and everything else.  I get this way sometimes, especially in relation to seemingly powerful male characters, which sounds wacky, but it's true.  I want to go save Jay Gatsby.  But I can't.  As Nick says, "'Jay Gatsby' had broken up like glass against Tom's hard malice" (p. 157).  

So we learn some hard things in this chapter, as Gatsby's dream slips through his fingers for good.  We learn Daisy was the first "nice" girl he'd ever known, and that "many men had already loved Daisy" (p. 158), whether from a distance or physically, I'm not sure.  We learn Jay "took" Daisy five years ago, "took her because he had no real right to touch her hand" (p. 158).  I want to shake my head at them, but I'm too sad over this chapter to bother.

Interesting that, having made love to Daisy, Jay feels as if he's "committed himself to the following of a grail" (p. 158), even feels as if he's married to her.  All the expected reactions to Daisy and Jay getting intimate are backwards -- we expect the girl to feel as if they're married, or should get married, and to feel shy, maybe even betrayed.  But when they meet again, "it was Gatsby who was breathless, who was, somehow, betrayed" (p. 159).  Because even back then, Daisy was rather heartless, I guess.  Heartless and remote, untouchable even though she's been touched.  She's the one who used him, not the other way around.  

There's a line there that I hadn't remembered.  Nick says that "Gatsby was overwhelmingly aware of the youth and mystery that wealth imprisons and preserves, of the freshness of  many clothes" (p. 159 -- emphasis mine).  That explains the shirts, doesn't it?  He grew up poor, only having maybe one or two sets of clothes, living in the same ones day after day after day.  He told Nick exactly how many new shirts and pairs of trousers old Dan Cody gave him when he signed on to help sail the yacht.  Now that he's rich, he revels in never wearing the same shirt twice.  It's ALL about the money and class, all of it.  That's why he had to show them off to Daisy, I think -- to prove to her he's reached her level.  He has the freshness of many clothes now.

Then Nick leaves.  And he gives Gatsby a compliment, and he says he's glad he did because he'd never given him another one.  Why?  Because Nick "disapproved of him from beginning to end" (p. 164).  I'm so intrigued by this!  And I don't know what to make of it.  Nick pretty clearly idolizes Gatsby -- I mean, he's writing down this whole story to memorialize him, in a way.  He idolized Gatsby, but he disapproved of Gatsby.  He disapproved of Tom and Daisy and Myrtle too, but we get that really clearly.  Do we get a sense throughout the book that he disapproves of Gatsby?  Or is Nick here trying to convince himself -- and us -- that he disapproved of him?  I don't even know!!!  I want to hear your thoughts.

But I suppose we ought to talk about Wilson a bit.  I'm always so moved by his speech about telling Myrtle that she can fool Wilson, but not God, and he's gesturing toward the billboard with the giant eyes.  They say there's truth in advertising... maybe sometimes advertisements can even inadvertently inspire people to realize true things?

Last thing.  I've always wondered if Gatsby was considering committing suicide by drowning himself.  Has that occurred to anyone else?  He's never used that pool all summer, but he decides to use it now.  I feel like maybe he decided to hang out in the pool until he lost all hope of Daisy ever calling him, and then, if he wanted, he could just slide off his inflatable raft thing and never resurface.

Favorite Lines:

He was clutching at some last hope and I couldn't bear to shake him free (p. 157).

At the grey tea hour there were always rooms that throbbed incessantly with this low, sweet fever, while fresh faces drifted here and there like rose petals blown by the sad horns around the floor (p. 160).

Possible Discussion Questions:

What do you think Gatsby meant when he said, "In any case, it was just personal" (p. 162)?

Nick says that Gatsby "paid a high price for living too long with a single dream" (p. 172).  Do you think that was Gatsby's real problem, that he couldn't let go of a dream and find a new one?  Or that he only had one instead of several?

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Great Gatsby Read-Along: Chapter VII

Oh, I hate this chapter.

It's not even Myrtle's death that makes me hate it, it's that horrible scene in the hotel room.  It's so claustrophobic, so sickening somehow -- I had to force myself to read it today, and it made me feel nauseated.  Ugh.

The power in Fitzgerald's writing is staggering sometimes!

I really hate heat, and unremitting, dauntless heat like he describes here is just abominable, to me.  I would not have fared well before air conditioning was invented.  Or I would have moved to Alaska at long last.  So that's part of it.  And Fitzgerald really makes the heat vivid and real, doesn't he?  

This is such a long chapter that I can only touch on some things that interested me.  Like Daisy and Tom's daughter, and the way her presence strips another of Gatsby's illusions away from him.  Nick says, "I don't think he had ever really believed in its existence before" (p. 123).  But there she stands, undeniable, tangible evidence of Daisy and Tom's marriage.  He can't erase a child like he thinks he can erase past events.

Jordan says that "Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall" (p. 125), which echoes Nick's stating at the very beginning of the chapter that he held to "that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer" (p. 4).  I'm pretty sure there are some interesting conclusions we could draw about their different personalities and roles in the story, based on these two statements, but I've yet to figure out what I think about them.  You?

One thing I'd like to delve a little more into here is Daisy's voice.  Gatsby says, "Her voice is full of money" (p. 127).   Nick thinks that's exactly right.  But all through the book he's been describing it in musical terms.  There he says it  has "jingle" and "the cymbals' song."  Earlier, he said that "each speech is an arrangement of notes that will never be played again" (p. 10).  Nick talked about Daisy's voice "glowing and singing" (p. 15), her words "running together in a soothing tune" (p. 19).  And at the end of chapter five, he said of the way Gatsby was watching Daisy, "I think that voice held him most, with its fluctuating, feverish warmth, because it couldn't be over-dreamed -- that voice was a deathless song" (p. 102).  Wow.  That must be some voice!

Moving right along, we go back to that whole issue of appearances.  Tom insists Gatsby's not an Oxford man because he wears a pink suit.  What you look like on the outside is a kind of code for who you are and where you've been, what you've done.

I'm not the only one feeling ill.  Wilson is literally sickened by the discovery that Myrtle has been unfaithful.  I like Nick's observations when he realizes that both Wilson and Tom have undergone the same experience, finding their wives love another man, but they respond to it so differently.  Wilson is almost destroyed by it, but Tom is emboldened, in a way.  He's convinced it's perfectly all right for him to be running around with another man's wife, but when it's his wife who's been touched by another man, it's Very Wrong.  (And I think we can assume that all those afternoon visits Daisy's been paying Gatsby have involved sex.  He wouldn't have fired all his servants to stop gossip if there was nothing more going on than a game of chess and a glass of tea.)

So we go to the city and have a horrible time, everyone uncomfortable physically and emotionally, and finally Tom and Gatsby have things out a bit.  Tom calls him "Mr. Nobody from Nowhere" (p. 137), and I feel like he's really taken Gatsby's measure by this point.  I'd like to say Tom is all wrong about everything because I don't like Tom, but really, he knows what's going on AND he knows what the worst possible thing to say to Gatsby would be.  Gatsby has spent his adult life proving to himself and everyone else that he is Somebody... but it's just pretending.  The same as he's pretending to himself that Daisy has loved him all this time -- and only him, never Tom.  He makes a last-ditch effort to wipe away the past and rewrite their lives, but reality won't let him.

During the horrible fight at the hotel, Jordan and Nick try to leave, but Tom and Gatsby insist they stay, and Nick says they behave as if "it would be a privilege to partake vicariously of their emotions" (p. 138).  Isn't that kind of what we're doing, as readers?  Watching these people, and vicariously experiencing their emotions?  Such an interesting thought.

And it's Nick's birthday.  He's thirty now.  

Then we have the tragic accident.  The mini-climax that sets the events of the last couple chapters in motion.  Myrtle is struck and killed by Daisy driving Gatsby's car.  You know how I've said (in comments, anyway) that Gatsby is fascinatingly unknowable?  So indistinct -- we think we know something about him, and then we see more and find what we thought we knew wasn't quite right.  I've even looked up the MBTI typing for him, and I've found him typed as an ISFJ, INFJ, INFP, INTJ, ISFP, and ENFJ -- there's almost no consensus, aside from most people agreeing he's an introvert.  He's like a mirage, isn't he?  Even his car is hard for people in the story to see distinctly -- the only eyewitness to the accident thinks it was light green.  This fascinates me as a writer.  I keep trying to figure out how Fitzgerald accomplished this, but nope, haven't yet.

Anyway, there's a tragedy, then Nick and Tom go back to the Buchanan estate.  Tom and Jordan go inside, but Nick starts to walk home, only to find Gatsby lurking in the shrubbery.  Now, I personally think it's really sweet and gallant and noble of him to have rigged up this signal with Daisy about turning lights on and off if Tom gets violent toward her, so Gatsby can rush in and save her.  Sure, it would soothe Gatsby's ego to play the hero, but the truth is, Tom is fully capable of hurting Daisy.  He broke Myrtle's nose just because she was being annoying.  And remember at the verrrrrrrrry beginning of the book, when Nick when over to the Buchanan's that first time?  Daisy shows Nick and Jordan her little finger, and "the knuckle was black and blue" (p. 13).  She tells Tom he did it, then adds, "I know you didn't mean to, but you did do it" (p. 13).  Man, if that doesn't sound like an abusive relationship, what does?  The abuser is so often very penitent afterward, and insists that hurting the other person was an accident, or not the abuser's fault -- I would be very afraid for Daisy, if I were Nick and Gatsby.  Nick doesn't see it, but maybe he's just not run into that sort of behavior before, whereas Gatsby has had a much rougher life, and knows what's possible?  I don't know.  Nick does go back to see if there's anything untoward going inside, but all he sees are Tom and Daisy sitting companionably together, with the sort of "natural intimacy" (p. 154) that comes from belonging together.

So we leave Gatsby there, "watching over nothing" (p. 155), just like he's been dreaming about nothing and working toward nothing all this time.  Oh, poor Gatsby and his rapidly evaporating illusions!


Favorite Lines:

Over the ashheaps the giant eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg kept their vigil (p. 131).

They were gone, without a word, snapped out, made accidental, isolated, like ghosts, even from our pity (p. 143).

Before me stretched the portentous, menacing road of a new decade (p. 143).

So we drove on toward death through the cooling twilight (p. 144).


Possible Discussion Questions:

Nick thinks Tom was afraid Daisy and Gatsby "would dart down a side street and out of his life forever" (p. 133).  Do you think there was ever a possibility of that happening?

Daisy tells Gatsby he wants too much -- that her loving him now should be enough.  Why do you think Gatsby is incapable of accepting just her love of the present?

Nick says that "Human sympathy has its limits" (p. 144).  What does he mean by that?  Do you agree with him?

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Great Gatsby Read-Along: Chapter VI

This chapter begins amusingly enough, with little tales of Gatsby's notoriety -- my favorite being that "he didn't live in a house at all, but in a boat that looked like a house and was moved secretly up and down the Long Island shore" (p. 103).  That cracks me up.

But we quickly move to more serious stuff, particularly the true story of Gatsby's background.  Or, more truthfully, what Nick Carraway believes is the truth about him, that he was in fact a nobody named James Gatz who reinvented himself as Jay Gatsby and has been ever since living as "the sort of Jay Gatsby that a seventeen-year-old boy would be likely to invent" (p. 104).

I did this as a teenager, did you?  Make up a different version of myself who was all the things I wasn't, and imagine all kinds of great stuff about myself.  Like I was a movie star who made films with all my favorite real-life movie stars.  Or I owned a giant ranch back in the Old West and employed all my favorite fictional cowboys from all kinds of old TV shows and movies.  Great fun.  

But I never did what James Gatz did.  I never tried to actually live out one of my dream lives.  I was happy enough in my real life that I contentedly left my pretending inside my head.  James Gatz was not.  Maybe that's because my parents are very loving people who raised me in a comfortable middle-class lifestyle, while Gatsby's parents "were shiftless and unsuccessful farm people" (p. 104).  Or maybe it's just that I'm a completely different sort of person than he was -- I'm content to spin amazing fantasies to this day, but I don't feel the need to experience them.  

Random thing:  that "small Lutheran college of St. Olaf's in southern Minnesota" (p. 105) where Gatsby attended for two week -- it really exists.  I know, because I myself attended a small Lutheran college in a different southern Minnesota city.  Cowboy was on our debate team, and he debated people from St. Olaf's.  I've been on the campus once or twice, though I forget why.

Anyway, James Gatz became Jay Gatsby one fateful day when he rescued a rich dude named Dan Cody who anchored his yacht in the wrong part of Lake Superior.  


(Alan Ladd and Henry Hull in the 1949 movie version)

 Dan Cody basically adopted Gatsby, introduced him to the finer things of life, and taught him to run with the rich folks.  But all those years with Cody couldn't teach Gatsby quite how to fit in with born-to-riches people, as we see in this chapter when Tom arrives with some pals at Gatsby's mansion.  Gatsby's too eager, too pleased -- he keeps saying he's delighted they're there, and so on.  Nick notes, "As though they cared!" (p. 108).  I think that's such a very, very telling line.  Nick himself was born in the upper classes, though to a family that worked their way up there.  Nick knows Tom and his pals don't care.  Gatsby doesn't know.  And Gatsby cares too much -- that's a big part of why he doesn't quite mesh in that world, I think.  Gatsby cares too much.  He hasn't learned to shrug life off, to be content with boredom.  He keeps reaching, keeps yearning, keeps needing.

And he's oblivious to the fact that this woman carelessly invited him to her dinner party, but has no desire to have him there.  He thinks an invitation means you're wanted.  After all, when he invited Nick over, it was because he wanted Nick to be there.  Gatsby misses out on social cues because he's not from that same level of society.  If he married someone and they had kids, their kids would likely turn out like Nick -- knowing how to move in this rich world.  But even coming into that higher society as a teen was too late for Gatsby to learn everything.

Then Tom and Daisy go to one of Gatsby's parties, and it's a disaster.  Nothing goes right, no one enjoys themselves -- Gatsby's dream of having Daisy at his side is one step closer, but it's not the way he imagined it.  What had been fun and amusing at the last party "turned septic on the air now" (p. 113), even for Nick.

Interestingly, it's not Gatsby alone who misunderstands something in this chapter.  He has his socially awkward mistake earlier, but at the party, it's Daisy who fails to understand the fun that people are having.  She's "appalled by its raw vigour that chafed under the old euphemisms" (p. 114) -- she's from the traditional, moneyed world that is rapidly falling to the wayside in the wake of Modern Life.  

I love how Nick jumps to Gatsby's defense when Tom says he must be a bootlegger.  I do identify a lot with Nick in this book, I've come to realize.  That swift loyalty, especially.

And at last, we get to Gatsby's very, very famous proclamation about time.  "'Can't repeat the past?' he cried incredulously.  'Why of course you can!'"(p. 117).  Gatsby's convinced himself that, by the sheer force of his own will, he can erase what happened before and start over again with Daisy.  After all, he's acquired this fortune, this house, this fame just because he decided to -- why shouldn't he be able to get the life he's dreamed up for himself and Daisy too, just because he decided to?  

Last thought.  In the structure of a play, at least in the classical structure, there's always a climax, also called a crisis, which is basically the point of no return.  The one spot where something happens, and everything after that will be determined by that one action.  Hamlet believing the Ghost.  Ilsa walking into Rick's bar.  Frodo standing up and saying he will take the ring to Mordor.  Everything after is a result of that decision.  Literature quite often has that spot too, and you could argue that for The Great Gatsby, the climax was in the previous chapter, when Gatsby sees Daisy again.  Or even when Nick agrees to have Daisy over to tea.  But I think you could also argue that no, the climax for this story happened five years before it began.  It could have been "when he kissed this girl, and forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath" (p. 118).  Everything that happened after that, including all of this book, was set into motion that one night, with that one kiss.  What do you think?  That can be one of our Possible Discussion Questions for today.

Favorite Lines:

It is invariably saddening to look through new eyes at things upon which you have expended your own powers of adjustment (p. 111).

(More) Possible Discussion Questions:

When Tom appears at Gatsby's for a drink, Nick says that "the really surprising thing was that it hadn't happened before" (p. 108).  What do you suppose Nick means by that?

Why doesn't Tom want to me known as "the polo player" at Gatsby's party? 

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Great Gatsby Read-Along: Chapter V

(Yup, this is the cover on the giant book
Alan Ladd is reading in my blog header.)
Anybody else tempted to just quit reading after this chapter?  I'm not going to, but I have to say... this chapter is like that breathless moment at the top of the roller coaster's first hill, where the train pauses for just an instant or two and hangs in between anticipation and the wild ride.  Sometimes I want to just stay right there, where the ride is ahead and the waiting is behind me.

But, like when I ride a roller coaster, I feel compelled to continue.  This IS my favorite chapter, though.

There's rather a lot of humor in this chapter.  Nick makes a lot of funny little observations, like that he suspected Gatsby meant it was Nick's lawn that needed mowing, not his own.  Or that "at two o'clock a greenhouse arrived from Gatsby's" (p.89) instead of that he sent over way too many flowers.  Or when he makes all the noise he can in the kitchen, "short of pushing over the stove" (p. 94).  I have "hee" written in the margins over and over.

At the same time, Nick... what are you doing?  You're reintroducing your married cousin to your basically unknown neighbor.  To the guy who assures you he's not nobody, but who has connections with people you find distasteful and is rumored to be involved in criminal activity.  You're grossed out by Tom's philandering, but you're going to facilitate Daisy getting her own boyfriend?  Sure, Gatsby hasn't actually propositioned her, not in so many words, but you know he's in love with her.  You know his big house and big parties, even his friendship with you -- they're all just so he can get close to Daisy.  He doesn't just want to play croquet or share shrimp cocktail recipes, he wants Daisy.  You know this, and you make it all possible.

I cannot and will not condone Nick's behavior.  But I think I can understand it.  Which makes me feel a lot like Nick, because he understands Gatsby's yearning for Daisy so intuitively, so empathetically.  I like to think I'd behave differently than Nick if I were in his place, but the truth is, when you're friends with someone and you see them going down the wrong path, it's very hard to stand up and say, "Stop."  And when they're someone you aren't actually quite friends with, but they're also not a stranger -- that can make it harder, somehow.  For me, anyway.  Like, "Who are you to tell me I shouldn't do this?"  And sometimes, you don't realize until later how serious things were getting, that you even needed to try stopping someone or something.

I'm rambling.  I'm sorry.  I have a lot of stuff tumbling around in my head about this chapter, and I'm having trouble getting it sorted out.  Doesn't help that I read it yesterday and then kept putting off writing about it because writing about it means I need to move on to the next chapter soon.

Okay, I'll try to focus.

Nick is a very empathetic person, isn't he?  Like when he has been waiting and waiting with Gatsby for Daisy to show up, and then he gets all jumpy and says he was feeling "a little harrowed myself" (p. 90), like he'd caught Gatsby's nerves.  He's not just understanding Gatsby's emotions, he's sharing them.  I think this is probably why people keep telling him their woes, as he complained of back in chapter one.  They can tell he will share their feelings, keep them company in their misery or their joy or their confusion, even if he doesn't fully understand or agree with them.

Mostly, I spend this chapter feeling alternately sorry and happy for Gatsby.  And then marveling at how Fitzgerald has gotten me to be so sympathetic with this guy who is making a play for another man's wife.  I mean, the poor guy, "pale as death, with his hands plunged like weights into his coat pockets, was standing in a puddle of water glaring tragically into my eyes" (p. 91).  If that doesn't bring a lump into your throat, what will?

It's so interesting that, once Nick's housekeeper/cook brings in the tea things, Nick says "a certain physical decency established itself" (p. 94).  That word "decency" is put there so deliberately.  "Look," it says, "we're all innocently drinking tea.  Nothing going on that shouldn't be."  Methinks the narrator doth protest too much.

Gatsby admits as much.  He calls it all "a terrible, terrible mistake" (p. 93).  How different the rest of the book would have been if Nick had just nodded and agreed.

So why on earth do I love this chapter?  Because of all the juicy, rich emotions, of course.  Everyone's opening up and pouring out the feelings and the hurt and the joy and the hope and the agony, and I want to scoop them all up and squeeze them and let them ooze out from between my fingers.  When emotions get tactile like this, I can't get enough.

And Gatsby goes from that tragic image of agony to the epitome of joy.  "He literally glowed; without a word or a gesture of exultation a new well-being radiated from him and filled the little room" (p. 95).  Oh, I just love it.  We get one of my favorite lines of the whole book next:  "When he realized what I was talking about, that there were twinkle-bells of sunshine in the room, he smiled like a weather man, like an ecstatic patron of recurrent light" (p. 95).  I'm not entirely sure why, but that line makes me happy.

As long as we stay at Nick's, all is light and joy.  But when they go to Gatsby's, already things begin to unravel a little.  Gatsby starts to realize that achieving the things you dream about is not always as wonderful as you expect.  Nick finds a lot of significance in the way Gatsby talks about the green light at the end of Daisy's dock -- and English Lit professors have spent a lot of years doing the same.  But I think that Nick's right, that Gatsby considered that light to be enchanted because of the promise it represented.  It meant being close to his dream... but not having it yet.  Now he has it.  Now he doesn't need the green light anymore.  It's hard to let go of things that we've bestowed a lot of meaning on.  I know, because I attach memories to physical objects, and then I have a terrible time getting rid of them because I feel like I'll be getting rid of my memories too.  Not quite the same thing Gatsby's going through here, but a little bit similar.

If I had to sum up this book in one word, it would be 'disillusionment.'  Gatsby's starting to taste that.  Soon others will too.

There's some odd stuff going on here too, though.  Like Nick's little aside when he's talking about the history of Gatsby's house.  He says that "Americans, while willing, even eager, to be serfs, have always been obstinate about being peasantry" (p. 94).  Innnnnnnnnnnteresting.  This book, like its titular character, is pretty obsessed with the disparity between rich and poor, and this might be the most blatant statement we get from Nick about that.

Klipspringer's song choices reinforce the whole rich-vs-poor thing too.  First he plays "The Love Nest."  I looked up the lyrics, and part of the song says "Better than a palace with a gilded dome/Is a love nest/You can call home."  His next selection, "Ain't We Got Fun" is even more direct, because Fitzgerald includes some specific lyrics, the ones about what the rich and the poor get.  Gatsby's got money, but he's not the same as Daisy and Nick and Tom and Jordan.  He's "new money," nouveau riche, and He Does Not Fit In.  No matter how much he wants to.  No matter how much he might deserve to.

By the way, if you're wondering what on earth "liver exercises" are, the things Klipspringer is doing when Gatsby takes Nick and Daisy on a tour of his home -- I have no idea.  If you Google it, you'll get a ton of references to this book, and a bunch of people's guesses that it has to do with either having a fatty liver or a liver damaged by alcohol, but what sort of exercises they are, no clue.  If you dig up some real info on it, please let me know!

Favorite Lines:

The exhilarating ripple of her voice was a wild tonic in the rain (p. 90).


It was the hour of a profound human change, and excitement was generating on the air (p. 101).

No amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man can store up in his ghostly heart (p. 102).

Possible Discussion Questions:


Why does Daisy start crying when Gatsby shows off all his shirts?  It's clearly not because they're beautiful.  But then, why?

Monday, June 12, 2017

"Bookworm Journal: A Reading Log for Kids... and Their Parents"

Here's a book I thought some of my friends who are parents might be interested in, especially with school being done (or almost done) and people looking for something fun to help their kids keep reading during the summer.  



I bought the Bookworm Journal from Amazon last year to help encourage Sarah as she learned to read.  We used it all through first grade, about once a week.  She would read a book aloud with me, later on to me, and we'd fill out the journal together.  Sam thought it looked fun and asked for one too, so I got him his own to use for book reports.

Every page has a little tear-off corner at the bottom that says something cute about books.  You finish the entry for a book, you tear off the corner, and you can see the bookworm chomp his way through the journal.


It starts out with a little question-and-answer section, a page for info about the reader, and then a page for info you make up about the bookworm.  Here's what Sarah answered for hers:


That's my handwriting above, not hers, but she drew the picture.

Here's how Sam filled out the pages about his reading habits.  I made him use cursive in his book because I have a hard time getting him to practice his cursive, so this was a fun thing for him to practice in instead of just copying words in a workbook.


Here's one of Sam's reviews.  You can see that for each book, you get a page to fill out about the book, and then a page of something creative.  Sometimes it's drawing, like this one:


Sometimes it asks you to list new words you encountered in the book, or explain who your favorite character was in it, or put down your ideas for what happens next after the book you read, like here:


They even provide a couple of sturdy bookmarks at the back:


We're all done with school, but I'll be using these journals again this fall to help encourage both Sam and Sarah to think about what they read, not just passively let the words flow in and out of their brains.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Great Gatsby Read-Along: Chapter IV

I need you to know up-front that I have been awake since 4:40am, and I have hosted a yard sale with 4 of my friends from 6am to noon, and my feet hurt a lot.  Also, I have not had as much caffeine as I would like.  You've been warned.

I mean, we open with the sentence, "On Sunday morning while church bells rang in the village alongshore, the world and its mistress returned to Gatsby's house and twinkled hilariously on his lawn" (p. 64).  Well, if that's not an indictment of the moral hollowness of these people, I don't know what is.  Of course, it seems Nick's one of those worldly folk and there at Gatsby's, not in church.  Tsk tsk.

Interesting that Gatsby is so restless, isn't it?  "He was never quite still" (p. 67).  I think that's an outward sign of his inner discontent, his constant searching and yearning and needing.

It's also interesting that the one point of Gatsby's narrative that Nick doesn't question at all is his assertion that San Francisco is part of the Middle West, as they call it here?  I mean, dude, Nick is a Midwesterner himself.  He surely knows Frisco is on the West Coast.  Gatsby ought to know that too, come to think of it.  Why does he say that city, not some innocuous, actual-Midwestern city like, I don't know, Minneapolis or Omaha?  The more we think we learn about Gatsby, the less we actually know about him.  It's like we keep trying to walk toward him, but he keeps moving away from us, so we never see him any more clearly.

But Gatsby tells Nick something during that car ride that I think is absolutely true, and a huge piece of understanding why he does the things he does all through this story.  He says, "I didn't want you to think I was just some nobody" (p. 71).  Gatsby seems, to me, to be striving constantly to be somebody.  This will come up again toward the end -- I'm thinking of a specific line of Tom's -- but even here it's so telling, isn't it?

And Nick doesn't really shine in this chapter, does he?  I mean, he says, "I was sure the request would be something utterly fantastic, and for a moment I was sorry I'd ever set foot upon his over-populated lawn" (p. 71).  Dude, you think Gatsby's all cool until he asks you for a favor, and then you don't want to bother with him?  I mean, how utterly fantastic could it be?  You think he wants to have you impersonate him at the next party?  Swim with sharks?  Marry his sister, supposing he has one?  Nick, Nick, Nick.  I'm not very pleased with you in this chapter.  But I know I'm cranky and tired, so maybe that's part of it.

So then there's this guy Wolfshiem.  He's like a bad caricature stepped out of a different story into this one, isn't he?  Like he just came from rehearsing The Merchant of Venice and forgot to get out of character or something.  This chapter is one of the places Nick really feels like a piece of a faraway world, with his casually derogatory attitude toward blacks and Jews.  So much of this book feels current, doesn't it?  But not this.  Maybe we have progressed a little over the past almost-hundred years.

There are two instances in this chapter of people making weird judgement calls about other people, ones we either already know to be erroneous, or will learn by the end of the chapter are off.  First, Gatsby says that Jordan Baker is "a great sportswoman, you know, and she'd never do anything that wasn't all right" (p. 75), but Nick already told us in the last chapter that Jordan is a habitual liar and has possibly cheated at golf.  So either Gatsby doesn't know much about Jordan, or he thinks Nick doesn't.  And then Mr. Wolfsheim says Gatsby "would never so much as look at a friend's wife" (p. 76), and yet, by the end of the chapter, we know he wants to meet up with Daisy semi-secretly.

But then again, Daisy's not "a friend's wife," I guess.  He does shake hands with Tom when Nick introduces them, but then he slips away.  You know, the more I think about it, the more I think Gatsby refuses to know more about a person than fits into the narrative he's pre-constructed.  Nick = helpful = friend = trustworthy, because Gatsby needs him to be.  Jordan = sportswoman = honorable = trustworthy, because Gatsby needs her to be.  Tom = embarrassing = bad = disposable, because Gatsby needs him to be.  Anything that doesn't fit with his idea of how things should go, he discards or ignores.

Poor, poor Jay Gatsby, living in his dream world.

Favorite Lines:

He lifted up the words and nodded at them -- with his smile (p. 70).

Over the great bridge, with the sunlight through the girders making a constant flicker upon the movie cars, with the city rising up across the river in white heaps and sugar lumps all built with a wish out of nonolfactory money (p. 72).

He came alive to me, delivered suddenly from the womb of his purposeless splendor (p. 83).

Possible Discussion Questions:

What is up with this gigantic list of all the people who went to Gatsby's parties while Nick lived next door to him that summer?  Why did Nick write it down in the first place?  What compels him to share it with us?  And why, if this story takes place only a year or two earlier than when Nick writes it down, is that list so worn out it's "disintegrating at its folds" (p. 64)? 

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Great Gatsby Read-Along: Chapter III

Time to admit that my plan for reading this is not going the way I'd hoped.  I'd planned to read a chapter of So We Read On one day, a chapter of Careless People the next, and a chapter of The Great Gatsby the third, at which point I would post about the chapter and whatever I'd learned from the other two books.  Alas, real life has intervened, in the form of first all my kids getting a cold, then me catching it from them.  Also, the other two books are WAY more dense and meaty than I was expecting, and I'm taking a lot longer to read them than I'd anticipated.  So I will continue to share things from them when I get the chance, but I'm going to be concentrating more on the book at hand than on them.  Okay?  I WILL finish reading them and review them eventually.

On to chapter three.  So, there's this misconception (at least, I feel like it's out there) that this book glorifies partying.  That it's all about how cool it is to be getting drunk and dancing on tables and living it up during the Jazz Age.  Maybe it's because F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda were so famous for their hardy partying.  These are the folks who danced around in NYC fountains, rode on top of taxis instead of inside them, drank enough alcohol to water a herd of elephants (um, not that you feed liquor to elephants, but you know what I mean), and were rumored to be jumping in bed with people other than each other.  

Also, the party in this chapter starts out sounding pretty glam and fun, right?  "In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars" (p. 41).  People are eating, drinking, and being merry.  There's music and laughter.  The people "conducted themselves according to the rules of behaviour associated with an amusement park" (p. 43).  Party on, dudes!  Right?

But keep reading.  What happens to the party?  Does it stay fun?  Nope, it degenerates, just like the party at Tom & Myrtle's apartment in the city.  That small party ended in violence, with Tom breaking Myrtle's nose.  This one ends similarly.  "Most of the remaining women were now having fights with men said to be their husbands" (p. 55).  Then someone outside drives drunkenly into a wall.  Nick goes outside to investigate and finds everything in "violent confusion" (p. 57). 

Rather than glorifying the partying lifestyle, The Great Gatsby shows it as damaging, miserable, and empty.  Fitzgerald reportedly coined the phrase "the Jazz Age" to describe the early 1920s -- we also call them "the roaring twenties."  But Gertrude Stein coined a phrase for the people who had come of age during the Great War, aka WWI, which directly preceded this era.  She called them "the Lost Generation," and I find that phrase very accurate for this book, even literally so.  All the people at Gatsby's parties don't go there on purpose -- they wind up there accidentally, as if they were lost.

All except Nick.  Nick has an invitation.  Nick is different.  He participates in the revelry a little, but mostly he just watches, observes, wonders.  

Somebody else is doing the same, namely Jay Gatsby himself.  He's not drinking.  He's not partying.  He's watching everyone else party.  It's like he and Nick are the audience, his home is a big set on stage, and all the party-goers are actors.  


Okay, a few other notes.  The color yellow crops up several times again, and blue does too.  And again we see Nick's aversion to being alone -- because he doesn't know anyone there at first, he goes over to the cocktail table because it's "the only place in the garden where a single man could linger without looking purposeless and alone" (p. 44).  He not only doesn't like being alone, he doesn't want to be seen being alone.  When he spots Jordan Baker, he runs over to her because he "found it necessary to attach [him]self to someone" (p. 45).  

That's one of the things that endears Nick to me, though -- he's got just enough insecurity to feel and act vulnerable and naive.  I have not attended very many parties.  Certainly, I've never attended a bacchanal like this.  But I've gone to big gatherings where I only knew maybe one person, and things like that make me miserable.  (Ask Cowboy how unhappy I was over the prospect of going to a get-together of fellow graduates of our alma mater earlier this year -- a shindig where not only would he be there with me, but also my brother and his wife, and a couple we are friends with at church.  And I wailed and moaned and dreaded it.)  So I don't blame him for being desperate to find someone he knew, and attaching himself to Jordan once he found her.  Not at all cool, but very relatable.

Annnnnnnnnd we finally, finally, finally meet Jay Gatsby!  With his magical smile, his "elaborate formality of speech" (p. 51), and his repetitive catchphrase, "old sport."  It's been clear since the beginning of the book that Nick idolizes Gatsby.  Now he spends several sentences just describing Gatsby's smile, and also several on how he speaks.  I wonder how much his admiration of Gatsby colors what he tells us about the man.  Although Nick insists at the end of the chapter that he is "one of the few honest people [he] has ever known" p. 63), I suspect he might omit some things and gloss over others, perhaps even unknowingly, so as not to tarnish the image of Gatsby he's constructing for us.

Either that, or Gatsby really was, well, great.

There's that gorgeous moment at the end when the party breaks up -- "A sudden emptiness seemed to flow now from the windows and the great doors, endowing with complete isolation the figure of the host, who stood on the porch, his hand up in a formal gesture of farewell" (p. 59).  I wonder if Nick idolizes Gatsby a bit because Gatsby is willing to be so very alone, something Nick doesn't seem to like?

Nick's tendency to watch rather than participate crops up again at the end of the chapter.  He says he likes New York because "I liked to walk up fifth Avenue and pick out romantic women from the crowd and imagine that in a few minutes I was going to enter into their lives, and no one would ever know or disapprove.  Sometimes, in my mind, I followed them to their apartments on the corners of hidden streets, and they turned and smiled back at me before they faded through a door into warm darkness" (p. 60).  Whoa, Nick -- getting a little creepy and voyeuristic there, dude!  I'm glad he specifies he only follows them in his mind, because otherwise, yikes, not okay.

And then there's his opinion of Jordan.  Nick says she's "incurably dishonest" (p. 62).  Yikes, that's quite the condemnation.  He says he doesn't care... but he mentions it, spends time discussing it, so yeah, he totally cares that she's a liar.  

Favorite Lines (that I haven't already quoted):

The lights grow brighter as the earth lurches away from the sun, and now the orchestra is playing yellow cocktail music, and the opera of voices pitches a key higher.  Laughter is easier minute by minute, spilled with prodigality, tipped out at a cheerful word (p. 42-43).

It was testimony to the romantic speculation he inspired that there were whispers about him from those who had found little that it was necessary to whisper about in this world (p. 47).

Possible Discussion Questions:

Do you think Gatsby knew the Nick didn't realize who he was?  Why would he hang out with Nick a while before introducing himself?  And what might this tell us about Gatsby?