The Great Gatsby and Shoe Shopping

The above two have very little to do with one another.  I just feel the need to explain the day I just had, which caused me minimal time at home.  The sad thing?  I finished Gatsby before today, but procrastinated.

Anyway.  We are going to a wedding this weekend.  Amelia needed new shoes.  All of hers are dingy or falling apart or flip flops.  Which, by the way, don’t look good with floofy dresses.  I know that Dave can pull off flip flops with most outfits, but he doesn’t need to wear floofy dresses. 

It took us four stores and three hours to find two pairs of shoes.  Each store either did not have shoes in a size 10 for little girls, or they had really fugly shoes (both Amelia and I thought they were fugly, though I have yet to teach her that word) or none of the ones fit her quite right.  Finally, after she tried on EVERY PAIR THAT REMOTELY WORKED in our paradigm at Target, I told her I wasn’t going anywhere else.  I told her that she would just have to go to the wedding in her old, beat up shoes.  Oddly, five minutes later she decided on the first pair that we tried on.  She then fell in love with sparkly Hello Kitty boat/mary jane type shoes.  Shannon, Dave’s wife, would have fully approved of the choice and my purchase.  Amelia was willing to get them after sliding one half on her foot.  A dad behind me in line said that he understood, that a Hello Kitty sparkly shoe could be filled with rocks and they’d still want to wear them.  (I wonder if Shannon would).

Anyway, I guess shoe shopping did tie into The Great Gatsby.  Or at least, the sparkle on Amelia’s new Hello Kitty shoes did. 

The Great Gatsby is about the sparkle on the ultra rich.  It’s also about how the sparkle, just like the sparkle on little girls’ shoes, wears off quickly for newcomers.  Nick Carraway, the narrator of the story, starts out admiring the ultra-rich East Coasters.  By the end, he’s thoroughly sick of them and ends up hating at least one of them (Tom Buchanan). 

The Great Gatsby is about how we think we can know someone, merely because we run into them often while socializing.  And how we actually don’t know them at all.  Jay Gatsby is like, well, a Brad Pitt, or a George Clooney or even a Jack Nicholson of 1922.  Instead of magazines and paparazzi making us think we know him, the hundreds of people that poured into his parties thought that.  Gatsby was amazing at blending in.  When Nick meets him, he knows he is to meet Gatsby.  However, he finds out that the man he’s been chatting with for awhile at the party _is_ Gatsby.

Gatsby is a haunting person to me.  His climbing and his success and actually everything he is, is based on a dream that’s five years old.  He’s built this dream into a mountain, and filled in all the details, like where each tree is, where the chalet is built, how the sun looks as it sets.  Unfortunately, as anyone that’s lived for longer than 20 years knows, when we build something up, the reality rarely lives up to it.

The ending of Gatsby is tragic. 

Fitzgerald captures the glitter and the frenetic energy of a time where electricity and telephones and theaters were starting to take over society.  He plays electric lights against natural light and firelight.  He captures perfectly the strangeness of how overheard telephone conversations must have felt back then. 

I definitely can see why this is a story that has endured for almost a hundred years.  The way it’s written is easily understood by people almost a hundred years later.  We all know the inventions, even if they are outdated now, or in entirely new versions.  We understand the shallowness of people that Fitzgerald captures.  We understand that polished glass loses its gleam after awhile.

And that’s why, if you want to read anything I’ve blogged about in 2013, read this.

A Doll’s House Ibsen

It always amazes me that a literary work can be so completely ingrained in the popular consciousness that it feels familiar even when we know nothing about it. A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen is a perfect example. For years, I’ve recognized the name Ibsen and I knew he’d written a work called A Doll’s House. However, I didn’t realize it was a play, or that Ibsen was Norwegian, or that he wrote the play back in 1879. You’d think if I was that casually comfortable with the reference I would have known at least one of those things.

(Note, for those following along in The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books, this one was 2nd Sue Monk Kidd.)

But, having come to finally learn what A Doll’s House is about, I should probably talk a little about that. We have a woman Nora and her husband Helmer. To be honest, Helmer is somewhat of an ass and consistently treats Nora as a child:

Helmer. Don’t disturb me. [A little later, he opens the door and looks into the room, pen in hand.] Bought, did you say? All these things? Has my little spendthrift been wasting money again?

Nora. Yes but, Torvald, this year we really can let ourselves go a little. This is the first Christmas that we have not needed to economise.

Helmer. Still, you know, we can’t spend money recklessly.

Nora. Yes, Torvald, we may be a wee bit more reckless now, mayn’t we? Just a tiny wee bit! You are going to have a big salary and earn lots and lots of money.

Helmer. Yes, after the New Year; but then it will be a whole quarter before the salary is due.

Nora. Pooh! we can borrow until then.

Helmer. Nora! [Goes up to her and takes her playfully by the ear.] The same little featherhead! Suppose, now, that I borrowed fifty pounds today, and you spent it all in the Christmas week, and then on New Year’s Eve a slate fell on my head and killed me, and–

Nora [putting her hands over his mouth]. Oh! don’t say such horrid things.

Helmer. Still, suppose that happened,–what then?

Nora. If that were to happen, I don’t suppose I should care whether I owed money or not.

Helmer. Yes, but what about the people who had lent it?

Nora. They? Who would bother about them? I should not know who they were.

Helmer. That is like a woman! But seriously, Nora, you know what I think about that. No debt, no borrowing. There can be no freedom or beauty about a home life that depends on borrowing and debt. We two have kept bravely on the straight road so far, and we will go on the same way for the short time longer that there need be any struggle.

Nora [moving towards the stove]. As you please, Torvald.

Helmer [following her]. Come, come, my little skylark must not droop her wings. What is this! Is my little squirrel out of temper? [Taking out his purse.] Nora, what do you think I have got here?

Nora [turning round quickly]. Money!

This forms the core of the story. Nora borrowed money without Helmer’s knowledge and forged her father’s name on the bond in order to get it. Now the lender is holding that over Nora’s head, threatening to expose her to her husband and the world.

Of course, before you start thinking that Nora is as empty headed as Helmer thinks she is, she borrowed the money to take Helmer south on a trip his doctors told her was necessary to save his life. As for the forged signature, she didn’t want to bother her father while he was busy dying. It may not have been the smartest idea, but for a person who had always been treated as a child (whether by her husband, her father, and so on), not to mention someone worried about the lives of her ailing father and husband, that kind of error in judgment is perfectly and ordinarily human.

As you might imagine, the play comes to deal with the treatment of Nora along the way to figuring out what would happen regarding the fraud. I won’t go into that here. After all, I don’t want to spoil the entire play.

Still, I can tell you that I expected a bit more. Though I’d known nothing about A Doll’s House, it was stuck in my head as something iconic. I’m no authority on drama, but this just struck me as a decent and mildly interesting little play. Good, but nothing to write home about.

However, I have to remind myself that this play was written in 1879. The treatment of women and marriage may not strike me as particularly groundbreaking, but it had to have been downright shocking at the time. For me, I just thought Helmer was an asshole. It was that simple and there was no doubt in my mind. I’m betting, though, that audiences of the time period did not find things so cut and dried. Still… I’m sure it got them thinking.

Regardless, I just only enjoyed the play so much. It just seemed to state the obvious about what is wrong with Helmer’s kind of behavior. A Doll’s House is well-written, but it didn’t provoke too much thought. The historical value of A Doll’s House is probably incalculable, but it wasn’t too thrilling for me to read.

Sorry, but that’s my take. Theater people may now commence stoning me.

Aesop’s Fables

This blog post is called Aesop’s Fables, and it’s about Aesop, and the
fables, but Aesop’s Fables are not the name of the fables,
that’s just the name of the blog post, and that’s why I called the post Aesop’s Fables.

Now it all started two weeks ago, was on – two Thursdays ago,
when my friend (Dave) and I discussed which book to read next,
but I was absentminded, I live in my
own distracted world, with my thoughts and mistaken knowledge.
And I decided since Joss Whedon had released a little movie, just a little known play
named Much Ado about Nothing, filmed in a matter of days
during the filming of Avengers, using alumni from his most famous shows (you know, Buffy, Angel
Firefly and Dollhouse), that I simply must read the book. Havin’ all that desire,
seein’ as how I love Joss Whedon, I deduced that Midsummer’s Night Dream in our book Top Ten
simply must say “Much Ado About Nothing”.

I got to the library, and finally figured out where Dewey hid Shakespeare’s plays
I found a row of Shakespearian plays, and I decided that the play must simply be As You Like it. So
even though something in my mind nagged me, I went ahead and checked the book out. I carried it home.
And began to read it.

Well I got done and went to write my post on Thursday. Last minute, I know. I looked up As You Like It
a little play about mistaken identities and love, as well as a showcase for Shakespeare’s fondness for women dressed as men.
It wasn’t there. I quickly looked up Joss Whedon, on IMDB, a place I know slightly better than Dewey’s Decimal System.
Seeing that it was Much Ado About Nothing, I drove to the library to see if they were open. They were.

I found it. And I drove around. With errands, all over town, up hills and down hills
and no, not through the woods, but through many a stoplight. I paused a moment and began to read
Much Ado about Nothing. And decided that I should wait until home, as the temperature was high and reading in my car
gets a little sticky and uncomfortable. So, I braved the hills and the traffic lights and got home.

After making Amelia her dinner of toast and yogurt and banana (sometimes we have untraditional dinners here), I turned to my
trusty copy of The Top Ten and quickly flipped to Much Ado About Nothing. I had a curious urge to find out exactly which writers decided
Much Ado About Nothing was spectacular enough to love enough to put on a list of their top ten favorite books. And…I couldn’t find it either.
Panicked, I searched through the index. You know, in case they decided to hide it under D for Dream or K for “Kim’s insane”. They didn’t. Then my eyes fell on Midsummer’s Night Dream. I realized my error and proceeded to have Much Ado about Something. I was worked into a panicked frenzy of first world problems.

I flipped through the index, looking and hoping for something fast and easy to read. Because, you know, I promised you all
an entry on Saturday. And my eyes fell on Aesop’s Fables (Remember, it’s about Aesop and his fables, but not the name of the fables, it’s just why I called this blog post Aesop’s Fables). My text to Dave read something like “Omg. I am an idiot. I confused Much Ado About Nothing with Midsummer’s Night Dream. Can I do a post on Aesop’s Fables?” Dave, infinitely patient, since I had already messaged him on Thursday morning with “Omg! I read As You Like It. I meant to read Midsummer’s Night Dream. Do you want to post? Do you want me to put up a sign saying post on Saturday? Because you know, I totally could read it by Saturday”, responded that it was okay to do that.

So last night, I sat and read. I read about foxes and bears and men, oh my. I read about turtles and hares and ants, oh my. I read about grasshoppers and eagles and camels, oh my. I read about how I should prepare for the winter. I read about how I will be judged by the company I keep. And I remembered being young, around ten, and reading a huge book from the library (this would have been Lindsey AFB library in Weisbaden Germany, which has no bearing on this tale but I felt it necessary to add) of Aesop’s Fables (which isn’t the name of the fables, you know) with beautiful illustrations. And that’s all I could think of as I read through page after page on aesopfables.com
There is a simplicity to Aesop’s Fables.

Most people agree on the idea that Aesop was a slave, around 650 B.C. Now Aesop’s fables are all short. And last night as I lay in bed in an insomniac state, I realized, well duh, of course they’re all short. It’s not like it was exactly easy to write a lot back then. This is why Aesop’s Fables isn’t the name of the Fables, it’s just Aesop never titled them, as a comprehensive whole. Instead there are names for each individual one. I’m not sure if Aesop named them. While the fables are interesting, using animal personification to drive home morals, the titles lack a bit of flair. There are The Bull and the Goat, The Bull and The Calf, et cetera. But that’s okay. Maybe in 650 B.C. there was less importance attached to titles. Either way, I read most of them, and wondered sometimes if I was reading ones actually from Aesop. One can never trust the web anymore you know. Maybe the NSA person monitoring my web browsing hadn’t read Aesop’s Fables, which means I helped pass the time for some hapless drone sitting there clicking and following orders. No need to thank me, sorry that I tend to not surf much porn. Only so many times someone can watch you play Candy Crush saga after all.

So, in conclusion, I hope you understand my need to wait until Saturday to bring you a post.

The End.

Oh wait. This post inspired by Alice’s Restaurant, Arlo Guthrie and David S. Atkinson.

Now really.

The End.

No. Sorry. Wait again. James Salter listed this as one of his top ten books. Wonder if he read the same beautiful copy I did as a kid.

NOW REALLY. I PROMISE. THE END.

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne

I feel that I should begin any review of Sterne’s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by indicating that there is very little inside regarding the actual life of Tristram Shandy. At least percentage-wise, the vast majority of the book relates to happenings outside of Tristram Shandy’s direct life, though bearing some relationship to it. In fact, Tristram Shandy isn’t even born until a few hundred pages in. There is a bit more about his opinions, but still. Mind you, this isn’t a problem. However, I just thought that should be clear at the start.

(Note, for those following along in The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books, this one was 10th for Paul Auster, 2nd for Peter Carey, 1st for Percival Everett, 5th for A. L. Kennedy, 9th for Jonathan Lethem, 8th for David Lodge, 2nd for Thomas Mallon, 7th for Jonathan Raban, 8th for Louise D. Rubin Jr., and 4th for George Saunders.)

I can at least confirm that Tristram Shandy is the narrator of The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. Beyond that, things get hazy.

As I mentioned, he starts out the book addressing his birth…something that does not actually occur for several hundred pages. In between that and the beginning is digression after digression, sometimes returning to the main action as a digression from a digression. His Uncle’s penchant for modeling battles, his father’s quirky approach to things based on ancient learning, direct examples of ancient learning, and so on; the digressions run the gamut. The main unifying force in all of this is Sterne’s wit, and he is witty.

Of course, we should not really be surprised. He addresses the digressions (on more than one occasion) himself. Since trying to provide an example of the digression structure would be too lengthy for this review, I’ll give you some of Shandy’s thoughts on his digressions direct:

For in this long digression which I was accidentally led into, as in all my digressions (one only excepted) there is a master- stroke of digressive skill, the merit of which has all along, I fear, been overlooked by my reader,–not for want of penetration in him,—but because ’tis an excellence seldom looked for, or expected indeed, in a digression;—and it is this: That tho’ my digressions are all fair, as you observe,—and that I fly off from what I am about, as far and as often too as any writer in Great-Britain; yet I constantly take care to order affairs so, that my main business does not stand still in my absence.

I was just going, for example, to have given you the great out-lines of my uncle Toby’s most whimsical character;—when my aunt Dinah and the coachman came a-cross us, and led us a vagary some millions of miles into the very heart of the planetary system: Notwithstanding all this, you perceive that the drawing of my uncle Toby’s character went on gently all the time;— not the great contours of it,—that was impossible,—but some familiar strokes and faint designations of it, were here and there touch’d in, as we went along, so that you are much better acquainted with my uncle Toby now than you was before.

By this contrivance the machinery of my work is of a species by itself; two contrary motions are introduced into it, and reconciled, which were thought to be at variance with each other. In a word, my work is digressive, and it is progressive too,—and at the same time.

This, Sir, is a very different story from that of the earth’s moving round her axis, in her diurnal rotation, with her progress in her elliptick orbit which brings about the year, and constitutes that variety and vicissitude of seasons we enjoy;— though I own it suggested the thought,—as I believe the greatest of our boasted improvements and discoveries have come from some such trifling hints.

Digressions, incontestably, are the sun-shine;——they are the life, the soul of reading;—take them out of this book for instance,–you might as well take the book along with them;— one cold eternal winter would reign in every page of it; restore them to the writer;—–he steps forth like a bridegroom,—bids All hail; brings in variety, and forbids the appetite to fail.

All the dexterity is in the good cookery and management of them, so as to be not only for the advantage of the reader, but also of the author, whose distress, in this matter, is truely pitiable: For, if he begins a digression,—from that moment, I observe, his whole work stands stock-still;—and if he goes on with his main work,—-then there is an end of his digression.

——This is vile work.—For which reason, from the beginning of this, you see, I have constructed the main work and the adventitious parts of it with such intersections, and have so complicated and involved the digressive and progressive movements, one wheel within another, that the whole machine, in general, has been kept a-going;—and, what’s more, it shall be kept a-going these forty years, if it pleases the fountain of health to bless me so long with life and good spirits.

I realize that the digression I just provided is a long one, but that’s just in keeping with the spirit of The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman.

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman was a bit difficult to read. I admit that. However, I was downright astounded that it was written in the 1760’s. The characters and settings fit and all, but the structure is like nothing else I’ve seen from that time. I wouldn’t bat much of an eye at this and might even expect it modernly, but I’m floored that Sterne attempted this back then…even more that he got away with it.

I didn’t find The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman to be the most enjoyable read, but it’s a landmark in terms of the development of the novel. It’s certainly well worth the look for anyone willing to sit through it all.