West Egg Laid

You’re worth the whole damn bunch put together.

-Nick Carraway

 

Out of impulse I decided to reread The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I had not read it since my junior year in high school and recently acquired a second hand copy of it, as I had never owned it beforehand for myself. The annotations and highlights drew attention to the academic processes that are put into many first time readers. Sometimes early-age analysis can be detrimental to drawing a personal value from the novel.

I had very low opinions of every character in the novel after I read it the first time. I saw tom as the book described him, a hulking brute. I saw Daisy as flighty and irresponsible. I saw Jordan as one dimensional and unnecessary. Gatsby was underutilized and Nick was overdone.

Then I read it again.

Tom is by far more boorish and selfish than I had initially realized. Racism and sexism exude from the pores of his character. His contradictory attitude and claiming of people like items lead to despair and, eventually, death. The novel describes him as hulking at the beginning and it is almost as if Mr. Fitzgerald promised that would be the way we see him at the end too.

Daisy was far more complex. My initial cynicism of her character was due to a joint reading of Candide by Voltaire and that gave me a mix of worldly doubt that I focused on indecision. She is put in an unfair position through the entire book. Outwardly bold, but so willing to avoid true emotional conflict. Whoever is with her can talk her into what they need. She has been broken down by men and used as a tool. Her ending is by far the most unsatisfying. Not in a literary way, but because you really do hope for something to happen to make things easier on her. In a way, I guess Tom arranges that.

Jordan was a foil and I didn’t see much more to her this time. Definitely not one-dimensional, she gives Nick a taste of the lustful flightiness of high society. Uncompromised by not being a part of the triad of unclear love. She goes out as she came in, of her own accord.

Jay Gatsby is a very thrilling character. I will not divulge if I see any sort of relation between he and I, but I will say that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. He believes that he only wants what’s best for Daisy, but doesn’t understand that he only wants what’s best for Daisy as long as she’s happily with him. He does what anyone in love would do out of desperation. Sacrifices morals. Pushes boundaries. Surrounds himself with people to fill in the void of loneliness. He lets a greedy green light drive him and he blinds himself with what he thinks is devotion.

Nick Carraway happens to be exactly what this story needs. An outsider. A ground for the lavish absurdity and harsh reality of the other characters’ lives. His needs are simple and his wants are clear. Association, tenuous at that, drags him into a summer of terribly divisive passion and love corrupted by selfishness. He feels himself being made into a necessary involvement only to be pushed aside. Shoved into tense situation after tense situation by the insistence of every character. Privy to knowledge he never wanted.

By no means should this be taken as a professional analysis. Although I am conflicted while writing this, I do hope that my motivation is clear. This novel is meant to be reread as you get older. In a sick way, the reader must force these characters through that terrible summer over and over to truly derive their own value from it.

A fear of excess and reluctance of devotion. The virtues of patience and the worth of uncompromised morals. All these things, in either direction, is what I pull from those few houses, those parties, that uncomfortably hot birthday and the soggy solitary funeral gave me.

I suppose all of that is an old sport, but it is a good one.

The West Egg Hatched

So, I’m not a professional reviewer in any aspect. I write what I know, and critically reviewing any art form with weight is something I do not have any sort of qualification for. Particularly novels that blur the line between history and fiction. Romanticize the already overly romanticize. I am an amateur at examination.

That aside, I feel that I need to write as much as I can. No matter what, I need to create a body of work that can cushion me when I take life’s hardest blows. The book, Z- A Novel of Zelda Fitzgeraldreinforced this notion in me.

I am still reeling from the novel. The explosive personalities, accurate or not, evoked something I’ve never felt while reading a book. I can’t put it into many more words than what I’ve already said.

This book is one of a select few that I started and finished in the same day. I received the novel as a birthday gift from a very dear friend after seeing she was reading it. After three months, I finally gave myself the time to read it and, as I’ve so scattertedly stated, it made me feel things altogether new.

Whether these things will have a long term impact is unknown. If the goal was to incite a visceral response on any end of the spectrum, the author succeeded and I believe that’s what every writer wants.

I certainly want that. I want to live in my work, but not through it. I want to find my own witchy Zelda Fitzgerald, but I don’t want the wintry chasm she had in between her and her husband. I want to be remembered, but I don’t want to be fictionalized.

This novel is still settling with me. It is an extraordinary blend of reality and fantasy. A perfect how-to guide to destroy my life and die young.

This is a book that, if anything, teaches the dangers of excess.

Books Half Finished

I’m reading again. New year, new book. I hesitate to write this (don’t I always), but, sometimes, pain can be relieved by bleeding through a pen.

I won’t name the book I’m reading, but it has characters very similar to the people in my life. Not all of them of course, but enough to draw parallels. I have always been guilty of inserting myself into the stories I read, but sometimes (on very few occasions) it is without fault. Qualities that soak every fiber of my being and words that might as well come out of those unnamed acquaintances’ mouths permeate my mind. There smiles are in my mind’s eye on the faces of my loved ones. Their defeats are felt in my very core.

Their flaws are my flaws.

I believe that every life can be summarized by a novel. That’s the sole purpose for biographies. An entire person’s existence bound in a few hundred pages. One day, a biographer will pour over my works and try to decipher my innermost thoughts. They will try to pull from endless words and meaningless sentences what I have yet to understand. What story will my book tell?

I am halfway through this current book and the situations, all too familiar, blur with reality. Both being clear from one another, but are so close together that involvement is the only way to discern one from the other. The last event I read before having to put the book down was heart wrenching. My stomach and heart crushed together, by lungs expelled all air, and my mind stopped. Fire rose inside of my being and I wanted to shout. My current position is behind a desk working at the library, so this was not an option. That reality raised the pressure even more.

My intelligent thoughts drank themselves into a stupor. My romantic side slit its wrists. My reason tore of its ears and gouged out its eyes. As I write this, my hands are shaking and my jaw is clenched. Is this instability? Is my pain so visceral because I see it as a distinct possibility in my life, or have I been miscasting the characters? Am I the perpetrator? Am I the impetus of the injustice? Will my involvement in this world amount to a devastating chapter in someone else’s story?

These cursed thoughts put me at a crossroads. Should I devote my life to establishing a legacy that others can draw from as I have drawn from others, even though this sort of drive is what fed the roots of the injustice in the first place, or should I live my life for myself and only myself, resulting in nothing but pain and jealousy in someone else’s life?

An inner rage tantamount to Krakatoa is refusing to be abated by thoughts of comfort. Reminders that the lives of others cannot be compared to mine fairly. I will never know anyone’s whole story but my own. These inklings of relief dissipate like snow in the palm of flame. I am angry. I am furious. I am unabashedly disappointed. In myself, for actions of the past. In others, for my keen insight to their humanity. In this damned book, for even bringing these emotions into being.

I know the book has no fault. I showed interest in it and it was gifted to me. Every event entwined with the book make the pain of the dramatized non-fictional event even sharper. Specific points in my memory, in my heart, have been targeted and annihilated. Flaws I try so hard to bury, parallels I try so hard to ignore, feelings I try so hard to deny invade and drown me.

In times of crisis, I have always looked to my idols for solace. I try to find some event that matches what I feel and what I read in the damned book that can offer a peaceful resolve, but I only find more pain. The same injustice has occurred with unyielding disregard for the parties who would be hurt most. What sort of cosmic joke could this be? The people I look to for guidance have suffered the very same injustice. Either as the perpetrator or the victim. There are no answers for me and I am only at the forefront of it.

The reality is, I have nothing to go to. I am in solitude with my hidden anguish and unmatched fury. My mouth tastes of iron. My chest is heaving with deep breaths. My muscles are tightened. The actors whose talents I want to gain, the revolutionaries whose intelligence I want to harness, the loved ones whose emotions strengthen my resolves are nowhere to be found. I’m in a wasteland of indecision and fire.

Only a few days ago I felt the exact opposite of this. Now, the things I found comfort in are the things I find hatred in. Double thoughts and self-betrayal reign in my mind. The speeding locomotive of joy I had has shattered and burned across a thousand sheer cliffs. I see no difference in the ink of my pen or the blood in my veins. They are both instruments for writing my story. I use both to establish my legacy, but at what cost?

I am only twenty one years old and I am continually plagued by thoughts of my future. That plague has now infected my entire being. This virus of what I will become poisons every thought. Every movement I make is pushing me closer to unleashing a self-destructive tornado of emotions. A whirlwind of pain. A storm of words.

No one deserves to be at the mercy of someone else’s pain. The only way I can sate the storm is to write. Write everything. Open my eyes. See past my insecurity. Weigh my options.

Not every decision I make will pull me forward, but I won’t let someone else’s mistake ever hurt me like this again.

As ever, I will write my way out.

Washington: A Life

Recently, I finished my second consecutive Ron Chernow biography. Washington: A Life , surprisingly, about the life of George Washington. Now, let’s say you don’t know who George Washington is. Aside from being the face on the one dollar bill, he is the Father of the United States of America. The novel delves into how the man became a legend.

See, George Washington wasn’t birthed into the six foot, powdered hair, military leading, President of the United States. He had an arduous journey from a very young age to his final breath. The novel is a one volume biography that examines George Washington’s life in its entire cradle-to-the-grave scope.

Chernow does something that so many historians have failed to do. He humanizes out first Commander-in-Chief. He presents Washington truly. Beyond the mountains and monuments, Washington was a fallible man. He made grievous errors, had a strained relationship with his mother, had a penchant for the ladies, and had an alarmingly furious temper. The amazing, and I use that word in its truest sense, thing is that, despite every mistake, George Washington was still just as strong and admirable a person as anyone could imagine.

The novel shows Washington throughout his long life and marks every tragedy that met him. His difficulties as a surveyor, farmer, soldier and politician never went away. He had to balance infighting and quell rebellion (several times). George Washington lived alongside Jefferson, Hamilton, Adams, Paine, Franklin, Madison, and countless other bright and unparalleled minds (each in their own right) and still, to this very day even, managed to become the most famous and admired American.

Although a single volume biography spanning all 67 years of George Washington’s life is comparatively light reading considering the scope and detail that has been put into examining him since the day he died, the novel is just a shaving over 800 pages long and, due to Chernow’s writing style, is a very high level of reading. The issue one has when reading biographies of historical figures is that each sentence is either a new fact or an analysis.  With several week-long breaks, the book took me about two and a half months to read. I was already used to chewing through this writing style because I spent the previous four to five months (with breaks, I am not totally modest when it comes to my pace of reading) reading Alexander Hamilton by Chernow. It is not light reading.

I finished this book at 2 am (after spending the entire day destroying the remaining 250 pages of the book I had. What can I say? He’s an interesting dude) on December 13th, 2016. The date this blog post is being published is December 14th, 2016, exactly 217 years after George Washington passed away.

This review isn’t meant to memorialize Washington or praise Chernow. These paragraphs are simply meant to give a brief glimpse into my experience reading this book. It is a long book, but worth the insight and humanization it gives George Washington.

You can purchase it used (like I did) from Amazon.

PS: The previous owner of the book wrote several very accusatory and unwarranted criticisms of Thomas Jefferson in the book. It was rather humorous reading these statements presented as facts being discounted immediately by reading Chernow’s analysis of whatever subject was pertinent.

Books I’ve Been Reading

I totally stole this idea from, like, 1500 other people.

This is a continually updated list of books I’ve read starting with the last one I completed before blogging regularly and going up until whatever I’m reading currently.

 

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow: This one took me a good while to get through due to its density, but it was 100% worth it. It has become one of my favorite books.

Washington-A Life by Ron Chernow: I was advised by several friends not to dig deeper into the history hole, but one comment of affirmation spiraled me into the past of George Washington. Here’s my blog post about it.

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler: This book made me feel things I never thought I could feel. In totally opposite ends of the spectrum too. Unbridled anger, heart-wrenching sorrows, and copious joys. Here’s my scatterbrained afterthoughts.

Hardcore Self-Help: F**K Anxiety by Robert Duff, PHD: My brother got me this book for my birthday. It is a very quick read, but it gives insanely simple tips for handling anxiety ridden situations that don’t take much effort and don’t make you feel like a sanctimonious prick.

The Whoniverse: The Untold History of Space and Time by George Mann & Justin Richards: This is a chronological history book regarding the history of the Doctor Who universe. The style of the two authors can clash, as it caters to some emotional aspects of the show instead of the historical significance of the episodes. I read this 300 page sucker in one sitting however. Definitely worth the money for a Whovian. Also, the book is accompanied by beautiful illustrations.

America Again: Re-Becoming the Greatness We Never Weren’t by Stephen Colbert: This book was different from the others on the list. It was an entertaining look at the flaws in our country and how re-un-flawed they are not going to become again. Written in character, this has definitely piqued my interest in what else the man Stephen Colbert or the character Stephen Colbert has published.

The Story of the Beauty and the Beast by Madame de Villenveuve: The earliest version of the classic tale in its entirety. There are definitely some issues with it. The main one being that the story ends and the remaining forty percent of the book is exposition about the past and the wedding and it is really very dreadful. The core of the story is still rather impressively written.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald: I decided to reread this out of impulse and I have found an altogether renewed appreciation for the novel. The story of a regular guy getting wrapped up in an affair that is altogether familiar and unbelievable compels one to live their life. No, it compels you to live your life better.

Proof: A Play by David Auburn: This very short, two act play is a look at numbers and mental illness. I read this in under an hour, but felt well acquainted with the characters by the end of it. This book not only how the loved ones of the mentally ill can have a hard time understanding or supporting the sick, but how things only make sense inside a diseased head.

Weather in the Courtroom: Memoirs from a Career in Forensic Meteorology by William H. Haggard: I picked up this book because it was the newest one at the James E. Walker Library. I have grown up in a household that is well-grounded in the study of weather and the use of forensics. Reading a book that combines both was a no-brainer. It can get a little heavy on the jargon, but the book does not skimp on definitions or explanations for the uninitiated.

Doctor Who: Whographica: An Infographic Guide to Space and Time by Simon Guerrier, Steve O’Brien and Ben Morris: A coworker lent this book to me and I devoured it in an hour and a half. It uses statistics pulled from every episode of Doctor Who from 1963 to 2015 and puts them into easy to digest (for the most part, some are very information heavy) charts and graphs to compare and contrast decades of episodes. Definitely a good coffee table book.

Death: The High Cost of Living by Neil Gaiman: This looks to be my first graphic novel in a long time. It is a short read, it took me under and hour, but I like it. Not only does it give a nice look at the DC Comics personification of Death, but it subtly gives a look at some of the things we take for granted in life as well. This was recommended by Danny Avidan of the Game Grumps.

Raised in Captivity by Nicky Silver: This play was given to me to read by a close friend of mine who is directing it in a few months. It presents realism through absurdity and takes the fragile nature of things like religion, sex, sanity, and death and throws them into a washing machine and sets them on fire. The characters go through their own frank and partial journeys and it is a wonderful little play. Definitely Rated R though.

A Practical Handbook for the Actor by Melissa Bruder, Lee Michael Cohn, Madelelaine Olneck, Nathaniel Pollack, Robert Previto, and Scott Zigler: Literally what the title says. Under 100 pages of clear and simple techniques and guidances to improve the actor. Not preachy and not terribly dense. I definitely see myself referring back to this book in the future. It helps make things clear.

Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur: A great book of poetry that discusses love and loss in only so many words. Some of these poems have circulated around Twitter for quite some time. They are accompanied occasionally by drawings and every page has a harsh truth on it.

Doctor Who: The Forgotten by Tony Lee: A graphic novel about the Doctor going through a museum and reminiscing about his past lives. An excellent Tenth Doctor story that really goes through the history of the show and has some very good quiet moments. Definitely worth the read.

everyone’s a aliebn when ur a aliebn too: a book by Jomny Sun: A new book by someone I have always enjoyed on Twitter. The book is about an ‘aliebn’ who needs to study ‘humabns’. He meets all sorts of friends and learns about life. Started it and couldn’t put it down until I finished it.

Lafayette in the Somewhat United States by Sarah Vowell: The first audiobook I have ever listened too. I have had it for awhile and finally started listening to it when I was coming back from Atlanta. I enjoyed the full cast read. Especially listening to the varying adventures of Lafayette hunting a werewolf and Beaumarchais secretly funding the American Revolution.