Andrei Strizek

Music | Musings

Miss Peregrine and her Peculiar Children

We’ve seen these old pictures before. Every holiday season they pop up on our news feeds: “15 Scary Santa Clauses”; “12 Frightening Easter Bunnies”. There’s a website devoted to awkward family photos. They’re relics of the past, the printed photograph, and separated from their history we find them alluring and almost quaint. They’re from a different time, what might as well be a different place. Though our Internet life might be drawn to images and visually centered, we see these antique photographs as something different than we might post on Instagram.

Ransom Riggs has seen these old pictures, too. Thousands of them. They’re the inspiration for his thrilling young adult series about Miss Peregrine and her Peculiar Children. Two of the three stories have been published (the final is forthcoming this fall - not soon enough) and graced the New York Times best seller’s list. There’s a movie deal. The books come with bonus material (author interviews, additional photographs). If this sounds familiar, that’s because it is. We’re used to young adult fiction series. We’re used to the movie deals. We’re used to the young adult fiction market crossing boundaries into the grown-up world. 

By most markers, Rigg’s books should not be as engrossing as they are. In lesser hands, we would not care about the story being told. But Rigg’s books are not “usual.” (Aren’t you glad I didn’t say that they’re “peculiar”?) Yes, we have some traits common these days, particularly that of a story being told by an outsider to his society (or, in this case, someone who at least feels awkward and separated from his life; didn’t we all feel that way in middle school or high school?). But this isn’t a dystopian, post-apocalyptic society that we dive into. There is a matter of life and death, yes, and there is a love story, of course, but we are not amidst a rebellion or a battle to save the world from evil. We have 

Riggs takes these old curious pictures and has developed a unique world from them. The premise could seem like a writing prompt from your nighttime creative writing course, and with a less imaginative mind, that’s likely what we’d end up with here: a story spun out of one picture, predictable and less fabled than the story of Miss Peregrine’s Peculiars. Riggs, however, avoids the banality that could come from this.

The story is told by Jacob Portman, a high schooler from Florida who doesn’t fit in with his classmates, coworkers, or family. After the death of his grandfather, Jacob discovers a new world filled of time loops and “Peculiars,” people with traits that range from being able to make fire, superhuman strength, being invisible, and the ability to sense the enemy, who are unseen to the normal eye. The group of “children” (who are actually older, but stuck in one of those time loops so they haven’t aged) have their world attacked by the hollowgasts and have to escape their secluded island life off the coast of Wales.

Scattered throughout the novels are these found pictures. The photos usually enhance the story. Early on, it’s clear that Riggs used the picture as an influence on a character or plot point. It is in some of these cases that I wish there were no picture. My imagination created an image, and as soon as I turn the page I see it ruined by the picture Riggs chose. But without these pictures, we wouldn’t have the characters or the story. As we get into the second book it becomes less clear that the picture influenced the words. He has stated as much, saying that in the second book he looked for pictures to meet his story more than looking for a story to meet his pictures. The design of the books is well-done, though the inclusion of pictures always necessitates a full page, thus leaving a lot of blank space at the end of paragraphs.

The Peculiar Children do not survive without their fair share of deus ex machina, but that’s common in these types of novels. Only once did I find it to be trite. Riggs handles the plot twists with ease. The suspense of the tale only slackens during the teenage love scenes and some interior monologues from Jacob, our fair narrator.

I devoured both of these books in a few days. That’s a testament to their energy and drive and the sweeping storyline. I’m eagerly awaiting the third book’s appearance in the fall.

 

(Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children finished April 4, 2015; Hollow City finished April 10, 2015)

Yes, we should all be feminists

Isn't that obvious? Well, maybe not to everyone. But Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie will convince you, in her recently published essay. It’s a tiny little thing, really. Not much bigger than a wallet. Thin - thinner than the small wad cash in my pants pocket. But, no matter the size, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s essay We Should All Be Feminists is a sharp take on feminism, and it offers a fresh approach that should make this book required reading.

Adichie’s essay is based on her 2012 TEDx talk, of the same title, and it reads with the ease of Adichie sitting with you in a café, having a chat over an afternoon cup of coffee. Adichie’s writing here is light on theory; that is not a critical mark against her. (As she says, “Each time I try to read those books called ‘classic feminist texts,’ I get bored, and I struggle to finish them.”) Adichie isn’t asking for changes that some people might think drastic or unreasonable. Adichie’s essay is straightforward and calm; whispered, not shouted; calm, not confrontational. Her presentation simply asks us to recognize that “feminism” is something that needs to involve all genders, that we all need to be active in change.

The problem with gender is that is prescribes how we should be rather than recognizing how we are. Imagine how much happier we would be, how much freer to be our true individual selves, if we didn’t have the weight of gender expectations.

We, as humans, all need to be feminists, because we are all responsible for each other. We need to strive for gender equality, force change when necessary, and make adjustments to our cultures and to our habits so that we can embrace women as equals with men.

The essay isn’t all roses and glitter; Adichie doesn’t gloss over difficulties with the naivety of Pollyanna. She recognizes the difficulties in talking about feminism and gender, especially in today’s heightened climate, yet doesn’t let that become an excuse.

Gender is not an easy conversation to have. It makes people uncomfortable, sometimes even irritable. Both men and women are resistant to talk about gender, or are quick to dismiss the problems of gender. Because thinking of changing the status quo is always uncomfortable.

I haven’t read such a straightforward statement on feminism and why everyone should embrace it as I have in this book. Adichie brings a lot back to her upbringing in Nigeria. Stories from her adolescence or nights with friends in Lagos are a springboard for kernels of wisdom, little gems of truth that made me, at least, pull out my trusty pen and do some marking in the margins. Her ability to write about this topic in this manner demonstrates a sort of genius. But it also shows her loving spirit (one that comes through in both the essay and the TEDx talk, but more so in the video.) Adichie is not antagonistic. She points out injustices in a way that clearly indict society and culture, not men, for inequalities. And though men are often the root cause for society’s injustices, we can change that systemic thinking and create meaningful change in society by teaching everyone that all genders should be equal.

What if, in raising children, we focus on ability instead of gender? What if we focus on interest instead of gender?

We Should All Be Feminists is a fast read; it might take less time to read at first than watching the original TEDx talk. But racing the clock while reading it doesn’t allow time to ruminate over her phrases and important statements that permeate the book. While its brevity and lack of citations from cultural theorists may be seen by some as a failure on Adichie’s part, those naysayers would miss that those critiques are actually positives, because they allow the book to be read multiple times, in short sittings, and by a wide range of people. Adichie is helping her TEDx talk reach a larger audience. Adichie is so mild-mannered in her approach that it’s easy to agree with everything she says and wonder to yourself “Well, yes, this is all obvious; why does it have to be written?” But, clearly, that isn’t true, for if feminism was easy and gender equality was accomplished, we wouldn’t be reading this book, and I wouldn’t be writing about it in my own corner of the Internet. It’s a testament to her writing style that one thinks that; now, we have to act on it.

So what exactly is feminism? There are countless definitions out there, but Adichie's is perhaps the most succinct:

My own definition of a feminist is a man or a woman who says,’Yes, there’s a problem with gender as it is today and we must fix it, we must do better.’

While it’s a little early to make these kinds of proclamations, but We Should All Be Feminists may be the most important book I’ll read in 2015, and I hope you can count it as one of yours. We should embrace Adichie’s vision and progress from this point forward.

The original "Here" comic by Richard McGuire

I recently finished Richard McGuire's Here, a novel-length expository vision of a single spot across and throughout eons. I was reminded that I read the original comic, the germ for the full-length book, back when I was in middle school.

Or maybe it was in early high school - but I'm pretty sure it was middle school. I had gotten the Maus books from a Scholastic book order (remember those?), not really sure what to expect from them, and having no idea that that purchase would prove to be one of the best I made and have a lasting influence.

But that's a story for another time. I got so hooked on Maus that I began exploring the work of Art Spiegelman further. I can't remember now if I found (back?)issues of Raw at the local comic book store when I was visiting to get new issues of Spider-Man, or if I found them at the Waldenbooks at the mall, after getting my hair cut at JC Penney. Either way, I knew that Spiegelman was in charge of Raw (in these pre-Internet days, I only knew that thanks to the bio in Maus). Over a short period of time I purchased a few issues - again, not really sure what to expect from them. Most of the comics inside were over my head (and not necessarily age appropriate for a middle schooler), but I still enjoyed reading them and trying to figure them out.

Today, though, I can't remember most of what was between the covers. I had forgotten about "Here" until I purchased Richard McGuire's new book of the same title, which I grabbed not because it triggered the memory of the original 6-page comic, but because it was prominently placed in a bookstore, caught my eye, and, knowing my love for graphic novels, was quickly added to my shopping basket. I read that it was based on a shorter version he previously published, but it wasn't until I actually saw the comic that the images came back to me, the memories of reading Raw and Maus for the first time with them.

The novel Here is much more fleshed out than these panels. It's in full color and clocks in at a healthy 304 pages. It tells more of the story of this one location, with more drama and more ennui. It's as if the comic above is the one-act version of a play or musical, and the novel is the final version that made it to Broadway. Both have their strengths, in different ways. I wouldn't trade in Here or "Here" for the other one; I want them both to sit side by side, so we can appreciate each on their own and in comparison, so we can see the development of McGuire as an artist and storyteller, so we can see the growing appreciation of the graphic novel as an art form.

I haven't figured out what I want to say about Here yet. February suddenly became The Month of Graphic Novels for me, and I'm trying to digest all that I've read so far. But I wanted to post about "Here" because I'm still impressed with its originality and with the novel that evolved from it.

"Imitate. Assimilate. Innovate."

I came to read Clark Terry’s autobiography - simply titled Clark - hot on the heels of seeing Keep On Keepin’ On, the (rightfully so) acclaimed documentary about Terry & a student of his, Justin Kauflin. After seeing that incredible documentary in December, I realized that I hadn’t read Terry’s autobiography (written with his wife Gwen and published in 2011), so I picked up a copy and read it as soon as I could. It was a good decision, not only for the stories and history in the book, but also for the joy and good spirit that practically jumped off the page and edged its way into my life.

Clark Terry has been a major force in jazz and jazz education for most of his life, yet he doesn’t have that “household name” status like many other names in jazz: Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Miles Davis. But those who follow jazz know. And hopefully the reach of his autobiography and  Keep On Keepin’ On spreads his name even further. Terry is a genuine soul. That’s apparent when you hear him play, see him speak, or read his autobiography. There aren’t many people like Terry in the jazz world, much less in the “real” world, and that alone is a reason to read his memoirs.

Jazz memoirs have a unique legacy in jazz history. They are frequently oral autobiographies, stories told to a co-author, who helps write them down and combine them in a readable way. Jazz memoirs pass down stories about the giants of jazz. And jazz has so many stories!! So many stories heard today are impossible to verify. The lore of jazz is dense enough to fill entire volumes. And some of that lore is passed down through jazz musicians’ autobiographies. Unlike the autobiographies of Miles Davis and Charles Mingus, though, reading CT’s memoirs you are not struck with the notion that some of the stories are utter BS, that they’re just furthering the apocryphal tales that are part of jazz legend and lore. CT’s stories are heartfelt and honest. His earthy humor is never far from the surface, bubbling up in characteristic phrases: “Stayed busier than a one-armed paper hanger with crabs!” “It’s a poor mouse that doesn’t have but one hole. If you can’t go one way, find another. That’s what improvisation is all about.” “Keep on keepin’ on.” “Never put your shovel where there ain't no shit!” “Imitate, assimilate, innovate.” “There’s always something new to learn about anything old.”

There is no question in my mind that CT is one of the giants of jazz music. He was there from its beginning, starting to play and tour by the 1940s just as the Big Band Era was winding down and the Bebop era was starting up. Clark is the only person to have played with both Count Basie’s and Duke Ellington’s bands. His first student, Quincy Jones, went on to become a living legend in the music industry, and countless other students of Terry’s have been successful, in music fields and in other fields. He has incredible stories about all of this.

The list of accolades could easily continue: the first African-American musician hired by NBC, later playing in the Tonight Show band; Grammy lifetime achievement award in 2010; playing on almost 400 recordings as a leader or a sideman; 15 honorary doctorate degrees; a legion of students who continue to teach others across the globe.

And his music. The music! I first heard Terry as a young jazz student, in 9th grade or so, on Dave Grusin’s record Homage to Duke. Terry has some classic solos on that album, demonstrating his versatility as a musician. On “Things Ain’t What They Used to Be” he does a great “Mumbles” routine (check out the original recording with the Oscar Peterson Trio, a "real funky blues"). On “C Jam Blues” he trades 4s with himself, between his flugelhorn and his muted trumpet. And he laments on “East St. Louis Toodle-Oo,” in a recording that, to my ears, is better than the original Duke recording.

I can’t name a favorite CT recording, though. His solo on "Perdido" (on Festival Session) is genius, as is the boppish take on the head of the same tune from Cosmic Scene. His album with the Oscar Peterson Trio  is classic. Serenade to a Bus Seat. Gil Evans's version of Porgy & Bess. And on and on and on. Reading his autobiography is almost as enjoyable as listening to the swing and groove of “Launching Pad.” It makes you feel warm in your soul and puts a smile on your face.

Much as I felt that Keep On Keepin' On was like taking a 90 minute lesson with CT, his autobiography is the same. It’s as if you’re sitting down with Mr Terry and listening to him tell all the great stories from his life. CT is honest and funny throughout, but most important, he is grateful. He never let’s a moment pass without reminded himself - and us, the reader - how happy he is with the paths he took in life, how grateful he is for all that he accomplished. If only we could all be so grateful and honest in our approach to music and to life.

Many of my dreams have come true, but what I've learned is that dreams change. New dreams come into play. What I thought I wanted most of my life changed, too.

Contrast this with JK Simmons's character in the recent movie Whiplash. Simmons is a brutal jazz instructor who see no problems with physically or verbally abusing his students. He views jazz music as a competition, as a way to exert dominance over others. That comes across in the music he chooses to perform with his ensemble: fast multi-meter music that requires stamina and technique above anything else.

And then we hear Terry’s style of swing, his mellifluous flugelhorn sound and smooth bebop licks, and his encouraging approach to teaching: the complete antithesis (and the remedy) to JK Simmons's character. CT is so grateful of his students that he thanks them throughout his autobiography, starting at the beginning - "But later on, I had a new dream: helping young musicians to make their dreams come true. That became my supreme joy and my greatest aspiration." - all the way up to the end, writing in the acknowledgements, “I especially want to thank all of my beautiful students everywhere.” In many places in his book, Terry writes about the the challenges he fought against racism and what he did to help out, including playing at benefits and supporting equality groups. He wrote: “I wished that things could be like they were on the bandstands and in the studios. Jazz was the common denominator at the gigs. We all loved the music. Even when I went overseas and played with cats who didn’t speak the same language, we communicated through music. There was no problem. Just jazz and the freedom of expression.”

I’m a firm believer in the idea that if you surround yourself with good people, you will also be a good person. Spending time with Mr Terry through this book or the documentary is as good a proxy as we can get; if only we could all spend a few minutes talking with Mr Terry. His enthusiasm and outlook on life are infectious. Do yourself the favor and read his autobiography and watch Keep On Keepin' On. You’ll be grateful that you did.

Related links:

The story of a Soviet emigrant

I’ve been thinking for a week now about what to write about A Backpack, A Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka. I came at it from several different angles. I found myself writing a few mangled sentences, deleting them, and starting over. Then I realized that I can’t really say much about this book, because I didn’t care for the book that much. The way I feel writing about it is the same as I felt while reading it: it’s a struggle, only at times enjoyable, and frankly, it didn’t have a lot to say. Finally I gave up trying to make things work. What you see below is what you get. I didn’t want to spend any more time with this book; it’s past time to move on.

A Backpack, A Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka is the memoir of Lev Golinkin and his childhood as a Soviet Jew in Ukraine and his emigration to the United States. There is also an unexpected story of personal redemption towards the end. That twist to the tale came about so suddenly in the narrative, so unexpectedly, that it almost felt as if he was told he needed to write a conclusion ten minutes before the book went to press.

My family emigrated from Belarus in the early 1900s, before the revolution and the start of Soviet rule, though we still have some distant cousins who live there. I was drawn to this book because of my family’s history to the western Soviet states, and maybe that is a reason why I wanted more: while there was quite a bit of history of the Soviet Union and tales about the horrors of the Soviet government, they were presented from a decidedly - and understandably - biased point of view. I can’t blame Golinkin for writing about the Soviet Union in the way that he did, but he got a little heavy-handed at time. Personally, I would have appreciated a little more objectivity in his handling of these histories; let his own stories ring true and personal, let the history show less bias.

I was also surprised at the story of personal redemption that appeared towards the end. It was unexpected, and honestly I did not care too much about it. Golinkin seems like a likable person, yes, but I felt that a lot of his story was meant to draw pity out from the reader. Many of the good memoirs I’ve read have lessons that can be transferred to others. Here, I didn’t get that. I felt that Golinkin’s story was his own. The lessons he learned were his own. The story has a sort of importance to it - but don’t all stories? Here, I’m not sure what we can glean from his tale of struggle and acceptance.

Sometimes there are books that aren’t right for the time or for the person. Usually I’m good about giving up on a book if I can’t get through it (I just set down The Maze Runner because it is not the right time to read that book). For some reason I kept reading A Backpack, A Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka when I should have set it aside. That obviously colored my opinion of it, and did not make the book any easier to write about. Well, they can’t all be winners. I’m sorry that thinking about this book any more makes me crabby. I didn’t hate it, but I’m glad I’m finished with it.

My first encounter with Murakami

I’ve never read anything by Haruki Murakami before this novella, not for any real particular reason other than perhaps that not many of my friends have talked about him, so I never felt a strong pull to pick up one of his books. Well, that, and probably the length of his novels subconsciously forced me away from his books. So when I saw The Strange Library near the cash register at Tattered Cover over Christmastime, I grabbed it, figuring there wouldn’t be any time like the present to check out Murakami and his “magical realism.”

I don’t know what “magical realism” means, exactly, other than that’s how Amazon labels Murakami’s writing. But it seems fitting for this story. We come into the life of an unnamed protagonist as he stops by the local library after school to return some books. Immediately we see that this is an unusual place, for when he asks to check out more books he is told to go “turn right at the bottom of the stairs Go straight down the corridor to Room 107.” I, for one, would have turned and gone the other direction. Our hero, though, only comments that he never knew the library had a basement.

The new moon will shape our destinies.

The nameless, ageless narrator (all we know is that he is a “child” and that he is in school; his obvious attachment to his mother hints at him being young, but throughout we get impressions that, while he may be young, he is mature for his age) requests some books about tax collection in the Ottoman Empire (a strange topic if there ever was one). From there we enter the world of “magical realism”: A jail cell, a mysterious girl who drifts between the real-world and the book-world, a man in sheep’s clothing (“it was real sheepskin, and covered every inch of the sheep man’s body … there was a short tail attached to the back of the sheep man’s outfit that bounced from side to side with each step, like a pendulum”), and a man who is so old that he could likely be past his time here on earth. A brief and odd - and, at times, disconcerting - tale unwinds. It's full of short, crisp sentences that hide and reveal more than one could think. The story is possibly warning us of the perils of capitalism or modernism, or of the dangers of authoritarianism. Or, it’s just a surreal tale; a story that is just meant to be a story and not an allegory. As this was my first encounter with Murakami, I’m not sure exactly what to make of it. (The tale has been spinning back and forth in my mind for almost a week now.) But I do know that I enjoyed the novella, and that his recent books (IQ84 and Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage) have been added to my reading lists.

When you start reading it, it doesn’t seem all that complicated. But the further you get into it, the more complex it becomes in this stealth kind of way, and you become really invested. I find this minimalist maximalist quality very engaging.
— Chip Kidd

A note about the design: this publication has art design by Chip Kidd. “Illustrated by” is the not the word to use, for Kidd’s artwork is more of the collage type and is influenced by impressions of the story at hand. His artwork adds to the tale but is not distracting; the surreal nature impacted me as I was reading the story and improves the overall package. (It also helps justify the $18 cover price.) There were a few pages where I definitely took pause to further absorb the design. There was recently an article in the New Yorker about Kidd’s work on this novella; I encourage you to read it.

The world follows its own course. Each possesses his own thoughts, each treads his own path. So it is with your mother, and so it is with your starling. As it is with everyone. The world follows its own course.

It won’t take you very long to read The Strange Library. I think I finished it in an hour or two, stretched out over the course of two rides on the Long Island Rail Road. I actually read it a second time, after about a week, to pick up on new things that I missed the first time. My guess is that if you like Murakami you’ll enjoy this, and if you're like me and you’ve never read him before, this is an excellent place to start.

"Gracefully" starting off the New Year

Well, the first book I finished reading in 2015 was one I never would have expected - actually, it's a book I wasn't aware of until about 5pm on New Year's Day: Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky. I saw the book in the young adult section while shopping at Target, and the premise intrigued me enough to purchase the book and start reading it almost immediately. It seems that most "YA" books fall under the heading of either dystopia or romance with a tragic twist. Gracefully Grayson doesn't fit into either category.

Gracefully Grayson centers on a 6th grader who is slowly coming to the realization that she is trans*. At first I thought the book was a little heavy-handing, bringing up all of these things to make us look at Grayson with a certain amount of pity, to see all these horrible things that have happened to her, to create an immediate sympathetic character. But, while many of those things were important to the discovery of Grayson (our discovery and her discovery), they ended up being less-central to the plot and character development than perhaps initially implied.

We follow Grayson as she works her way through 6th grade, trying out for the spring play (based on the Greek mythological tale of Persephone - an apt metaphor that at times seems reminiscent of some lyrics on Hedwig and the Angry Inch), making new friends and seeing others fade away, and working out who she is. We don't end with a strong conclusion, but that's okay. Grayson is only a 6th grader; she has much more time to learn about herself (don't we all!), and ending conclusively would be misleading. One thing I appreciated about the novel is that it's pretty straight-forward and not polemical in the least.

This is Ms. Polonsky's first novel, and while I wouldn't put it on the same level with some other "YA" books I've read recently, it's a strong first-outing. I hope she continues to write, and I hope that her books continue to give voice to those who need to be heard.

Us Conductors

Sometimes you'll have a weird convergence that almost forces you to read a book. One day, you catch a random tweet about a novel about Leon Theremin. The next, your dad is emailing you about a novel about Leon Theremin that just won an award. And so on. So you decide to buy the book and read it at the next opportunity. Fortunately, you weren't disappointed by the novel.

Us Conductors is a fictionalized account of Leon Theremin's life. Creator of the Theremin, he also ended up creating a lot of other useful technological devices, including one called The Thing, which bugged the US Embassy and remained undetected. He was also treated as a dissident and spent time in Russian work camps. Here, his life is told in a first person account, going between flashback episodes and letters to his former lover Clara Rockmore.

It's not exactly a thrilling novel, and there were times when I felt that it dragged on a little too long, but it was interesting and full of great writing. And while a lot of the events were fictionalized, there is a strong basis in truth and actual history; the biography of Theremin that was the basis for a lot of this information is now on my reading list.

Here Is The Way You Play a Theremin:

You turn it on. Then you wait.

You wait for several reasons. You wait to give the tubes the chance to warm, like creatures taking their first breaths. You wait in order to heighten the audience's suspense. And, finally, you wait to magnify your own anticipation. It is a thrill and a terror. You stand before a cabinet and two antennas and immediately the space itself is activated, the room is charged, the atmosphere is alive. What was potential is potent. You imagine sparks, embers, tiny lightning flecks balanced in the vacant air.

Leon-Theremin.jpg

You raise your hands.

Raise the right hand first, toward the pitch antenna, and you will hear it: DZEEEEOOOoo, a shocked electric coo, steadying into a long hymn. Raise the left hand, toward the volume antenna, and you will quiet it.

Move your hands again, and the device will sing.

My theremin is a musical instrument, an instrument of the air. Its two antennas emerge from a closed wooden box. The pitch antenna is tall and black, noble. The closer your right hand gets, the higher the theremin's tone. The second antenna controls volume. It is bent, looped, gold, and horizontal. The closer you bring your left hand, the softer the instrument's song. The farther away, the louder it becomes. But always you are standing with your hands in the air, like a conductor. That is the secret of the theremin, after all: your body is a conductor.

-Sean Michaels, Us Conductors, pp. 26-7.

I Finally Did It

Well, I finally read The Great Gatsby. Yes, I was one of those who somehow made it out of high school and undergrad without having to read it for an English class. And, though I consider myself an avid reader, this one never came across my path - especially weird when you consider that it's one of my dad's favorite novels and he reads it every year. I never even read it amidst all the hype of the recent Leo movie. Not only did I make it 33 years without reading The Great Gatsby, I also made it this long without really knowing anything about the book, other than it was set in the 1920s, had something to do with the excesses of that time period, and that there was a green light.

But, I finally did it. And I enjoyed it!

Every one suspects himself of at least one of the cardinal virtues, and this is mine: I am one of the few honest people that I have ever known.

Some people say that it's an overrated book; some people say that it's one of the best books of the 20th century. I think I'm somewhere in-between, but I do think it's a very superb book. I'm looking forward to reading Maureen Corrigan's book in the near future.

Sometimes I really mark up a book when I read it; with nonfiction, it's typically because there's something important to note, or I have a note to write in the margins. With nonfiction, it's because there's a good quote or, as was frequently the case with The Great Gatsby, it was because I loved the sound of the writing so much.

It baffles me that this book was not popular when it was first published; that Fitzgerald died thinking it was a flop, a failure. This isn't because the book is so widely read today, but because it was such a good book. Did people in the 1920s not want to read a critique of high society? Did the people in the 1930s not want to read about the excesses that helped lead to the Great Depression? I'm not sure; but if I could go back in time, I would want to make sure that Fitzgerald knew he wrote a superb novel, and one that seems to be standing the test of time very well.

There are only the pursued, the pursuing, the busy, and the tired.

I'm not sure what else I can say about this book that hasn't already been said. It was a great tragic novel. How the movies and opera work, I'm not sure (but I am more curious now to check them out). I'm sure that my dad is happy with me, and that somewhere my mom's dad - who was an English professor - is also smiling because I finally read one of the Great American Novels.

‘Let us learn to show our friendship for a man when he is alive and not after he is dead.’

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