Tuesday, April 23, 2013

100th Blog Post: Living the Dream in the Valley of Ashes

The Great Gatsby
F. Scott Fitzgerald
180 pages

I don't feel I have the credibility to really write a review of the novel, therefore I would like to use the opportunity of this 100th post to discuss what is said to be the greatest American novel of all time: The Great Gatsby.

The city seen from the Queensboro Bridge is always the city seen for the first time, in its first wild promise of all the mystery and beauty in the world.   - page 68

New York, 1922. The Jazz Age is in full swing, and with World War I at a close, the American people are restless, alive with post-war excitement and opportunity. Nick Carraway has just moved to Long Island looking to get started in the "bond business", and winds up buying a home next door to the grand and mysterious Jay Gatsby. After being invited to one of his neighbor's lavish parties, Nick soon learns of Gatsby's secrets, and the love he is desperately trying to find again.

The following are some of my favorite passages from the book, and my understanding of them. Each of the selections refer to a prominent theme of the novel or a character that Fitzgerald so genuinely created.

But I can still read the gray names, and they will give you a better impression than my generalities of those who accepted Gatsby's hospitality and paid him the subtle tribute of knowing nothing whatever about him.   -page 61,

In this chapter of the the novel, Nick lists all of the people who attended Gatsby's parties that summer. To me, this was one of the most interesting sections. All of these people, businessmen, actors and actresses, politicians, and housewives, some invited and some not, came to sprawl out in his lawn furniture, drink his liquor, and dance to his music - but did him the favor of knowing nothing about him. Some visitors had never even met the fabled Mr. Gatsby, some failed to believe he even existed.

At least a dozen men, some of them a little better off than he was, explained to him that wheel and car were no longer joined by any physical bond.
"Back out," he suggested after a moment. "Put her in reverse."
"But the wheel's off!"
"No harm in trying." he said. -page 55

In this scene, a drunk driver has driven his new car into a ditch after pulling out of Gatsby's driveway. He fails to understand that it is impossible to drive the car now that the wheel has fallen off, and is determined to get his hands back on the wheel. This hidden metaphor represents the true American spirit in the eyes of Fitzgerald. He believes in the American will to keep going after times of trouble. Whether that has been after losing a job, overcoming an illness, or wrecking a car, the American dream has always been to go on.

"If it wasn't for the mist we could see your home across the bay," said Gatsby. "You always have a green light that burns all night at the end of your dock."   -page 92

Here Gatsby explains to Daisy that her house is directly across from his, only a vast expanse of water separating them from one another. This "green light" not only stands for his goal to win back Daisy's heart, but for the elaborate future he had planned out for himself as a young child. Gatsby's dreams will always be there, like the green light, which will shine bright until it is turned off. The problem with Gatsby's planned-out future is that no matter how hard he tries to swim across the bay to reach it, he never will, as the buoy of fate will prevent him from ever reaching the opposite shore.

This is the Valley of Ashes - a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens...The eyes of Doctor T.J Eckleburg are blue and gigantic - their retinas one-yard high. They look out of no face, but, instead, from a pair of spectacles which pass over a non-existent nose...his eyes, dimmed a little by paintless days under sun and rain, brood over the solemn dumping ground.  -page 23

All of the major events of this story take place under the watchful gaze of Doctor T.J Eckleburg. Several views can be taken on what he is meant to symbolize, but I narrowed down my opinions to just two.
1) Eckleburg has no fingers, or arms, only eyes, and I take that to mean that people do too much watching and not enough doing. We tend to sit back and stare at the corruption, the wrong, the criminal - and never often enough use our hands to make a change.
2) The eyes of Eckleburg represent God in a way that makes us believe that He sees everything we do, but lets us discover for ourselves the best possible way to fix our mistakes.

The Great Gatsby's new film version will be hitting theaters on May 10th! To view the trailer click here

Tonight is World Book Night 2013, a night where half a million books will be given out to those who are light or non-readers in our community. Kicking off last year, the program was started to bring and spread the joy of reading to everyone, everywhere. To find out how you can get involved in 2014, visit: http://www.us.worldbooknight.org  Happy reading!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Finding Solace in Springtime and Poetry

Spring has arrived. The season took its time this year, waltzing in a week or so later that its scheduled date. But, never the less, it has come. And, with the calender telling us it is April, I thought I would also take a moment to point out this month is National Poetry Month.

The following is the poem O Sweet Spontaneous by e.e. cummings, written in 1920. Many reviews of this poem I have seen read in to this poem much deeper that its surface meaning - relating it to society and its problems - but I like this piece for its ease. e.e. cummings describes spring's beauty without ever actually describing it. He doesn't embellish the blue skies, or the smell of the lilies. He doesn't listen to the bees buzzing or the robins chirping. The sun does not warm his face, nor do the new emerald green leaves give him shade. To him, spring just is.

O sweet spontaneous
earth how often have

fingers of
prurient philosophers pinched

,has the naughty thumb
of science prodded

beauty .how
oftn have the religions taken
thee upon their scraggy knees
squeezing and

buffeting thee that thou mightest conceive

to the incomparable
couch of death thy

thou answerest

them only with


What is very unusual about this poem is it's format (which Blogger did not quite let me recreate here) - poetry is known for having no set rules, but the spelling of oftn was not a slip of my fingers on the keys, and .how is not a grammatical error. e.e cummings wrote many of his poems this way, and he is probably the only person who will ever know why.

So I leave you with this. I leave you hoping that as expressed in the picture above, spring brings you beauty through the ugly, hope through the doubt, and light through the darkness. As Emily Dickinson once wrote, "A Light exists in Spring / Not present on the Year / At any other period"

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Between Shades of Gray

Between Shades of Gray
Ruta Sepetys
338 pages

It is 1941 and World War II is tearing through Europe, but the horrific events taking place in the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia are unknown to the rest of the world. Fifteen-year-old Lina Vilkas is winding down the school year, and spending her free-time lost in colored pencils and paint, when a knock on her front door changes her life forever. She and her family are taken from their home in Lithuania by the Soviet secret police and are thrown into cattle cars bound for northern Siberia. Along the way, Lina embeds clues into her drawings hoping if they are passed along, they might reach her father, and bring him back to them. In this moving story, Lina will spend the next twelve years fighting for her life as well as others' in the prison camps the world never knew about.

The horrific events that occurred between 1941 and 1954 under the rule of Josef Stalin was a part of history I had never heard of before reading this book. When I first started reading, I had a few questions, so I turned to my grandfather for the answers. We had a really nice discussion, although the topic was not uplifting, and I enjoyed hearing what he had to say (as I always do). I swear, my grandfather should have been a history teacher, he knows so much about the past. He tells me that's one of the side effects of being an avid reader: you learn a whole lot :)

Between Shades of Gray is Sepetys' first novel, and based on the events her Lithuanian relatives faced during this hidden part of history. She says in the author's note, "Speaking about their experience meant immediate imprisonment or deportation back to Siberia. As a result, the horrors they endured went dormant, a hideous secret shared by millions of people."

Sepetys brings to light these tragedies through Lina, her brother Jonas, and their friend Andrius in a way that is sometimes humorous, and sometimes heartbreaking. Interspersed with flashbacks to the past, Sepetys draws parallels to the life Lina used to live, and the one she must now fight for. Between Shades of Gray is a very character driven novel, therefore, in order to love the plot, the reader must love the characters. All of Sepety's characters are drawn to be very real, but the only thing I would have liked more of was more references to Lina's father. A strong connection is developed between Lina and her mother who is described as, "the only sun in the polar night."

Powerful and insightful, Between Shades of Gray, uncovers a hidden section of mankind's timeline in a way its readers are likely never to forget.