Monthly Archives: May 2012

The Great Gatsby Trailer

Here is the trailer for Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby, which opens in December:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G7DonhNflsw&feature=g-logo

The Great Gatsby is one of my favorite novels. It is one of the most beautifully-written books ever, it has an engaging story, it has memorable characters, and it is packed with timeless American themes (greed, fakery, lust, et cetera). Therefore, when I heard that a new film version was being produced I was terrified–too many of my favorite books have already been destroyed on screen (The Color Purple, Beloved, and Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close for starters).

However, judging from the trailer the film looks like it might be decent. With the major exception of Tom Buchanan, who would never wear the kind of ridiculous mustache he is wearing in the film, and who appears to be no bigger than Gatsby though he is supposed to be “hulking,” the casting looks strong. Daisy is stunning, Jordan is Daisy’s less beautiful but still quite attractive sidekick (though I picture her with lighter brown hair), Leonardo DiCaprio is exactly as debonaire as Gatsby should be (though again, I don’t see Gatsby as a blond), and Tobey Maguire should fit well into Nick Carraway’s subtle-yet-essential role. I only wish he were a little taller, as Nick should be Gatsby’s physical equal, though of course inferior to him in some ways (e.g., financially) and superior in others (morally, I suppose).

I also love the version of U2’s “Love is Blindness” which serves as the trailer’s soundtrack. It is one of the band’s most underrated songs, and the remix is even more haunting than the original. It fits the lushness of Luhrmann’s scenery. His palette is the perfect one for portraying Gatsby‘s decadence.

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Book Acquired Recently: B.S. Johnson’s The Unfortunates

Johnson, B.S. The Unfortunates. 1969. New York: New Directions, 2007.

This is one of my favorite books. I already have a copy, but just received a desk copy from the publisher (New Directions is great!) because I’ll be using it in one of my classes this fall. It is more of an art object than a book: it comes unbound in twenty-seven separate sections in a box that also has writing (more of the “book”) on it. Aside from the first and last sections, each chapter is unnumbered, thus one may read it in whatever order one wishes. The structure of the book fits with its theme, the randomness of memory, which is not chronological, but is set off via random reminders instead. It is like a print version of a hypertext story. Well worth reading.

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Gabriel García Márquez’s Love In The Time of Cholera

I just finished reading Gabriel García Márquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera. What a fascinating, intense, perplexing book! It is one of the most profound books I’ve ever read in that much of what it says about love is spot-on, and for that reason it is a treasure, but at the same time, I think I appreciated the vibe, the spirit of the novel more than I appreciated the story itself. I’m not sure that I loved any of the characters, though I didn’t hate any of them. At times I identified with Florentino, especially in his enjoyment of letter writing.

The plot is simple–a man lives with his unrequited love for years and is finally rewarded–but the way Márquez structures the book in layers (circling back around to different events from different viewpoints, jumping back and forth in time) takes away any hint of sentimentality and causes readers to feel the same uncertainty as Florentino does while he waits for Fermina. Similarly, at times it feels like the novel is too wordy, too meandering, but this frustrating effect helps us to further understand the winding path of Florentino’s love.

It is rare that I feel so conflicted about a book, but like it (and in this case, also deeply respect it) anyway. I got so engrossed in it that at one point the reading experience became so intense, so feverish that I simply had to put it down for the evening because I couldn’t take it any more. I can only recall one or two other instances of that ever happening to me.

Here are some passages that I found especially incisive along with brief commentary (page numbers refer to the 2003 Vintage edition, translated by Edith Grossman):

“Florentino Ariza, on the other hand, had not stopped thinking of her for a single moment since Fermina Daza had rejected him out of hand after a long and troubled love affair fifty-one years, nine months, and four days ago. He did not have to keep a running tally, drawing a line for each day on the walls of a cell, because not a day had passed that something did not happen to remind him of her” (53).

“That was always the case: any event, good or bad, had some relationship to her” (142). This quote is closely related to the first one. If you are lucky, you meet someone who is so influential that their lens colors everything you see. Similarly, “he had never learned to write without thinking about her” (171).

“Reading had become his insatiable vice” (74). A lovely phrase.

“nothing in this world was more difficult than love” (223). Or more rewarding. But even in the best of times it is hard work.

“Now he read it again, this time syllable by syllable, scrutinizing each so that none of the letter’s secret intentions would be hidden from him, and then he read it four more times, until he was so full of the written words that they began to lose all meaning” (290). I love this passage both as a literary critic who appreciates attention to detail in one’s reading and as someone who is also prone to poring over love letters (or emails, as the case may be these days) with a fine-toothed comb.

There is also a passage where Florentino buys a mirror because Fermina’s reflection appeared in it once (228). Sometimes we resort to surrounding ourselves with objects that remind us of the one we miss, which can help ease the loneliness, but is of course never as good as the real thing.

Overall, an important, worthwhile book. 5/5

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Book Acquired Recently: Gabriel García Márquez’s Love In The Time of Cholera

Márquez, Gabriel García. Love in the Time of Cholera. 1988. Trans. Edith Grossman. New York: Vintage, 2003.

A good friend of mine has recommended this book to me numerous times, and finally insisted that I must read it NOW, so I went and picked it up. I’ve previously read Márquez’s novel One Hundred Years of Solitude and his collection of short stories No One Writes to the Colonel, and I am told that Love in the Time of Cholera is even better than these. I am looking forward to it!

Bought at The King’s English Bookshop, Salt Lake City, Utah.

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Home by Toni Morrison

I just finished reading Toni Morrison’s new novel, Home. It is not her best book, but is still a beautiful achievement. It exemplifies the smooth, vivid prose which evokes scenes clearly in readers’ minds that makes her one of my favorite authors. Home is not as good as her two finest works, Beloved and Song of Solomon, but it is in that impressive second echelon of her works (Sula, Love, The Bluest Eye, Paradise, in no particular order), which by any other standard than Morrison’s would be masterpieces.

Home is interesting because of the relationship between the seemingly omniscient narrator and its protagonist, Frank Money, who is given short chapters to speak back to how the narrator is telling his story. He reveals that the narrator is sometimes wrong about her(?) judgments of him, and that she sometimes gets the facts wrong. I don’t ever care deeply about Frank as a person like I do about some of Morrison’s other characters (e.g., Guitar in Song of Solomon; perhaps Home‘s shortness contributes to this lack), but I care about his narrative enough that it is hard to put the book down.

I also appreciate how Morrison tells the story from numerous characters’ perspectives, though Frank’s narrative is the primary one. It is helpful to hear the other characters explain their actions in the same way that Frank explains his rather than just hearing his side of their shared experiences. The most important case of this is when we get a chapter from his grandmother’s perspective because she is the most oppressive individual person in his life (i.e., whites as a whole are more oppressive than she is), but we find out why she acts the way she does, which makes her more sympathetic.

It is a great relief that Morrison is still near the top of her game at the end of her career. There are places where the novel could use more detail, but it is a strong effort nonetheless. Overall, I rate the book 4/5, definitely worth reading.

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Books Acquired Recently

Butler, Octavia E. Lilith’s Brood. New York: Grand Central, 1989.

Butler’s Kindred is one of my favorite books, but I’ve never read any of her science fiction (SF) novels. This book, along with Card’s, is for an independent study I’m doing with a student this summer.

Card, Orson Scott, ed. Masterpieces: The Best Science Fiction of the Twentieth Century. New York: Ace, 2001.

This is a decent, cheaply-priced anthology, which is why I assigned it. But it omits Octavia Butler, Samuel R. Delany, and Joanna Russ, so I am having a difficult time taking it seriously. There’s no use pretending that only white males write SF any more.

Goodman, Linda. Venus Trines At Midnight. 1970. Charlottesville: Hampton Roads, 1998.

I bought this book because a friend recently sent me a lovely poem from it, “The Fish Meets the Water-Bearer” (http://readalittlepoetry.wordpress.com/2011/09/19/the-fish-meets-the-water-bearer-by-linda-goodman/). I began reading the collection tonight, and while many of Goodman’s poems rely too much on sing-songy verse rhymes and astrological imagery (the blurb describes her as “the world’s best-known astrologer”), enough of them contain lines that are either spot-on insights or beautifully-turned phrases to make the book an enjoyable one. Here are the last few lines from the title poem:

Now that we’re so intimately acquainted in dreams

for old times’ sake

couldn’t I run into your arms just once

when we’re alone–and awake?

 

hooks, bell. Yearning: Race, Gender, and Cultural Politics. Boston: South End, 1990.

I love bell hooks but have read way too little of her work. This is one of her germinal essay collections.

Stross, Charles. Accelerando. 2005. New York: Ace, 2006.

I was considering this for my SF independent study and ended up not assigning it, but it looks fascinating and I have a book-buying addiction, so I bought it.

All purchased on amazon.com.

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Why I Care About Sports

This post is for all you haters out there (you know who you are!) who mock otherwise-intelligent people like me for being sports fans. My colleagues in academia are often baffled when they find out that I follow sports.  Part of this surprise is a form of classism: sports fandom is seen as blue collar, and thus uneducated, and so why would I want to sit in the stands with all of those Republican drones? (Ooh, see what I just did there? Republican=uneducated.) But most of this surprise stems from some legitimate critiques of sports that I generally agree with. Here are three examples:

1. Professional athletes are way, way overpaid.

This is absolutely the case. There is no way to justify anyone making millions of dollars a year at any activity (not just sports) while issues of hunger and homelessness still exist in the United States. My fondness for sports does not preclude me from also having a fondness for Marx.

2. Collegiate athletics are both exploitative of their athletes and an insult to the educational mission of colleges and universities.

As someone who teaches in an underfunded field, English, I agree with this point. NCAA Division I athletics (and oftentimes athletic programs in lower divisions as well) are a travesty. There is so much wrong with them that I can’t even begin to untangle the mess here. I would be happy if all schools stopped giving athletic scholarships and actually put the emphasis in “student-athlete” back on “student.”

3. Sports are just a game. They aren’t like other leisure activities such as reading that also have societal/political significance. It is a waste of energy to care about them.

This is somewhat of true. A great example of grownups seeming to care way too much about sports occurred this past weekend during the final day of the English Premier League as the championship fight between Manchester United and Manchester City went down to (almost literally) the last second (here’s an excellent recap of what was at stake and what happened by Chris Ryan http://www.grantland.com/story/_/id/7927466/today-gonna-day, and here are two photos of grownup fans seeming to care too much http://guyism.com/sports/manchester-city-wins-epl-championship-in-dramatic-comeback.html). I didn’t cry after those fuckers City won the title, but sports has moved me to tears on more occasions than I would like to admit. Every time I watch a game and my team loses, I am put into a bad mood for the rest of the day and curse myself for caring. I know that my teams will bring me inconsistent joy at best (though when this joy does come along it is better than the pain), whereas if I had spent those two or three hours reading a book I would be happy and smarter, and it is for this reason that this blog will primarily focus on literature.

Nevertheless, I continue to follow sports because they, like literature, help me to feel part of something bigger than myself. (The dichotomy between sports and literature that I’ve implicitly set up here is, of course, a false one, as they share many features. One of the reasons I like sports is because they offer me another kind of narrative: an inning, a game, a season, the history of a franchise….) Sports create community, and that is significant. Some reporters estimated that over six hundred million watched the Manchester derby between United and City at the end of April (I, too, was watching). It was a really neat feeling to be a part of something together with just under a tenth of the entire world. As a scholar, it is clear that I should care about an event that affects so many people.

On a smaller scale, sports connects me to my original geographic community, New York City. Whenever I see someone wearing a Mets hat, a connection, however small, is made, just like a connection is made when I see a stranger reading one of my favorite books at a coffeehouse.

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