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?

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: In Honor of D-Day

This week's prompt from The Broke and the Bookish is "Top Ten Books From X Genre That I've Recently Added To My TBR List."  Because today is the 73rd anniversary of the D-Day invasion of Normandy, France in 1944, I'm going to list off the Top Ten WWII-Related Books On My TBR List.

Agent Zigzag by Ben Macintyre

American Women and WWII by Doris Weatherford

The Bitter Road to Dachau by Robert L. Wise

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Dear Enemy by Jack Cavanaugh

Lipstick and Lies by Margit Leische

Saving Amelie by Cathy Gohlke

Since You Went Away... Letters to a Soldier from His Wife by Margaret Buell Wilder

Warriors of the Forgotten Front by L. Craig Johnson

With Every Letter by Sarah Sundin

I think that's a nice mix of non-fiction and fiction, don't you?  I have about ten more books on my TBR list that deal with WWII, and it was tricky narrowing it down to the ten I most want to read.

I had a great-uncle who hit the beaches at Normandy 73 years ago.  Though he's passed away, I'd like to dedicate this post to him, and to all the other brave soldiers who participated in that extraordinary invasion.  The world is a better place because of them.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Great Gatsby Read-Along: Chapter II

Gatsby may be "the man who gives his name to this book" (p. 2), but he's nowhere to be found in this chapter.  Oh, he does get name-checked, but we spend this chapter learning about the very broken people living near Gatsby, and near Nick.  And we learn some interesting stuff about Nick too.

So what is up with this Tom Buchanan guy, huh?  He's met Nick a couple of times over the years, and today he invites Nick to go hang out with him and his mistress, Myrtle, in their little love nest in the city.  Just like he brings Myrtle to restaurants to force his friends and acquaintances to acknowledge that he has a mistress, he has to flaunt her in front of Nick too.  I get the feeling that Tom is somehow trying to show everyone how powerful he is -- he has the power and right to have a mistress, and no one can stop him.  Which makes me suspect he's trying to convince himself of his power, more than anyone else.

And what's up with Nick, come to think of it?  He's Daisy's cousin, for Pete's sake, but he gets invited to hang out with her husband's twinkie-in-the-city?  I mean, he gives us readers the distinct impression that he finds this whole Tom-has-a-mistress thing distasteful, even icky, but he totally goes along with Tom and Myrtle to their place.  He says he wants to leave, but when he gets sent out to buy cigarettes, thus being given the perfect exit -- he could just take the train home -- he comes back.  And he doesn't just come back, he hangs out in the living room alone while Tom and Myrtle get it on elsewhere in the apartment.  Later, he insists, "I wanted to get out" (p. 37), but every time he tries to leave, people get in an argument and he ends up staying, so I'm not all that convinced that he actually wants to leave.

I see Nick as an observer.  He's happier watching life than participating in it, I think.  He finds Tom and Myrtle yucky, but he wants to watch them.  He'd rather watch people having an affair than have one himself -- remember in the last chapter, he said he'd recently abandoned a relationship with a woman people thought he was going to marry.  It's like he finds life and relationships messy and weird, and doesn't want to touch them, but he also finds them fascinating and wants to look at them.

And I think Nick also hates being alone.  He's almost always hanging out with someone else in this book.  He was supposed to be sharing his rented house with someone, but that person decided at the last minute not to live there, so now he's lonely.  So he gravitates toward people.  He's got nobody else to be with that day, so he stays with Tom and Myrtle and their increasingly drunken bunch of pals rather than go home alone.

As for Myrtle, I feel very sorry for her.  She doesn't respect her husband, she clearly only likes Tom because he gives her a good time and has lots of money, and nobody takes her seriously.  And then to top it off, her "sweetie" (as Myrtle's sister Catherine calls him) is an abusive drunk who breaks her nose.  Why?  Because she wouldn't do as he said and stop saying his wife's name.  Tom wants to control everyone and everything -- remember how he moved Nick around like a checker on a checkerboard in chapter one?  At the beginning of this chapter, Nick says, "his determination to have my company bordered on violence" (p. 25).  If people don't willingly do as Tom says, he will make them do it.  Swell guy Daisy married.

So anyway, one theme in this book that intrigues me is the idea that appearances are deceiving.  Nick appears to want to leave, but really he wants to stay.  Myrtle married Mr. Wilson because she "thought he was a gentleman" (p. 37), but when it turned out that he married her wearing a rented tuxedo, she realizes he wasn't what she thought.  His appearance deceived her.  Myrtle appears to want to own a dog, but really she just wants to show off to Nick that she can get Tom to buy her anything she wants.  We'll see this theme crop up again.

Have you been paying attention to the colors used in this book?  Blue and yellow get mentioned a lot, often together.  So do red and white --  Tom and Daisy live in a red-and-white house, and here Myrtle's sister has red hair and a white complexion.  And we get two instances of blue and yellow being paired up.  First is that freaky billboard with the giant eyes.  Giant blue eyes behind giant yellow spectacles, peering out at the world in silent omniscience.  Second is Mr. Wilson, Myrtle's husband, who has blond hair and light blue eyes.  Not entirely sure why these colors get paired up a lot, unless it's pointing to a certain blue car and a certain yellow car that will be important later on?  Any ideas?

Favorite Lines:

At 158th Street the cab stopped at one slice in a long white cake of apartment-houses (p. 30).

I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life" (p. 38).

Possible Discussion Questions:

Myrtle tells Nick that her sister Catherine is "said to be beautiful by people who ought to know" (p. 30).  Similarly, Jay Gatsby is said to be "great" by Nick Carraway, a person we assume ought to know.  We spend this whole book being told about people by Nick, rather than seeing them for ourselves.  Why do you think Fitzgerald chose to filter his characters through a narrator this way?  How would the story be different if it were told in third person?

From the 1949 film version starring Alan Ladd as Jay Gatsby

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Great Gatsby Read-Along: Chapter I

(The original cover image)
Yes!  Here we are at last, ready to embark on our voyage of learning about dreams, disillusionment, love, and loss.

Sounds cheerful, doesn't it?

So while I'm reading this, I'm also reading So We Read On:  How The Great Gatsby Came to be and Why it Endures by Maureen Corrigan, and I'm going to dip into Careless People:  Murder, Mayhem, and the Invention of The Great Gatsby by Sarah Churchwell too.  I had hoped to have at least one of those finished before I started this read-along, but other reading commitments got in the way, so whatever, let's just start this!

No wait, first I need to let any newcomers know how this works.  I'll post about each individual chapter, about one every three days.  You can read my thoughts before or after you read the chapter, it doesn't matter.  I don't mark most smaller spoilers, though sometimes I'll mark major ones.  Comments are a free-for-all, and spoilers don't need to be marked there.  I will include discussion questions for you, and you are free to comment on them if you want to, or not.  You can comment about anything I wrote about in the post, your own thoughts on the chapter, lines you loved, stuff you've learned about this book, etc.  I encourage you to read and respond to each others' comments too!  We get some really cool discussions going that way.

Okay, NOW I'm going to dig into the book.

I had entirely forgotten that Nick Carraway, our narrator, is also from a wealthy family.  I remembered that he's a Midwesterner, though.  Perhaps that's what sets him apart from the other born-to-riches characters, rather than his monetary background?  Somehow, despite his time overseas during WWI and his restlessness after the war ended, he's also got this innate decency and honor and moral uprightness that most of the other characters lack.  I'm really very fond of Nick.  Can you tell?  (Yes, I'm also a Midwesterner born and bred, though like Nick, I don't live there all the time.)

Then there's Daisy, who comes from Southern money, like Fitzgerald's wife Zelda.  Daisy and Jordan spent their "white girlhood" in Louisville, KY (p. 19).  She's Nick's second cousin, and they barely know each other, but Nick gets invited into her life just the same.  I think because Daisy is bored, don't you?  Daisy and Tom and Jordan are all bored.  That's why Tom runs around on Daisy, why Jordan enters all these golfing competitions.  Why Daisy later jumps at the chance to get involved with Gatsby.  They're filthy rich, especially the Buchanans, and they have nothing at all they have to do, so they're bored.  Nick's not bored, because he's learning about stocks and bonds.  He comes from money, but not old money like Tom -- his grandfather's brother started the hardware business that Nick's father still manages today.  They're rich, but because they've worked for it, not because they were born into the lap of luxury, so to speak.

People call The Great Gatsby "The Great American Novel."  It's certainly great, particularly the way Fitzgerald puts sentences together.  I don't know about you, but I have underlined something in almost every single paragraph.  I've got notes in the margins and stars and hearts and circles.  I can't read this book quickly.  I have to savor the language as well as read for the plot and characters.

But it's also very American, isn't it?  This book delves deeply into the whole idea of "the American dream."  That someone can rise from poverty to wealth by dint of their own hard work.  That one person is equal to another person.  That it's each person's actions that determine their destiny.  We'll see all those ideas pulled apart, twisted, examined, and ultimately either rejected or accepted by the end of these nine short chapters.

Oh my goodness, I have So Many Things To Say about this chapter, and I can't even seem to get around to saying them!   Okay, I will try to get some of them down.  First posts for read-alongs are always kind of long, for me.

Isn't it interesting that Gatsby only barely makes it into the first chapter?  He gets mentioned at the beginning, name-checked in the middle, and then he appears wordlessly and almost unknown at the very end.  I love the way Nick describes him at the beginning, though:  "Gatsby, who represented everything for which I have an unaffected scorn" is also the possesser of "some heightened sensitivity to the promises of life," "an extraordinary gift for hope" (p. 2).  Gatsby should come off as a poser, as a wannabe, and instead, he's the most hopeful, romantic, responsive person Nick has ever met.  Such a paradox.  We're fascinated by him before we even see him in the full light of day.

One of the most famous lines in this book is what Daisy says she said about her daughter when she was first born:  "I hope she'll be a fool -- that's the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool" (p. 17).  Nick lets us know that she's somehow teasing or testing him with her whole "I'm so tired of the world" schtick, and yet, I think there's a lot of truth behind this declaration of hers.  I think Daisy wishes she were still "foolish," still young and innocent and trusting, with hopes and dreams that reality hadn't punctured yet.  She's married to an abusive philanderer.  She's got a daughter she barely sees.  She's bored.  How she must look back at the past, at herself in her beautiful girlhood, and wish she was still that happy and carefree and trusting.  Foolish, but happy.

And at the end of the chapter, we get that indelible image of Jay Gatsby standing alone at the back of his mansion.  There he is, "stretch[ing] out his arms toward the dark water in a curious way" (p. 20), reaching for that "single green light" across the water.  Or is he reaching for the water itself?  In So We Read On, Maureen Corrigan writes, "Almost every page of the novel references water.... Fitzgerald didn't just stick his toes in the water here; in this, his most perfect meditation on the American dream and its deadly undertow, he dives in and goes for broke" (p. 36).  Be on the look-out for all the places that water is mentioned and is important!  (Mild SPOILER here)  Gatsby's supposed to be reaching ineffectually for that green light, but the book specifically says he's stretching his arms "toward the dark water."  If you know how this book ends, this really seems like a bit of foreshadowing, doesn't it? 

Favorite Lines:

Instead of the warm center of the world, the Middle West now seemed like the ragged edge of the universe (p. 3).

I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer (p. 4).

A breeze blew through the room, blew curtains in at one end and out the other like pale flags, twisting them up toward the frosted wedding-cake of the ceiling, and then rippled over the wine-colored rug, making a shadow on it as a wind does on the sea (p. 8).

It was the kind of voice that the ear follows up and down, as if each speech is an arrangement of notes that will never be played again (p. 9).

Tom Buchanan compelled me from the room as though he were moving a checker to another square (p. 11).

Possible Discussion Questions:  

Nick Carraway says, on page 2 of my edition, that "Gatsby turned out all right at the end."  Why do you think he begins his story by telling us how the protagonist is going to end up?

Come to think of it, do you think Gatsby or Nick is the protagonist of this book?

"Five Poisoned Apples" Cover Reveal and Contest Info

Today's the day you've been waiting for!  The day that Rooglewood Press announces their final fairy tale retelling contest!  And I get to be part of the reveal, so here it is:

I think this is the prettiest cover yet.  If you're curious, the photo is by Wynter Clark, and the design is by Julia Popova, who also designed the previous covers in the series.

If you're interested in entering the contest, the official page is right here.

You all know I won the last contest with my story "The Man Buckskin Horse," which is now available in the Five Magic Spindles collection.  I'm excited to also announce that I'm going to be involved in the publication of Five Poisoned Apples too -- but this time as a judge!  That's going to be such fun.  I'm looking forward to it so much, I'm posting about this on both of my blogs!