Posts Tagged ‘The Great Gatsby’

The Great American Novel, or just read The Great Gatsby

February 20, 2014

David Ulin offers a rebuttal to Lawrence Buell salon piece over the idea of the Great American Novel.  I get what Ulin is saying, but I’m not sure I agree with the reality of it. Celebrating our differences, embracing multiculturalism, and appreciating that the backgrounds and experiences of everyone in our society are diverse  and wide-ranging  are all true, good, earnest, whatever things.  I’m not knocking them. At the same time, I think there are some things that sit at the foundation of all our lives. All of us want some level of professional success that provides for a relatively stable life. How each of us defines stable and success might be different, but I think the majority of us want to achieve that for ourselves. We want to be productive. We want to accomplish something. We want to make connections with people. Big, broad things. For me, the Great American Novel tries to find how those things work in America, how we try to blend them together, how our ideas of accomplishment, stability, family, etc. is unique from Japan or France or India. Not better, but different. And I think this changes over time. If we want to say Huck Finn was a Great America Novel, it was great for the time it came out, the time it encapsulated, and the life it represented. Is it the Great American Novel of the “Now?” No, I don’t think so, despite it still staying something to us today about how we interact with each other and how we confront race.

The one book that stands out, for me, is The Great Gatsby. A novel of one character recklessly charging towards wealth and status in the hopes of finding love, only to be confronted with the hollow vacuousness of those he pursues and to eventually find his own death. All witnessed by the midwestern everyman who steps back at the end, sees the horror of it, and retreats to the heartland. It is an aspect of society I think we’ve seen repeated over and over again, in various forms from westerns to mafia movies to wallstreet.  It speaks to an idea of balance in success, weighing the costs of professional/material success versus the damage we do to ourselves in many intangible ways.

I think to dismiss the idea of the Great American Novel solely because we are a nation of differences (superficial and otherwise) or that people tend to drift towards White Guys being the recipe for the Great American Novel is a bit too careless. In an effort to dismiss the idea, it falls into a similar trap as those trying to aggressively sell the idea. Instead, the idea of the Great American Novel is something that should be explored, and that difference cultures in the United States should attempt to appropriate for themselves. While I think there are aspects of The Great Gatsby that transcends boundaries, I think the same could be said for Ralph Ellison’s The Invisible Man. Instead of dismissing the Great American Novel because of our differences, we should use it to illustrate the unity in those differences.

Book Links 5-9-13

May 9, 2013

Stuck in an elevator with Rushdie (and a host of of other interesting people)

Barnes & Noble is considering selling Nook to Microsoft. I think this is B&N getting ahead of the curve here, actually.  It’d be nice if they could keep getting some sort of share of sales of ereaders, but I don’t think there is a huge future in them. With tablets becoming more ubiquitous and more powerful, and the screens getting better, needing a dedicated reading device is going to become more and more unnecessary. At that point, does B&N have the infrastructure to be a player on the global tablet market against the likes of Apples, the various PC tablet makers, and Amazon? I don’t think so, and I’m guessing they are seeing that writing on the wall. They have been able to use Nook to keep afloat, to weather the storm of the initial push into the digital age, and now they need to find a way to establish themselves as booksellers in this market rather than technology sellers.

It’s at this point that finding some sort of partnership with MS makes a lot of sense. MS is big enough to run with the hardware end, and the software end comes naturally.  Also, B&N can become a bit of  a gateway to content for MS, depending on where B&N wants to take itself I’m a bit under the weather and my head is still pretty cloudy from lack of sleep, sickness, overmedication, and coffee, so it is a bit difficult to get my thoughts organized about this. However, it seems MS wants the next xbox to be even more of a media hub. Part of that is print – books, magazines, whatever. B&N seems to be a natural gateway for that. If they can find a way to scratch eachother’s needs, it could be hugely beneficial to them.

Haruki Murakami translated The Great Gatsby into Japanese, and here is something he wrote about it. I’m a Murakami fan and a Gatsby fan, so this was pretty much up my alley. A good read.

Okay, I don’t have as much to talk about as I thought, so I think I’m ending it here.


Book Links 5-6-13

May 6, 2013

A combination of a lack of sleep and illness is doing a number on me today. My throat hurts, I’m running a fever, and I’m lethargic as all hell. And there is a ton of work to be done around the house.  Awesome.

CNet has a quick article up about Tor’s success with digital books with no DRM.  I think the proliferation of DRM has helped give Amazon a leg up on the digital world, and the publishers have been making a huge mistake in not moving away from DRM. They have fears that if their digital books aren’t protected in some way, that there will be rampant piracy of their works. But it hasn’t happened with Tor. And it shouldn’t have been expected to happen.  You just have to look at the music industry to see how successful DRM is. Or the movie industry. With the piracy of media, I think it’s more a question of desirability. I just don’t see a big market for pirated written works. There is something about music and movies that are like the soft drinks of cultural consumption. You get them, you devour them, you move on. now, sometimes you will re-watch a movie, or listen to an album a few times in a row. If you’re dedicated to those forms, maybe you write a blog about them, or you post at a message board dedicated to them, but there isn’t a huge time investment with either of them. It is a bit different with the written word. It takes time to work your way through a novel, or a collection of stories, or even a lit mag. It’s a sort of investment that I think lends more readily to people investing monetarily in it rather than pirating it, because the time/effort investment is higher. Maybe piracy is less of a problem for books because people who are interested enough in books to invest in an ereader, and to find them online, are more okay investing their money into something they feel they get adequate value from.

More international titles are being published in the US. Not surprisingly, the rise of digital media is paired with this. I’m a fan of international literature, I try to read what I can, when I can and what I enjoyed most about attending AWP a couple of years back was buying some international titles I wouldn’t have otherwise seen. And it’s always a good thing to see literature crossing more lines.

Finally, 45 fan designed covers for The Great Gatsby. I liked the novel, I’m not a fan of what I’ve seen of Luhrmann’s upcoming movie (wasn’t a fan of Moulin Rouge or Romeo + Juliet, either, so maybe I’m just not a Luhrmann fan).

Just some snippets of opinion

April 24, 2013

I don’t want a new Gatsby movie. Especially a musical. By Baz Luhrmann. I enjoy the book, I sort of enjoy the old Redford movie.  I don’t see Dicaprio as Gatsby or Tom or anyone else from the book. I’d rather just see it left alone, or done by someone who isn’t, well, Luhrmann. No offense, but Moulin Rouge, Romero + Juliet, and Australia don’t inspire huge amounts of confidence and I’m not looking forward to Gatsby getting that treatment.

I don’t want a new prequel to The Shining. What made the original Shining movie great wasn’t Stephen King, it wasn’t the hotel, it wasn’t Colorado. It was Stanley Kubrick directing Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duval, and Jake Loyd. Want proof? Look at the more recent tv miniseries.  To pile on the negatives, this wouldn’t have King’s blessing and it will be based on material even he cut from the original book.  Want to do a horror movie set in a hotel? Great. have at it. Just leave The Shining out of it. And, for God’s sake, get good people involved.

I don’t want Amazon getting involved in every damn part of media experience. This includes television. I’m complained about Amazon enough, but on this level I feel roughly the same about a handful of companies owning the majority of our television and radio stations, how our newspapers are being swept under larger and larger umbrellas, how cable/phone companies have increasingly monopolies, etc. It’s never good when one company has their hands in too many cookie jars.

I don’t want to never read another Roger Ebert blog or tweet. I have Ebert’s RSS feed in my google reader, something else I don’t want to see go away, and I haven’t ready any of the posts that are still marked unread. I’ve read them on Ebert’s actual blog site, but through the reader. Because then they would no longer be unread. And they would disappear. I don’t want them to disappear. I watched Siskel and Ebert, and I was crushed when Siskel died. I never warmed to Roeper. I became a devotee of Ebert’s website.  He was really the only the movie critic I bothered to read any more. I’ve found his like/dislike to be a fair barometer of how I will enjoy a movie. Right or wrong, I found that I often agreed with him on whether or not a movie was worth watching. We probably disagreed on why, but if he liked a movie, I was reasonably confidant in it. Now, well, I don’t know.

Alright, I think I’m done. Just an ugly day, and I feel gripey. Had to get it out of my system, I guess.


The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles – Review

April 28, 2010

I’m not sure what to say about The Sheltering Sky. Part of me wants to refute that it is an existentialist novel, or maybe an anti-existentialist novel in that a few characters who seem to go through life attempting (or not attempting) to form their own definitions end up either dead, insane, or insanely unlikable.  But I don’t believe making a statement regarding existentialism was Bowles point.

Bowles was an American expatriate. Born in 1910, he came from a fairly affluent background, went to University in Virginia before splitting his life between Paris and New York in the 1930s and 1940s before settling in Tangier. I think this important in looking at his first novel, The Sheltering Sky. Rather than being about existentialism, I think it is about how Bowles came to view America and that he took this conceived vision of America and juxtaposed it with North Africa to highlight Americans as shallow, center-less creatures who crave being told what to do, how to do it and when to do it.

First, take Port. While the engine of the group, the one who most often makes the decisions for his wife Kit and his friend Tunner, he also finds himself at the hands of the natives he finds himself dealing with. The first major event of the novel has Port out by himself where he is approached by a native who he follows out of the city to a little collection of tents. Port doesn’t want to go, he doesn’t trust the guy, but he goes anyway. He is placed in a tent with a woman he clearly intends to sleep with, discovers she is trying to rob him and takes off. In the process of escaping he loses his wallet anyway. He finds himself at the mercy of other travelers (a bizarre mother/son tandem who steals his passports), of French officials when trying to find his passport, and from various locals that he interacts with.

Tunner is directionless throughout the novel other than his awkward attempts at seducing Port’s wife, Kit. Asked to go on the trip by Port, he is later clumsily maneuvered away by Port when he feels Tunner has become a hindrance. At the same time, he also stays in Africa until Kit is found at the end of the novel, though also from shame, trying to avoid the inevitable confrontation with their mutual friends at home NY. Also, he is the one who not only discovers that Lyle (the “son” in the mother/son tandem) is a thief and actually does something about it –  he hits him, repeatedly.

Kit, meanwhile, is bizarre. She is suffocated throughout the novel. She wants to react how she wants to react but continually finds she is restraining herself. FIrst it is because of Tunner, then it is because of other company they are around, then it is because Port is sick…and she is always miserable over it. Which all leads up to the outright bizarre third section of the novel where Kit goes off into the desert after stripping herself nude and bathing in a public pool. She goes off into the desert, gets herself picked up by a couple of men with a lot of servants and camels who take her to a city deeper in the Sahara where she is put up as a concubine. The guy’s three other wives hate her. She is loved brutally during the entire trip. She can communicate with no one because of the language barrier. She eventually escapes, sends a telegraph asking for help then immediately panics at the life she is going back to. Nevertheless, she is found, cleaned up, taken to a consulate where the woman assigned to pick her up at the airport and get her set up at a hotel realizes (or just believes) in an epiphany of confluence of light and shadow that Kit had gone mad. This woman runs off inside the hotel and by the time anyone goes back to the car, Kit has disappeared.

Meanwhile, the natives don’t seem plagued by any remotely similar problems. They just live. They make decisions, there are repercussions, and life goes on. For the occupying French it is pretty similar. God is never really mentioned with any particular group – there is no counterpoint to the idea of having the freedom to construct meaning through your own decisions or through the decisions of some supreme being.

Perhaps there is an argument for the type of decisions made by different culture but this is where I believe the novel moves from an existential novel to a novel about culture. And not just any American culture but the culture of the upper-middle/upper class Americans, a culture Bowles knew fairly well. Port inherited a lot of money when his father died and gave up writing to just travel. Or, not to travel but to just simply exist. When given the opportunity to truly break away from their culture, Bowles has his character fall into a life of sexual and social domination and isolation before apparently going mad herself.

In its own way, I wonder if Sheltering Sky isn’t similar to Great Gatsby. Only where the intellectual (or even spiritual or moral) inadequacies of the social elite are shown how damaging and destructive they are to everyone around them in Gatsby, we are shown how dangerous the outside world is to them in Sheltering Sky.  Like Oblivion, I have a feeling this is a novel I’ll be thinking about for a few days now.