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Why I Despise The Great Gatsby
May 7, 2013 7:59 AM   Subscribe

There are a small number of novels I return to again and again: Middlemarch, The Portrait of a Lady, Pride and ­Prejudice, maybe a half-dozen others. But Gatsby is in a class by itself. It is the only book I have read so often despite failing—in the face of real effort and sincere ­intentions—to derive almost any pleasure at all from the experience.
posted by Chrysostom (181 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite

 
I have a feeling the movie is going to be like that too.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:07 AM on May 7, 2013


When I read it in high school, I could not for the life of me understand why I should care about anyone in the book. Daisy is a vapid pleasure seeker. If Gatsby wants her that badly, he must be about as shallow. And if Nick is helping him, then he is also just another pleasure seeker running around Long Island.

So far as I could see, the book is just Fitzgerald's apologia for running away from that scene.
posted by ocschwar at 8:15 AM on May 7, 2013 [7 favorites]


I admit that it's been a few years since I've read The Great Gatsby, but I don't really agree with the author. When I read it in high school, it was not presented as The Great American novel. I wasn't expected to derive universal truths about The American Experience from it. It was one work by an American author that we read, somewhere between Hawthorne and Vonnegut.
But when you combine the two—when you apply a strict moral code to the saturnalian society to which you are attracted—you inevitably wind up a hypocrite.
Perhaps the book is still compelling today because of this, not in spite of it?
At no point are we made to feel uncomfortable about either pleasure, let alone their conjunction.
Ohhh, she's doing that annoying freelance opinion writer thing where she says "we" when she means "I."
posted by muddgirl at 8:17 AM on May 7, 2013 [17 favorites]


Well, to parry the contrarian, I expect I will love the movie despite its excesses. There was something very charming about the over-the-top Romeo+Juliet and Moulin Rouge, a couple of my favorites. I'm looking forward to this one.
posted by Celsius1414 at 8:17 AM on May 7, 2013 [17 favorites]


I thought this was a thoughtful, well-written piece, which is nonetheless wrong. To say

Fitzgerald fails at that, most egregiously where it most matters: in the relationship between Daisy and Gatsby. This he constructs out of one part nostalgia, four parts narrative expedience, and zero parts anything else—love, sex, desire, any kind of palpable connection.

is weird -- the romantic relationship that drives the novel is that between Gatsby and Nick, and that one is presented with a full range of feeling.

Our position throughout is that of an innocent bystander. That’s also Nick’s role, so the perspective of the book becomes one of passive observation. He watches across apartments as affairs take place, across parties as fights break out, across the road where the dead Myrtle’s left breast flaps leerishly loose. Yet he never admits to collusion with or seduction by all the fabulous depravity around him. After it’s all over, he retreats to the Midwest and, figuratively and literally, tells his story from the safe remove of America’s imaginary moral high ground.

I think this vastly understates the complication of Nick's role at the center of the novel. To say that he has, in any sense, the "moral high ground" in the book seems to require that you take the second clause of his famous line

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.

literally, and this is not a reading I can endorse.

But allow me, in its fullness, one last apostasy. Every time I read the book’s beloved final line, I roll my eyes. “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past”: What a shame that Fitzgerald wasted such a lovely image on such an insufferable voice. Even as that faux “we” promises intimacy, the words drift down to us from on high—condescending, self-serious, detached from genuine human struggle. I’m sorry, but in the moral universe of The Great Gatsby, we are not all in the same boat. We are all up above it, watching—with prurient fascination, with pious opprobrium, watching and watching and doing nothing at all.

I am happy to concede that the last line, despite its fame, is not one of the very best sentences in the book (though there are plenty of books in which it would be one of the best sentences.) Yes -- the experience of being on the outside, watching -- that is, Nick's experience -- is central to the book. But I can't see how Schultz reads this "outside" as "above," nor can I find in the moral universe of the book the piety and sanctimony she sees there. To do so I would have to think that FSF wishes to condemn Gatsby without sincerely admiring him. Surely that's wrong. Fitzgerald is not kidding when he calls Gatsby great.
posted by escabeche at 8:19 AM on May 7, 2013 [28 favorites]


I went into this article wanting to like it, but I think it would be better headlined "Why I Despise Nick Carraway?" which sort of undermines the argument.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 8:19 AM on May 7, 2013




Perhaps the book is still compelling today because of this, not in spite of it?

Right on. If it is "hypocrisy" to denounce that which you admire and emulate, then hypocrisy is a central feature of the human condition, and let us have more hypocritical novels!
posted by escabeche at 8:20 AM on May 7, 2013 [6 favorites]


I used to like The Great Gatsby until just now, when some lady I've never met wrote a brief article telling me not to.
posted by item at 8:21 AM on May 7, 2013 [16 favorites]


Fitzgerald surely must have gotten fed up with his own annoying characters and uninteresting plot at some point. Personally, I think he had this revelation while writing the pages about the group coming back from the city and I wouldn't be shocked if he asked himself, "How can I end this....immediately?" Thus the hit-and-run.
posted by thorny at 8:23 AM on May 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Thanks, Chrysostom; that's a sharp and thoughtful take on the book. The bits about Nick's passivity as an observer and the almost total lack of humor struck home, as does this:

There’s Fitzgerald’s unthinking commitment to a gender order so archaic as to be Premodern: corrupt woman occasioning the fall of man. There is, relatedly, the travesty of his female characters—single parenthesis every one, thoughtless and thin.

First read it as an adult a few years back and really, really don't get where all the praise comes from.
posted by mediareport at 8:24 AM on May 7, 2013


I used to like The Great Gatsby until just now, when some lady I've never met wrote a brief article telling me not to.

I'll never understand the point of comments like that. Can we have an intelligent discussion without the anti-intellectual garbage?
posted by mediareport at 8:26 AM on May 7, 2013 [19 favorites]


Actually, I always took the book as a chronicle of How Nick Became Disillusioned With The Beautiful People. Yeah, Daisy and Gatsby are vapid - they're supposed to be. We're supposed to discover, along with Nick, that they're really empty and vapid and that their riches and millions don't really bring them any happiness because they are themselves really shallow people.

And if you think that's not relevant today, look how many people are obsessed with reality shows about the Kardashians or who-all.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:26 AM on May 7, 2013 [45 favorites]


Right on. If it is "hypocrisy" to denounce that which you admire and emulate, then hypocrisy is a central feature of the human condition, and let us have more hypocritical novels!

To be fair to Schultz (who doesn't care about my opinion one whit, anyway), my high school American Literature teacher was probably uniquely obsessed with "hypocritical novels," so my formulative impressions of literature might be skewed.

There is, relatedly, the travesty of his female characters—single parenthesis every one, thoughtless and thin.

So, not atypical of most novels taught in high school. If I can't enjoy a novel which treats women as afterthoughts, there's not a lot to read. If they're not afterthoughts, then they're objects.
posted by muddgirl at 8:28 AM on May 7, 2013


Finally: the "I'm willing to say what I'll bet we're all thinking, establishment-lauded artwork is not that great" is not a good look in general, especially when we're dealing with something as old as Gatsby. Denouncing Fitzgerald is about as daring as denouncing Dickens. "Daring," in 2013, would be announcing that The Wire is technically sound but morally empty, or that Louis CK relies on cheap effects and sentimental thrills but in the end has nothing of value to say. (Not that I endorse either of these assertions.)

In other words: absent from the piece is any attempt to grapple with the fact that hundreds of thousands of readers, over many decades, have found more in the book than she has. If she thinks we are all wrong, she should try to explain why. For instance: she might think that most people really like sanctimony and mistake it for profundity; fine, than she should say so. Or she might think that most people overvalue a well-crafted prose style and don't care about characters; that doesn't ring true to me, but it's a theory you could try to defend. But I think that when you're left unmoved by a work of art that others admire, part of the criticism has to be a real understanding of what it is that other people admire about the work, and why they're not troubled what, to you, are killing flaws.
posted by escabeche at 8:29 AM on May 7, 2013 [26 favorites]


I want to come back and write more, but my initial reaction both to individual parts and the piece is a whole is basically "But that's the point, surely?"
posted by PMdixon at 8:29 AM on May 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


And, of course, if you really want to dig down into Gatsby, head straight for the RapGenius version.
posted by escabeche at 8:31 AM on May 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'll never understand the point of comments like that. Can we have an intelligent discussion without the anti-intellectual garbage?

One person's "anti-intellectual garbage" is another persons's "dismissive comment of an essay that thoroughly misses the point of one of the great novels." YMMV.
posted by Celsius1414 at 8:32 AM on May 7, 2013 [9 favorites]


And why do I care what someone writing for NY mag thinks? Schultz is not a distinguished critic. She's not a particularly renowned author. I don't understand why her opinion is more especially valid than anyone else writing today.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:33 AM on May 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Finally: the "I'm willing to say what I'll bet we're all thinking, establishment-lauded artwork is not that great" is not a good look in general, especially when we're dealing with something as old as Gatsby. Denouncing Fitzgerald is about as daring as denouncing Dickens.

So denouncing old things isn't trendy right now?

I will leave it to the reader to unpack the multiple levels of irony here.
posted by speicus at 8:33 AM on May 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Heh. I've read the book at least as many times as the author but if anything reading the essay made me want to read it again.
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 8:34 AM on May 7, 2013


Finally: the "I'm willing to say what I'll bet we're all thinking, establishment-lauded artwork is not that great" is not a good look in general, especially when we're dealing with something as old as Gatsby.

Actually, there's a fantastic book I read years ago (which I'm thisclose to preparing an Askme to help get a copy) that was entirely about trashing classic works in the Western Canon that the writers deemed were "overrated". We can get too precious about some works of literature - to the point that someone who just plain subjectively doesn't like something feels awkward about admitting it because "it's a classic, I'm supposed to like it, I must be dumb or something I guess". But that's not the case - it is perfectly okay to just plain not like a work of literature on its own merits, even if you do understand all the themes and meaning and crap. (My not liking The Turn Of The Screw doesn't make me a philistine, it just makes me someone who dislikes Henry James' diahrrea-of-the-mouth florid writing style and who wishes he'd get to the freakin' point already.)

For the record, I thought Gatsby was just alright, and the couple times since that I've read it it's pretty much the same. Not awful, but not The Most Scintilating Thing I've Ever Read either. I respect Fitzgerald's skill, but it's not my most favoritest book ever is all.

And people need to feel free to say that, and embracing a literary canon makes it tough to do so.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:37 AM on May 7, 2013 [9 favorites]


But I think that when you're left unmoved by a work of art that others admire, part of the criticism has to be a real understanding of what it is that other people admire about the work, and why they're not troubled what, to you, are killing flaws.

This should be a rule in the Chicago Manuel of Style or whatever rulebook editors use, a requirement for anyone writing a contrarian piece about a classic.

it is perfectly okay to just plain not like a work of literature on its own merits, even if you do understand all the themes and meaning and crap.

But it's not OK to write an essay about how you don't like it if your understanding of why other people love it is limited to a vague handwave at "themes and meaning and crap."
posted by straight at 8:43 AM on May 7, 2013 [7 favorites]


I rather liked the essay - while furiously disagreeing with almost every point made.

However, the essay writer commits an absolute stinker of a lit crit. crime.

She quotes Fitzgerald directly in her essay (the "he" ):

Of the great, redemptive romance on which the entire story is supposed to turn, he admitted, “I gave no account (and had no feeling about or knowledge of) the emotional relations between Gatsby and Daisy.” What was Fitzgerald doing instead of figuring out such things about his characters?


That is NOT how that famous quote ends:

Fitzgerald actually wrote: " I gave no account (and had no feeling about or knowledge of) the emotional relations between Gatsby and Daisy from the time of their reunion to the catastrophe.”

By chopping off the end of that quote, the essay author disastrously distorts what Fitzgerald was "admitting".
posted by Jody Tresidder at 8:46 AM on May 7, 2013 [28 favorites]


And people need to feel free to say that, and embracing a literary canon makes it tough to do so.

Exactly! My claim is that, right now, it is much easier for people to feel free to say that about F. Scott Fitzgerald or Joyce or Dickens or Dante than it is about The Wire, Louie CK, or the first five seasons of the Simpsons.

(I tried to think of a musical example but I think pop music might work differently; I'm not sure there's a musician so "canon" that you can't credibly trash their music in public.)
posted by escabeche at 8:48 AM on May 7, 2013


I'll never understand the point of comments like that. Can we have an intelligent discussion without the anti-intellectual garbage?

I'll never understand the point of comments like that. Can't we dismiss poorly-written bullshit that condescendingly dismisses a much-beloved novel using half-assed pseudo-intellectual tactics?
posted by item at 8:50 AM on May 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


"I gave no account (and had no feeling about or knowledge of) the emotional relations between Gatsby and Daisy from the time of their reunion to the catastrophe.”

That's interesting, but I think the point remains: there's nothing at all in the book about the emotional relationship between Gatsby and Daisy during the period in which the book's events take place. I don't think leaving off the end part is as damning as you suggest (and can imagine a draft in which it was included, along with something like, "which is, of course, the period in which the book's events take place").
posted by mediareport at 8:54 AM on May 7, 2013


I agree. Book was fucking stupid. All those rich people going to parties in East Egg. I checked out a map and East Egg doesn't even exist. Why were they always drinking mint juleps, nobody drinks those. And the billboard with the picture of god was ridiculous.How does a picture of god sell glasses, someone should teach Figtzgerald basic marketing.

Don't get me started on Old Man and the Sea. They are like in this canoe without GPS or a sat phone, what do they think is going to happen. Shit is stupid
posted by Ad hominem at 8:54 AM on May 7, 2013 [12 favorites]


item, all I'm suggesting is the comments like those from escabeche and Jody Tressider are, to me, much more fun, and offer more to the conversation, which is a Good Thing. I'll leave it at that.
posted by mediareport at 8:55 AM on May 7, 2013


there's nothing at all in the book about the emotional relationship between Gatsby and Daisy during the period in which the book's events take place.

Isn't this, like, a massive mega-hint as to the theme of the book? "That work is not about what I want it to be about" is a common criticism, but ultimately a shallow one.
posted by muddgirl at 8:56 AM on May 7, 2013 [15 favorites]


I've seen the "man, Fitzgerald doesn't even make me believe that Gatsby truly loves Daisy" complaint leveled before, and I always find it bizarre. If there's no proof that Gatsby has powerful, genuine feelings of caring for Daisy in the book, why is that somehow a failing of Fitzgerald's rather than a point that he is making? I just can't understand how someone can read this book and think "What with Gatsby being such a noble and genuine man and all--the Lancelot of modern literature, really--I can't imagine why Fitzgerald didn't let us in on the romance of the century here."
posted by IAmUnaware at 8:56 AM on May 7, 2013 [5 favorites]


Don't get me started on Old Man and the Sea. They are like in this canoe without GPS or a sat phone,meat do they think is going to happen. Shit is stupid

I know, right? And Moby Dick - I read almost the whole thing and there was neither bland commercial techno nor penises to be found. What a crock!
posted by item at 8:57 AM on May 7, 2013 [5 favorites]


Oh how I wish it really were the Chicago Manuel of Style.

"Say, Manuel, do I hyphenate this or not?"

"Well, it depends."

"Yes or no, Manuel. Geez. Why do you always have to make everything so hard?"

"Well that's because style is not a "yes" or "no", my friend. Style is lived. Style is felt. And only then is style known. Tell me. Where does this hyphenation occur? Is it an adverb that ends in 'ly'? Is an abbreviation involved? A number? These details matter to style and so they matter to me. Share them with me and then together we shall decide."
posted by notyou at 8:58 AM on May 7, 2013 [34 favorites]


Well, muddgirl beat me to that and put it a bit better than I did.
posted by IAmUnaware at 8:58 AM on May 7, 2013


I rather liked the essay - while furiously disagreeing with almost every point made.

This. I occasionally get to read thoughtful attacks on things that I like, and the ability to read such things and get my head around the perspective they represent is one of the most useful and enjoyable things I know. If the attack is intelligent and sensible it's downright mind-expanding, or even "improving" in the old sense of the word.

But yeah, twisting that quote from the author about Jay and Daisy's relationship? Not cool.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:00 AM on May 7, 2013


Nobody thought much of the novel when it first came out, either.

There's just no accounting for taste.
posted by notyou at 9:02 AM on May 7, 2013


Fitzgerald fails at that, most egregiously where it most matters: in the relationship between Daisy and Gatsby. This he constructs out of one part nostalgia, four parts narrative expedience, and zero parts anything else—love, sex, desire, any kind of palpable connection.

Gah. That's the whole point. The novel is Nick falling out of love with a person that he deeply admired because he realizes that he's not a tragic hero with a flawed obsession for someone who is really very shallow. He realizes that Gatsby is every bit the idiot that Daisy is.

If the relationship between Gatsby and Daisy were in any way admirable, it would destroy the whole narrative.
posted by lumpenprole at 9:03 AM on May 7, 2013 [20 favorites]


If there's no proof that Gatsby has powerful, genuine feelings of caring for Daisy in the book, why is that somehow a failing of Fitzgerald's rather than a point that he is making

Fitzgerald succeeds there. Gatsby does not love Daisy. She is symbolic of success, just one more thing to attain. This is such a central part of the book it's really odd when people miss it. People should probably re read the book later in life.
posted by Ad hominem at 9:05 AM on May 7, 2013 [8 favorites]


Another good example is "Say It Ain't So, Huck", by Jane Smiley, a rather infamous takedown of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I disagree with her conclusions and tone -- though I think a lot of the nastiness is arguendo and pose for humorous effect -- but many of her points are inarguably true and if you love Twain and the novel it is well worth reading. It didn't take anything away from my love for either but it got me thinking about both in new ways. It is a technically accurate yet also wilfully point-missing pan. I don't challenge its right to exist, quite the contrary. But it exists best in the context of universal and often purblind praise for the same.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:07 AM on May 7, 2013


Book was fucking stupid. All those rich people going to parties in East Egg. I checked out a map and East Egg doesn't even exist.

"And you start to think, what is this, a fucking book about Egg? But just wait a little bit and you start to see there's more things happening there now." - Ozzie Guillen
posted by Copronymus at 9:07 AM on May 7, 2013 [5 favorites]


I quote the last paragraph of Gatsby incessantly because it holds a tremendous, complicated resonance for me, and because it's engraved on Fitzgerald's grave just twenty miles from my house, where I can lounge in fits of slouchy literary self-pity when I'm so inclined, but I've never thought of the book as something to be loved, or even enjoyed, really. It's not a pretty story, and it's full of not-pretty people, in a not-pretty environment at a tricky time in history, and it's lamentably taught in school as something it's not, so people often come back to it with this sort of lingering aftertaste of disappointment.

I like to reread Gatsby and then reread The Day of the Locust as a coda, which, while West isn't Fitzgerald's equal in craftsmanship, makes for a nice bookend to the sensation of reading the former.

Still, though, that goddamned green light.
posted by sonascope at 9:11 AM on May 7, 2013 [6 favorites]


And if you think that's not relevant today, look how many people are obsessed with reality shows about the Kardashians or who-all.

Thing is, the Kardashians are a distraction, some red meat thrown out for those who love a good trainwreck (or love complaining about people being interested in such shallow fare) while the real masters of the universe do their evil unnoticed. So it goes for Fitzgerald and The Great Gatsby.
posted by MartinWisse at 9:13 AM on May 7, 2013


I just can't understand how someone can read this book and think "What with Gatsby being such a noble and genuine man and all--the Lancelot of modern literature, really--I can't imagine why Fitzgerald didn't let us in on the romance of the century here."

Probably because much of our modern popular culture is solely about who wants to or is actually having sex with someone else. We've all been trained to believe that the need for coitus is the only human drive or desire that exists.
posted by winna at 9:13 AM on May 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Nobody thought much of the novel when it first came out, either.

Hemingway was an early fan.
posted by No Robots at 9:16 AM on May 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ok, i finally read the article after reading these comments here.

Wow, she really misses the point of the whole book. I can't believe she's read it five times.

I've never thought this story was about Gatsby and Daisy. Daisy is just another thing he wants to acquire, even if he doesn't fully realize it himself. (on preview what Ad Hominem said) Him saying she was his first love or whatever has nothing to do with the fact that he's just built her up in his head as some sort of ideal that he can now put in his beautiful mansion. Come on. The entire book is full of people who have no real insight into their own motivations, including the ridiculously classic unreliable narrator. Nick saying that he thinks he is the most honest person he knows is him saying 'don't trust me as a narrator.'

If she thinks Nick is an "innocent bystander" and that at no point are we given room "to feel complicit", then she is reading a different book than I am. I felt uncomfortable, and felt Nick's discomfort, when he was being the go-between for Daisy and Gatsby. It's been a while since I've read the book or watched the movie, but it's pretty damn clear that Nick feels uncomfortable with being complicit in all of it. That's why his perception of Gatsby starts to change.
posted by sio42 at 9:18 AM on May 7, 2013 [8 favorites]


And why do I care what someone writing for NY mag thinks? Schultz is not a distinguished critic. She's not a particularly renowned author. I don't understand why her opinion is more especially valid than anyone else writing today.

I imagine her opinion would be valid if you respected her arguments and the degree to which she backed them up with thoughtful and informed comment. Are you suggesting for someone's opinion to be valid they have to be "distinguished"? Distinguished by who?
posted by philip-random at 9:19 AM on May 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


You know, what gets me about this essay is that the author is trying to convince her readers to dislike an almost century-old novel. Why? Did FSF sleep with her great-grandmother? The book obviously has been cherished by countless readers worldwide for longer than she's been alive, so what's the beef stem from, exactly? It just seems like such a hateful waste of time to produce a piece knocking something that will continue to bring joy to folks for who the hell knows how long. Or maybe that's her mission, to plant the seed that it's really a terrible work and then sit back and watch as the anti-Gatsby movement grows into a mighty and terrible being, a self-aware creature that will one day devour us all as the essay's author sits atop a throne she's constructed from discarded high-schoolers' copies. Roar.
posted by item at 9:20 AM on May 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


And why do I care what someone writing for NY mag thinks? Schultz is not a distinguished critic. She's not a particularly renowned author. I don't understand why her opinion is more especially valid than anyone else writing today.

You're right, it isn't any more valid than any other critic's. But it's also not less valid just because you happen to disagree with her. It's possible to disagree with her opinion without disparaging her credentials.

You know, what gets me about this essay is that the author is trying to convince her readers to dislike an almost century-old novel. Why? Did FSF sleep with her great-grandmother? The book obviously has been by countless readers worldwide for longer than she's been alive, so what's the beef stem from, exactly?

Her dislike of the book doesn't suffice as a reason?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:22 AM on May 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


Nope.
posted by item at 9:24 AM on May 7, 2013


Since I never read Gatsby in school and only recently finished it as a free eBook, I'm really enjoying these discussions. If the movie gives me nothing else, a lot of great analysis and criticism of the book has come up recently, especially here on the blue, and it's helping me sort and articulate my own appreciation of the novel in ways that probably wouldn't have happened otherwise. So thanks, mefites.
posted by figurant at 9:25 AM on May 7, 2013


Why isn't "I just don't like this" enough of a reason to talk about why you don't like something? I have no problem saying that I find a lot of Kafka boring, Lady Chatterley's Lover to be trying too hard, and Henry James makes me wanna throw things, but I have no reason to say so beyond "hell, I just didn't like 'em."

Incidentally - If The Great Gatsby were just published today by an unknown, would you still like it? How much of your (apparent) appreciation for the book is bound up in the reputation you've been told it has?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:27 AM on May 7, 2013 [6 favorites]


And Moby Dick - I read almost the whole thing and [there were no] penises to be found.

apparently you missed the best chapter
posted by RogerB at 9:28 AM on May 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


And a follow up:

You know, what gets me about this essay is that the author is trying to convince her readers to dislike an almost century-old novel. Why? Did FSF sleep with her great-grandmother?

This makes me wonder what the author's dislike of the book has you in such a lather. Did Kathryn Schulz sleep with your dad?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:28 AM on May 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


Here is one other point. Gatsby has to make Nick complicit. Why? It's like that old joke.

There is a plane crash, the only survivors are Cindy Crawford and some schlub. Eventually nature takes it's course and they make love. They spend their days laying on the beach eating coconuts served by monkey butlers, and spend their nights fucking under the stars. Cindy notices that the schlub is distant, and something is wrong. She asks "You seem unhappy, isn't everything perfect. Is there anything I can do?" The schlub hems and haws but finally says, "I want you wear some of my clothes, draw a beard on your face with ashes and call yourself Bernie." She is a little upset and says " All this time you wanted to be with a man named Bernie?" and he says " No, I want to tell my best friend Bernie I'm fucking Cindy Crawford"

Nick, and by extension the reader, has to know Gatsby got what he thought he wanted. Finally got that achievement. If nobody knew there would be no point.
posted by Ad hominem at 9:29 AM on May 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


That's interesting, but I think the point remains: there's nothing at all in the book about the emotional relationship between Gatsby and Daisy during the period in which the book's events take place.

That's because Gatsby is in love with the Daisy of the past, and Daisy is in love with Gatsby's beautiful shirts. Both Gatsby and Daisy are complete emotional trainwrecks. Gatsby remembers when he was "whole", and thinks it was his love of Daisy that made him whole. It wasn't—he really just wants to go back to being innocent like he was before he went off to war, but Gatsby is too far gone to recognize that. Gatsby and Daisy are talking past each other, each living in a separate delusion.

By the way, did anyone else see Spring Breakers and notice that James Franco's character Alien gives a version of the "look at my beautiful shirts" speech?
posted by vibrotronica at 9:29 AM on May 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


Count me in as one more non-believer in the Gatsby Greatness ... and I tried to read it at least twice. And yet I found Fitzgerald's first novel This Side Of Paradise entirely likable, readable, engrossing. Maybe because it's one of those situations where I just randomly picked it out of a discarded box (found in a place I'd just moved into). Nobody shoved it at me insisting I embrace its greatness, it wasn't assigned reading -- it was just something I opened and read the first paragraph, and then the next ... and so on.

what gets me about this essay is that the author is trying to convince her readers to dislike an almost century-old novel.

A century-old novel that people won't shut up about. It constantly makes "greatest novels of" lists, it's part of various curricula, it's just been made into another movie. Now is a perfectly relevant time to reappraise its alleged value.
posted by philip-random at 9:30 AM on May 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


James Franco's character Alien gives a version of the "look at my beautiful shirts" speech?

He is based on rapper/performance artist RiFF Raff. Who incidentally name drops Fitzgerald in a bunch of songs.

At any rate, I like TGG, Maybe it is simply because people told me that in order to appear educated I had to like it. That is certainly a possibility.
posted by Ad hominem at 9:34 AM on May 7, 2013


A century-old novel that people won't shut up about.

Really? Personally I haven't heard the name "Gatsby" not related to the movie since my friend read the book 6 years ago. I think this is a perfect example of the kind of exaggeration I was talking about before, which only serves to further give weight and attention to a novel that one claims to not care about.
posted by muddgirl at 9:40 AM on May 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


It’s like throwing a Lolita-themed children’s birthday party.

Has to be better than my 12th birthday party...
posted by QueerAngel28 at 9:43 AM on May 7, 2013


Just the other day, vacation rental startup Airbnb sent out invitations to a “Gatsby-inspired soiree” at a multi-million-dollar home on Long Island, seemingly oblivious to the novel’s undertones.

It’s like throwing a Lolita-themed children’s birthday party.


Heh.

I suspect the movie will be equally oblivious.
posted by miyabo at 9:44 AM on May 7, 2013


It’s like throwing a Lolita-themed children’s birthday party.

It's actually exactly like using the name "Lolita" to refer to a seductive underaged girl. Oh wait...
posted by muddgirl at 9:46 AM on May 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Incidentally - If The Great Gatsby were just published today by an unknown, would you still like it? How much of your (apparent) appreciation for the book is bound up in the reputation you've been told it has?

I think part of the issue is that as much as it has been lauded for the better part of a century, it has also been criticized for that long. If you're going to take shots at this book and hope to be taken seriously in 2013, you better do a better than pedestrian job of it. Read the criticism from the past - there's lots of it to be found if you do your research.

I'm all for tearing down false idols, but sometimes the old books are canon because they're well written. Just like the science community, if you think a particular scientific conclusion is mistaken, you better have done your research and provide good evidence that everybody else is wrong.
posted by Celsius1414 at 9:47 AM on May 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


1. I found it fascinating that the book's ubiquity stems - in part - from its distribution to servicemen during WWII. What led to that particular decision, I wonder? Classy enough not to offend, yet debauched enough to interest? Upholding standard American values but still containing sex? Or was it just short and fairly simply written?

2. There are a lot of short, simple-ish books that get given to high school students on the theory that if something is short and simple-ish, high school students can experience it fully (in class, no less!) and get the best out of it. In retrospect, I wish I had not had to read Gatsby, Heart of Darkness or the array of poorly selected great novels with child protagonists (The Member of the Wedding when I was 13, for crying out loud - it put me off Carson McCullers virtually for life; also Great Expectations - if you're going to give kids any Dickens at all, why not give them something like Our Mutual Friend, which is maybe more difficult but writ larger, or give them David Copperfield, which is way funner as a Book Which Starts Out About A Kid)

I did in fact get quite a lot of Gatsby evangelizing in school and in the general culture. At the time I found the novel inexplicably thin and dull, concerned with moral matters totally irrelevant to my experience or my interests and really off-putting about women. I did not have the language to say "this book is misogynist, its treatment of Myrtle is exploitative and creepy and that's why I feel gross when I read it". And it made me feel, actually, kind of guilty that I liked the book so little.

I have no notion how I'd feel about it if I read it for the first time now. Perhaps the more sophisticated queer reading and the whole "messed up the war" reading would make the book interest me more.

I do think that it appeals to lots of people - especially in movie form - mostly because it's a period drama that involves sex and rich people and because its plot and language don't get in the way of the retro decor and fashion.
posted by Frowner at 9:47 AM on May 7, 2013 [5 favorites]


Oh my god, FAMOUS MONSTER was right.
posted by boo_radley at 9:47 AM on May 7, 2013


When I've read Gatsby, it's never resonated with me in a way consonant with its reputation, but that's not to say I didn't find it likable enough or without insight (nor without fault). I do think Schulz's argument at times might be criticizing the work for being something it's not supposed to be. For instance this:
Gatsby as a literary creation leaves me cold. Like one of those manicured European parks patrolled on all sides by officious gendarmes, it is pleasant to look at, but you will not find any people inside.
That's part of the point of the novel for me, though: these people are hollow. As for her argument, "when you apply a strict moral code to the saturnalian society to which you are attracted—you inevitably wind up a hypocrite," I think that overlooks an important dimension of tragedy: we often want what can in some contexts lead to loss. Success isn't in itself bad, but thirsting for it to excess is.

This may be trite comparison, but for me Gatsby feels similar (though far, far inferior) to a work like King Lear, which is the text I have returned to more often than others. While Lear is more dramatically and aesthetically pleasing than Gatsby, I take from both an appreciation of the abject horror that can ensnare human life, not least of which is the frequency with which we fail to realize we have gone down the wrong path—sometimes until it is too late and sometimes not at all, which is part of the meaning I attach to the final line of the novel.
posted by audi alteram partem at 9:48 AM on May 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


In the spirit of authors discussing TGG I thought John Green did a fantastic job presenting the novel in two Crash Course videos (one, two). He only focuses on a few things and is targeting a younger audience, but I think there's a lot of insight in those two short videos. A heck of a lot more effort to understand the text than I found in the Vulture piece.
posted by Wretch729 at 9:48 AM on May 7, 2013 [7 favorites]


I can say that I wasn't aware of its reputation when I read it, and it's very possibly my favorite book. Part of that is because of Fitzgerald's mechanical mastery, but part of it is the terrible grimness with which the book regards its ostensibly beautiful characters and setting. I imagine some of that has to do with the place I was in mentally and emotionally during my first reading, but the themes of the book still resonate powerfully with me today.

If you read the book and didn't see all the disillusionment, though, and just regarded it as a poorly-told tragic love story that didn't make you care about any of the presumably decent and reasonable characters, I could see how you would think it was kind of crummy. It's an objectively wrong analysis, but it's understandable, at least.
posted by IAmUnaware at 9:49 AM on May 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


There are a lot of short, simple-ish books that get given to high school students on the theory that if something is short and simple-ish, high school students can experience it fully (in class, no less!) and get the best out of it.

By which I was trying to say that plenty of short, simple-seeming books actually require some life and literary experience to read and really get the best out of, and they're not best approached in a high school classroom anyway.
posted by Frowner at 9:49 AM on May 7, 2013


When I read it in high school, I could not for the life of me understand why I should care about anyone in the book. Daisy is a vapid pleasure seeker. If Gatsby wants her that badly, he must be about as shallow.

Naw, man, when they're alone (not in the book), I bet she's really deep;-)

I didn't mind Gatsby in high school, but after reading this article, I hate this book too. Such vapid people! And now I have just flung myself down on my sofa dramatically and declared to my imaginary cat that I shan't ever read it again!

(Also, question: Why isn't A Tree Grows in Brooklyn considered a great American novel? Is it because it's told from a female POV mainly?)
posted by discopolo at 9:49 AM on May 7, 2013


Why isn't "I just don't like this" enough of a reason to talk about why you don't like something? I have no problem saying that I find a lot of Kafka boring, Lady Chatterley's Lover to be trying too hard, and Henry James makes me wanna throw things, but I have no reason to say so beyond "hell, I just didn't like 'em."

Because that's boring, and kind of dumb. If generations of really smart people say something's great, and you don't see it, then it's sort of incumbent upon you to either say "I understand why generations of really thoughtful readers like this, but I have these problems with it," or else to say "This just isn't my kind of thing, but that's about me, not it." To get up in front of the world and shout "This so-called classic sucks," and then to list reasons that reveal a total failure to understand what other readers have seen, is like an undergrad bragging about how dumb Newton was for not understanding quantum physics– it's a self-important condemnation that boomerangs.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 9:50 AM on May 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Also, question: Why isn't A Tree Grows in Brooklyn considered a great American novel?

It isn't?
posted by Celsius1414 at 9:51 AM on May 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


I will add, though, that Gatsby is a terrible book for high schoolers. Like Julius Ceaser, it gets taught because it's short and the language is simple, but it's about themes that are totally antithetical to teenagers' experience. It's about the futility of ambition, the need to question your own desires or be rendered a slave to them, and the ways we deceive ourselves about our own motives. When kids are getting ready to seize the day and all that, it's just the opposite of what they're prepared to hear.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 9:53 AM on May 7, 2013 [7 favorites]


As an aside, anyone who dislikes the book because the characters are vapid or unlikeable should really watch that second Gatsby Crash Course video I posted. Might not change your mind, but you'll be arguing from a more informed place. There's a reason the characters are written as they are!
posted by Wretch729 at 9:54 AM on May 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think part of the issue is that as much as it has been lauded for the better part of a century, it has also been criticized for that long. If you're going to take shots at this book and hope to be taken seriously in 2013, you better do a better than pedestrian job of it.

Oh, I agree she could have done a better job from a literary-critique standpoint. But it sounded like item was actually questioning the premise of whether Gatsby could be criticized or found fault with in the first place, and that's what I'm questioning. Of course a work of literature can be criticized and found fault with.

I also challenge the idea that you need a certain accredation in order to have the right to express an opinion. What makes your critique good or bad has nothing to do with your credentials, it has to do with whether you make a good or bad critique. In this case, she didn't do so hot a job of critiquing it, but she deserved the right to try, and the book was not exempt from her, or anyone's critique. That's all.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:55 AM on May 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's about the futility of ambition, the need to question your own desires or be rendered a slave to them, and the ways we deceive ourselves about our own motives. When kids are getting ready to seize the day and all that, it's just the opposite of what they're prepared to hear.

I actually think that this is exactly the reason that the book should be taught to every high schooler.
posted by IAmUnaware at 9:57 AM on May 7, 2013 [5 favorites]


And it made me feel, actually, kind of guilty that I liked the book so little.

Maybe that's the part I don't understand on an emotional level, and maybe it's a fundamental disconnect between me and Schultz. There's lots of stuff In The Canon for my cohort that I don't like - a lot of acclaimed dramas from the 70s, for example. But I don't feel guilty for not liking them, and I certainly wouldn't feel compelled to watch, say, Five Easy Pieces two more times just because they're going to produce a remake.
posted by muddgirl at 9:57 AM on May 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


TGG saved me from trying to be rich.
posted by No Robots at 10:06 AM on May 7, 2013 [6 favorites]


I just want to put my personal flag in the ground that if you're going to write about the thing you don't like that a lot of other people do like (or vice-versa), the absolute LAST thing I want to read is your opinion of why other people like it when you don't (or vice-versa). Speculating about the motives and flaws of people who disagree with you is the most boring (and, to my eye, most anti-intellectual) thing you can do. You're allowed to not know why other people are so charmed by something, just as they won't know why you aren't charmed by it. A person who's read a book can speak about the book, but I find that very few of us are very good at analyzing the thinking of people we've never spoken to who disagree with us, solely on the basis that they disagree with us.

The whole idea that there are special burdens associated with taking a position that's unpopular kind of freaks me out, to be honest.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 10:08 AM on May 7, 2013 [17 favorites]


I actually think that this is exactly the reason that the book should be taught to every high schooler.

I don't. I mean, I remember quite clearly being in high school - I was a good kid, tell me to contemplate the futility of ambition and I would go right ahead and do it. I read all the assignments, I wrote papers that I ran by my dad the English PhD, I did my very best to like and understand the stuff we read. In this, I was vastly different from most of my classmates, even my classmates in the honors courses.

And Gatsby was a terrible fit for me. I add that the sense that I was supposed to take Great Moral Lessons from the books we read - most of which really were kind of preachy and didactic - really put me off them a lot, and I was kind of a suck-up, authority-revering kid.

It is frequently ineffective to say to people "you are at This life stage, and you're really feeling That - well, I am here to tell you that This is a mere passing moment and That is stupid and retrograde, and I'm going to show you this book to tell you what you should really be thinking about."

Actually, speaking as someone who was kind of obedient and downtrodden and stuff, a little bit of "go out there and succeed, do your thing, enjoy life to the extent possible" would have been much better for me if we were aiming for preaching. High school isn't an eighties teen comedy space of happy hedonism; it's a brutal and miserable place, for the most part, run on incredibly ruthless social and material lines of power, a place where people have far less autonomy, dignity and control than most of them will ever have later on.

Honestly, the books that were the best for my classes were books that were about the external world, history, moral questions about how the world worked - Beloved (yay!), To Kill A Mockingbird (qualified boo!). Even Heart of Darkness was too internal for us, despite the way it has an embedded (though flawed and rightly questioned) critique of colonialism. Gatsby isn't a book about questioning the way the world works; it's a book about being very jaundiced and skeptical about one's interiority. I tend to feel, personally, that this is a later stage of Feelings About Life, one that makes the most sense after you've seen something of it.
posted by Frowner at 10:08 AM on May 7, 2013 [9 favorites]


I have the book. I have not read it. I vaguely remember the previous movie. The book was a table decoration at a tea. (Stop rolling your eyes.) I will read the book, um, someday.
posted by Cranberry at 10:14 AM on May 7, 2013


the romantic relationship that drives the novel is that between Gatsby and Nick

That's going to be a surprise to Sheilah Graham . . .




l said, THAT'S GONNA BE A HELL OF A SURPRISE TO SHEILAH GRAHAM!!
 
posted by Herodios at 10:16 AM on May 7, 2013


the absolute LAST thing I want to read is your opinion of why other people like it when you don't (or vice-versa) [...] You're allowed to not know why other people are so charmed by something, just as they won't know why you aren't charmed by it.

So, then, how is critical debate supposed to advance beyond the blank recitation of mutually contradictory personal opinions? Isn't the point really just that Schulz might want to read something, anything, from the nearly century-long record of critical writing that's been published about Gatsby before sounding off about it as if she were the first person to have these thoughts? It's not like she has to be a psychic to figure out why Gatsby might be well-liked; there are libraries full of discussion about that.
posted by RogerB at 10:17 AM on May 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


All plot and character considerations aside, Gatsby's last sentence is a knockout: "So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."
posted by scratch at 10:21 AM on May 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


It does help to know when and why the book became an American classic, and it wasn't at the time of its debut -- indeed, it was considered something of a flop, especially by Fitzgerald's standards, he being the sort of Stephen King megabestseller of his generation.

But in 1945, at the height of WWII, Armed Services Editions gave away about 150,000 copies of the book to servicemen. And I think this had two effects, one not terribly sophisticated, the other more profound.

The less sophisticated effect is that people tend to take as a matter of course that whatever they are told is a classic is a classic, and Fitzgerald was enjoying a revival just then. And 2os nostalgia was added into the mix -- for most of the 20th century, it was one of the main eras for nostalgia, and still is. Gatsby is a pretty good piece of nostalgia if you're looking for a book about parties in the Roaring 20s. Many of these soldiers went on to become students through the G.I. Bill, and some went on to be educators, and they took Gatsby with them.

But I don't think it was just that. I don't think it could have been -- Country Lawyer by Bellamy Partridge was also widely distributed, and who reads that nowadays? But the ASE books were tremendously popular, and reportedly read and reread. If there was only a single copy of a book, it would be torn into sections and the sections handed out among the soldiers. And Gatsby benefits from close and repeated readings. It's ambivalence toward its characters causes the book to come off a little different each time you read it -- sometimes it seems like Fitzgerald genuinely shares Nick's aspirational interest in Gatsby, and sometimes it seems like he sort of hates all of his character, and sometimes he seems tremendously sympathetic to them. You can actually choose a different mood that Fitzgerald might have had toward his character and read the entire book that way and it works, and then pick another mood and that works as well. It reflects Fitzgerald's own deep ambivalence, and it is a mark of his talent as a writer that he was able to communicate ambivalence, which is tremendously difficult to write.

And then there are the themes of the book -- one in which the American dream is deeply bound up with, and betrayed by, an immature romantic infatuation. An America where our myth of a classless society is entirely fraudulent, but, then, class in this country is fraudulent as well. A book in which the wild youth that we have long celebrated are vapid and shallow and accidentally murderous, and there is nothing more destructive then wanting to impress them.

I think these themes were quite striking for a group of soldier in the middle of fighting a terrible war that had its own mythology. The world was shaking itself to pieces, and grinding its young up in the process, and it was the second time this had happened, and the events of Gatsby happen shortly after the first time and reference them. I think the book meant something to the soldiers that read them, and, if the books doesn't seem as meaningful today, it is because we don't read it with the same sort of hunger they had, the same sort of fears they shared, and the same sort of hopes they had, all of which are addressed and found lacking or tragic by Fitzgerald.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 10:22 AM on May 7, 2013 [37 favorites]


Fewer than 24,000 copies were printed in Fitzgerald’s lifetime, and some were still sitting in a warehouse when he died, in 1940, at the age of 44. Five years later, the U.S. military distributed 150,000 copies to service members[...]

That is actually fucking hilarious. Distributing The Great Gatsby to servicemen in 1945. That's like giving them Mein Kampf in 1939. Did the general who made this decision even read it? Might as well have passed out The Communist Manifesto.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:22 AM on May 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Of the great, redemptive romance on which the entire story is supposed to turn, he admitted, “I gave no account (and had no feeling about or knowledge of) the emotional relations between Gatsby and Daisy.”

How can someone as clearly literate as the author of this piece read Gatsby five times and yet somehow claim the story turns on a "redemptive" romance?

Also, for someone so familiar with the book, how can she rail on for half the article about Nick's "passive observation" and telling the story from "the safe remove of America’s imaginary moral high ground" without at least acknowledging the possibility that the reader is supposed to be skeptical of the narrator's account?
posted by [expletive deleted] at 10:27 AM on May 7, 2013 [5 favorites]


It is possible, of course, to deny your readers access to the inner lives of your characters and still write a psychologically potent book: I give you Blood Meridian.

Whoa, what an odd reading of Blood Meridian.
posted by Greg Nog at 10:27 AM on May 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Only part I liked was the ending.
posted by Dark Messiah at 10:30 AM on May 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


I showed Citizen Kane to a group of friends, none of whom had seen it before. I was excited to hear what they would say without knowing anything except the "OMG GREATEST FILM OF AL TIME" that follows it around. Two loved it, most liked it okay, and two said that it was "really boring." When I asked why they thought it was boring, both of them had the same answer -- "I just don't feel like I ever got to know Kane. Like, who was he? Why should I care?"

o.O

That's the kind of utter lack of inability to engage in critical thinking, close reading, and understanding of "themes and meanings and shit" that I get from this article. You are you, and the point is the point, and ne'er the twain shall meet.
posted by tzikeh at 10:33 AM on May 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


And Gatsby was a terrible fit for me. I add that the sense that I was supposed to take Great Moral Lessons from the books we read - most of which really were kind of preachy and didactic - really put me off them a lot, and I was kind of a suck-up, authority-revering kid.

I think trying to find quality books that high schoolers will enjoy is a worthwhile thing to do, but it's also fraught with personal likes and dislikes. As a junior in high school, I actually got quite a bit out of Gatsby, and I think plenty of other high schoolers did too; if nothing else, the relationship between Gatsby and Daisy seems very relevant and accessible to high schoolers. High school relationships are often out sized romances with no underlying reality. On the other hand, I got very little out of my high school's love affair with novels about early 20th century feminism, but I'm sure there was someone who found The Awakening to speak to something relevant to their experiences. It's hard to nail down when people's experience of being 16 can differ so much.

I think the real thing that gets Gatsby in the classroom is the clear style and easy symbolism, which is fine. 16 year olds are just learning to appreciate literature, and it's easier to do that with something that hits you over the head.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:35 AM on May 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


The older I get, the more I like the concept of being able to appreciate art without liking it.
posted by MonkeyToes at 10:35 AM on May 7, 2013 [16 favorites]


It's interesting that the critic read Gatsby five times and seems to never once have read it while considering the theory that Gatsby was passing.
posted by palomar at 10:37 AM on May 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


That's the kind of utter lack of inability to engage in critical thinking, close reading, and understanding of "themes and meanings and shit" that I get from this article.

And you know what? I think it's perfectly fine for a person to not engage with a work on that level, for whatever reason (whether they don't have the background or they just don't want to). I've argued that in the past. BUT if someone is getting paid as a book reviewer, or a film critic, or what-have-you, then yes, I think there is an expectation that they will at least try.
posted by muddgirl at 10:39 AM on May 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


I was reminded of this AskMe thread about the history of personal identity when thinking about the Lurhmann adaptation.

Gatsby was written at a point where a great extended period of social and personal mobility was coming to a close -- an era of nouveau riche millionaires and travelling bunco artists where the distinction is blurred between ambition and fraud.

I'd agree with ThatFuzzyBastard that it's a terrible book for high-school readers, chosen for the curriculum because it's short and relatively easy to read, and neglecting . (See also: Heart of Darkness, Of Mice And Men.)

That said, there was an interesting piece in the NYT a few years back on its critical reception in schools, particularly among immigrant children. Gatsby is apparently now fated to an eternity of highly subjective reading (and misreading) which, in a way, seems fitting.
posted by holgate at 10:42 AM on May 7, 2013


"They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made."

Yes, EmpressCallipygos, relevant today.
posted by MonkeyToes at 10:42 AM on May 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


MonkeyToes, I was in the middle of writing a long thing, but you just expressed it perfectly. I get what the book's about. I know what Fitzgerald is trying to say. That doesn't mean that I enjoy spending my reading time with characters and situations I across-the-board hate.

(See also: The Awakening, Catcher in the Rye, and doubtless other high school books that I've put out of my mind, along with most reality tv and any of the "embarrassment theater" shows and movies.)
posted by tchemgrrl at 10:46 AM on May 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


this again? [self-link, retread]
posted by Eideteker at 10:47 AM on May 7, 2013


I think it became easier for me to read books about awful people who I hate when I realized that marvelous people who I like are often boring subjects for art.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 10:48 AM on May 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


I like the book (and remember liking it in High School), but I'm not shocked to see it being criticized. I would, however, find the critique more interesting if it engaged with the strengths of the work. She really does seem to have misunderstood the relationship between Gatsby and Daisy.

The last time I read the novel, I was particularly taken by how Midwestern the characters were. All the way to the end and Nick's newest set of illusions about Minnesota.

(Passing? I thought Gatsby was from North Dakota, which makes that unlikely.)
posted by Area Man at 10:48 AM on May 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


the romantic relationship that drives the novel is that between Gatsby and Nick

I think that's pretty much spot on.

I just re-read the book last week, for the third time but the first in many years. I was just looking for a nice refresher so I'd know just how badly the new movie screws it up but what I found was I liked the book even more than ever.

When I see comments like "Daisy is a vapid pleasure seeker" I find I wonder on what evidence that could be based, because really she's barely IN the book. And when she is, she's kind of like Betty Draper. She's stuck in a marriage to a philandering asshole. She loves Gatsby, but she's been described as a Catholic, meaning she's not likely to divorce Tom. She married the wrong guy for reasons pretty standard to her social class at the time. Nothing in the book suggests she's any great intellectual or anything, but I certainly think there's enough of her circumstances to create empathy for her position, and nothing in the book strikes me as actually putting her down. Nothing makes me feel that she's being presented as any less smart or decent than an average woman.

As for the narrative voice - I think I've always appreciated it because I grew up in the closet, at a time and place where coming out was still a pretty rare and risky thing, although that was just starting to change. But that experience is probably a huge part of how I've always felt "outside" mainstream society, looking in at it the way Nick does.

And Nick, of course, is probably gay. There's that one extremely odd passage at the end of chapter 2 where he's been out drinking with Tom and some other couple, and suddenly Nick is with a man, sitting on a bed, dressed in his underwear...

"But Nick seems to be dating Jordan" you say? She's a pro golfer. Do the math.
posted by dnash at 10:48 AM on May 7, 2013 [6 favorites]


Catcher in the Rye is another one people should re-read in their 30s. If Holden thinks everyone is a phony why does he care so much about hanging out with them. It is pretty clear he is trying to convince himself they are phonies as a defense mechanism. It is reaction formation caused by anxiety and fear of abandonment. He needs to push people away before they push him away.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:56 AM on May 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


I wrote a comment about Catcher in the Rye and how it seems to me the perfect example of the sort of "Canon of Overrated Books" that we've developed. It seems more fashionable to dismiss that book than to admit that you think it's complex and well-written.
posted by muddgirl at 10:59 AM on May 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


I meant to say that I wrote a long comment about it, but then deleted it because it's not really topical and it's just griping.
posted by muddgirl at 11:01 AM on May 7, 2013


Here's my not-topical-griping comment, which I only post because someone mentioned the relevant book way back up top:

(I read the Old Man and the Sea in middle school and fucking hated it with every spinning particle of my existence. It managed to hit this amazing confluence of completely predictable both in terms of plot and concept, and bafflingly slow in its development. Why take 200 pages to write what you could say in like three? It might read differently now, half-a-lifetime later, but fuck was that a stupid book back then.)
posted by kaibutsu at 11:10 AM on May 7, 2013


It managed to hit this amazing confluence of completely predictable both in terms of plot and concept, and bafflingly slow in its development. Why take 200 pages to write what you could say in like three?

This is the second time in this thread someone has cut nearly to the heart of a book without realizing it.
posted by muddgirl at 11:21 AM on May 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Just the other day, vacation rental startup Airbnb sent out invitations to a “Gatsby-inspired soiree” at a multi-million-dollar home on Long Island, seemingly oblivious to the novel’s undertones.

It’s like throwing a Lolita-themed children’s birthday party.

Heh.

I suspect the movie will be equally oblivious.


Even if it is oblivious it will still be interesting: is Hollywood actually capable of looking at a society riven by lack of opportunity and excess wealth? I went to the recent movie of Anna Karenina with that viewpoint (and if you strip out Tolstoy's moral claptrap, you have a very similar theme of beautiful people destroying everything around them because they are inescapably shallow) and... the movie was a terrible mess but you could get something from the way they miscreated Levin's rustic country life as some sort of urban redecorator's fantasy. I mean, what fashionable girl wouldn't want to move into a quaint farm in the country with all that distressed wood.

I'm sure the movie will be entirely like the million-dollar soiree and that will be more honest and interesting than if it tried to look at it's own society critically.
posted by ennui.bz at 11:21 AM on May 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


"Chicago Manuel of Style"

oh god I both love this and am in love with this
posted by Eideteker at 11:22 AM on May 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


I met Jello Biafra's English teacher (Boulder H.S., Colorado), and, predictably, he through the book down and said "This is just a book about a bunch of stupid rich people. Why are we reading this?"

I've never read the book myself. I'm rather illiterate (as Holden Caulfield puts it), especially for an English teacher. Oh, and I've never read To Kill a Mockingbird or Moby Dick, either.
posted by kozad at 11:37 AM on May 7, 2013


I read Gatsby in my early 20s, and I was just okay with it. I tried reading it again recently, but the exposition heavy narrative and heavy-handed SYMBOLISM!!! bugged me so much I set it down again. I reread Jane Eyre around the same time and I fell in love with it; the characters seemed more interesting to me. I was invested in what would happen to them. Gatsby just felt like Fitzgerald talking at me.

But whenever I expressed my opinion, I've been told "oh, exposition was the style of the time!" and "you just don't understand/can't appreciate this classic American novel!" These kind of comments reek of condescension and frankly piss me off. I've spent years reading authors from the early twentieth century so I know perfectly well how to appreciate older books. I just don't think TGG is the be-all and end-all of lit.

And I liked the article, by the way.
posted by suburbanbeatnik at 11:40 AM on May 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Oh yeah, and people automatically assume that I had to read TGG in high school and they'll go off at length on how high schoolers can't appreciate classics. I read TGG because I wanted to, when I was 21.
posted by suburbanbeatnik at 11:43 AM on May 7, 2013


From TFA:
"Like many American moralists, Fitzgerald was more offended by pleasure than by vice, and he had a tendency to confound them. In The Great Gatsby, polo and golf are more morally suspect than murder. Fitzgerald despised the rich not for their iniquity per se but for the glamour of it—for, in H.L. Mencken’s words, “their glittering swinishness.”

Yet Fitzgerald also longed to be a glittering swine himself, and acted like one anytime he could afford it."
Also:
"After it’s all over, he [Nick] retreats to the Midwest and, figuratively and literally, tells his story from the safe remove of America’s imaginary moral high ground."
lol Real Murrica

If there's a lesson in Gatsby that the rich are vapid and not inherently to be aspired to, then I submit that there are two types of readers: those who have their eyes opened, and those who go "fucking DUH!" One's reaction and response to the novel is very much governed by the class in which one finds oneself.

"Perhaps the book is still compelling today because of this, not in spite of it?"

In that case (and see my first pull-quote), then it seems that the meta-novel is really what's of interest, and we can skip reading it in favor of Fitzgerald's actual story, denuded of all the layers of obfuscating and hypocritical symbolism.
posted by Eideteker at 11:45 AM on May 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


In that case (and see my first pull-quote), then it seems that the meta-novel is really what's of interest, and we can skip reading it in favor of Fitzgerald's actual story, denuded of all the layers of obfuscating and hypocritical symbolism.

Sure, if you want to. I'll still read it because I enjoy obfuscation and hypocritical symbolism, and I won't be shamed or guilted out of doing so.
posted by muddgirl at 11:48 AM on May 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Nick, of course, is probably gay

Yeah, that seems very probable. Besides the odd "guy in his underwear" bit, just look at the first page. When someone goes on and on and on about how normal they are, assume the closet. Which is part of what makes this article so amusing---the book is about someone who's desperately and ineptly trying to trick the reader, and Schulz fell for it.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 11:56 AM on May 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


My 14 year old boy just finished Gatsby for his Language Arts class. I thought the teacher was just making this 8th grade class read it because the movie is coming out. I didn't get Gatsby forced on me until 10th grade. But apparently the teacher has had it in his 8th grade curriculum for several years.

So I enjoyed re-reading Gatsby along with The Boy, which is something I do sometimes with his reading assignments. He had the following insights about the book, most of which I agreed with:

Tom is kind of an asshole, isn't he.

Tom is a complete asshole, and a racist.

Nick is like gay for Gatsby, isn't he.

Everyone in the book is actually an asshole. It's like Seinfeld, but not funny.

It was pretty good, but I'm glad it was so short. Because it wasn't that good.

I don't think Leonardo DiCaprio is going to make a good Gatsby. He was good as Romeo though.
posted by Cookiebastard at 11:56 AM on May 7, 2013 [12 favorites]


Even Schultz agrees that TGG is an extraordinary achievement of English prose. That is why it's a good book to teach in high school; because many students will have gotten that far in life without ever having come face to face with the fact that a sentence can be a small work of art in itself. If we're not going to teach that, why teach literature?
posted by escabeche at 11:57 AM on May 7, 2013 [6 favorites]


"I won't be shamed or guilted out of doing so."

Good! #reasonsilovemuddgirl

(That wasn't my intention, but do understand that there's an equivalent pressure to be shamed/guilted for not liking the novel, to which I am primarily reacting.)
posted by Eideteker at 11:59 AM on May 7, 2013


If there's a lesson in Gatsby that the rich are vapid and not inherently to be aspired to, then I submit that there are two types of readers: those who have their eyes opened, and those who go "fucking DUH!"

There's a third type of reader: the type who doesn't think of a novel as a lesson.
posted by escabeche at 12:00 PM on May 7, 2013 [8 favorites]


"It just seems like such a hateful waste of time to produce a piece knocking something that will continue to bring joy to folks for who the hell knows how long."

What bullshit. Readers have a duty to reappraise critically, to talk about what they do and don't like in a work honestly, even if that means slagging something that a lot of other people like. That discussion helps all of us better connect with art and culture, even if we reject the criticisms.
posted by klangklangston at 12:08 PM on May 7, 2013


And let me emphasize that, while I've been defending Gatsby in this thread, because I think it deserves every ounce of critical praise and cultural status it has, I don't object at all to Schultz having written this piece. As I said in my very first comment here, it's a good, thoughtful article, I'm glad she wrote it, and I think it's wrong.
posted by escabeche at 12:12 PM on May 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


I read this (kinda) in high school, where I blew through it in the course of a day in order to take a test on it (and performed admirably, identifying all of the locations where action happens!), and then a couple years ago as an adult. I really enjoyed the book, and a lot of that was because of the ambiguity about, well, nearly everything, and the style of the prose. I do think it's a fair cop to criticize Fitzgerald over how he wrote women, but then, I think if he'd had a more nuanced, less misogynistic view of women in the Great Gatsby, it would have been a different book — it sort of relies on everyone's self-deception, including the peripheral characters.

I am glad that I read it at about the same time as the Talented Mr. Ripley, which I think went after some of the same tropes but was more successful as a book. (Or, at least, I much prefer it.)
posted by klangklangston at 12:15 PM on May 7, 2013


Dunno. I like OMATS, I just bought the kindle version to re-read it. Such a gripping and tragic tale. I see poor old Ernest, thinking he's lost his touch, drinking himself to death, going out for one last shot at glory. The book has everything, fear of death and failure, having success literally snatched from you. The old man is pushed past everything except pure survival, like Ernest he is hanging on by a thread.

It actually was originally part of a letter and like half a page long. I'm sure Hemingway saw some of himself in that old man. He had been injured in not one but two plane crashes. His previous book had been panned. He considered himself done with writing. Like the old man he took one last shot, unlike the old man he succeeded.
posted by Ad hominem at 12:15 PM on May 7, 2013


"They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made."

I have been working in New York City for the past, what, six years? And almost every day I have had an interaction that I can only understand because of this SPECIFIC SENTENCE.
posted by 235w103 at 12:18 PM on May 7, 2013 [23 favorites]


GG, OMATS, what's next? TSOP?
posted by Area Man at 12:18 PM on May 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


I tried to figure out TSOP, but since the very first thing to pop into my head was The Sound of Pirates, involving Julie Andrews with an eyepatch, I really don't see a need to seek any further.
posted by darksasami at 12:29 PM on May 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Thin small-outline packages?
posted by Cookiebastard at 12:29 PM on May 7, 2013


TSOP is an interesting footnote to American vernacular music. Much like the city for which it is named it is searching for it's own identity. An example of The Philly Sound which was characterized by lush arrangements and vibraphone. It is a mix of many things but somehow wholly it's own. It is neither Chicago,Boston, nor New York soul but is undeniably influenced by those things yet remains true to Philadelphia.

I don't think it should be assigned in High School though.
posted by Ad hominem at 12:29 PM on May 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Society for Organic Petrology. Totally rocks.
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 12:57 PM on May 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh yeah, and people automatically assume that I had to read TGG in high school and they'll go off at length on how high schoolers can't appreciate classics. I read TGG because I wanted to, when I was 21.

See, I don't think it is - or at least, that it should be - a question of "high schoolers can't appreciate the classics". It's much more that, on average, certain books speak more strongly to people at certain times or when they've had certain experiences. And since high school students are being forced to read whatever they're reading for English class, and reading it in an atmosphere of power, corruption, moralizing and social violence, it is particularly important to think not in terms of the outlier high school student who may appreciate the book (and that student is more likely to be reading on their own, and reading things that they choose because those books speak so strongly to them) but in terms of the aggregate of the class.

I think there are probably a number of high schoolers for whom Gatsby hits the spot - after all, alone among Americans I read Anna Karenina on my own in high school and adored it. That's great - no one's experience need be invalidated.

Actually, this whole thread makes me want to scrap high school English. I know we probably shouldn't, but it really depresses me to think of a nation of potential readers having reading corrupted and killed for them by being force-marched through...well, anything, really. Being forced to read by a corrupt power structure really doesn't help very much.
posted by Frowner at 12:59 PM on May 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


My gripe against TGG is that it draws attention away from the in-every-way-superior Tender Is The Night.
posted by orrnyereg at 1:03 PM on May 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


orrnyereg, did you see the mini-series, "Tender is the Night?" It has Peter Strauss, Ed Asner and Mary Steenburgen. It also has a great "beautiful shirts" scene.
posted by No Robots at 1:09 PM on May 7, 2013


But how do we know that the high school students who liked TGG are the outliers?
posted by Area Man at 1:13 PM on May 7, 2013


Also, I think you mean TITN.
posted by Area Man at 1:14 PM on May 7, 2013


TITN. Yeah, missed that one.
posted by No Robots at 1:15 PM on May 7, 2013


Actually, this whole thread makes me want to scrap high school English. I know we probably shouldn't, but it really depresses me to think of a nation of potential readers having reading corrupted and killed for them by being force-marched through...well, anything, really. Being forced to read by a corrupt power structure really doesn't help very much.

By that reasoning, we should scrap science, math, social studies, and everything else in school that kids are force-marched through.

The whole world is a corrupt power structure. Teaching is about giving kids the tools to thrive or at least cope within it. Doesn't always work, but giving up on that is not an option.
posted by Celsius1414 at 1:16 PM on May 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


There's a third type of reader: the type who doesn't think of a novel as a lesson.

The trouble is that this particular book was a lesson for many people in all three groups. The book's reputation is a cudgel with which teachers prod their students as they write five-paragraph essays on the two-paragraph significance of billboards and green lights. It doesn't surprise me that those students grow up and remember The Great Gatsby as an imposition.

Too often, teachers approach books as games of find-the-symbol and find-the-moral, ruining the game by picking books in which symbols and morals are easy to find. This method makes teachers' jobs easier. It allows for a broader survey of English literature. But more interesting scavenger hunts like pick-apart-the-irony and how-does-this-transition-work are left for another day, and for many, that day never comes. I can think of no better way to suffocate literary entertainment in its cradle.

I like The Great Gatsby despite its flaws, but I can see why many would want to attack the book. Praise for the book is common. Justifications for that praise are rare. Meanwhile, the book stays on class curriculums and critical best-of lists.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 1:26 PM on May 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Much as I hated all the Gilded Age, Roaring Twenties and Great Depression literature fed to kids when I was growing up, I'd have to say right now it's probably the best thing we could be doing for them.
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:28 PM on May 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


After reading all these comments, I wants to go back and re-read the book. My memories of the book consist of being pissed at how I felt my English teacher was ruining the book by examining things like the relationship between Daisy and Tom (he's an asshole, she's entered into a loveless marriage because it was expected of her, rinse repeat) and ignoring Nick's relationship with Gatsby or the fact that Gatsby was not a businessman but a criminal (I somehow missed the fact that he was a bootlegger, only learning so from reading the notes at the end of the book, something I blame on my teacher) and thus everything of this member of the Nouveau Rich was build not just on sand, but to follow a metaphor, below the tide level.

For years I have felt that I should have gotten more out of it, but I had given up on the idea. Perhaps I'll try again.
posted by Hactar at 1:30 PM on May 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


which TITN? apparently there's two versions.
posted by sineater at 1:34 PM on May 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


it is particularly important to think not in terms of the outlier high school student who may appreciate the book

In my experience, in the average American school, every student who enjoys a book they read in school is the outlier; to program reading for the bulk of the class would mean scrapping it altogether.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 1:34 PM on May 7, 2013


And that's how we get an English class called, "Books on Film."
posted by Area Man at 1:57 PM on May 7, 2013


I'll also mention that maybe some of my appreciation for it comes from not having it ruined by heavy-handed symbolism readings, which while symbolism is no doubt there, I have little actual taste for (having had Jekyll and Hyde ruined for me by an overzealous English teacher determined to demonstrate that every single word was symbolic). I tend to read for plot and language, the symbolism is secondary if I notice it at all.
posted by klangklangston at 2:03 PM on May 7, 2013


I tend to read for plot and language, the symbolism is secondary if I notice it at all.

Symbolism in general isn't nearly as important as high school English teaches you it is. I think it's just something they hit hard because it's a very basic technique of literary analysis that's easy to explain and easy to use. You can just tell the kids that the color red represents sin or whatever, and at least it gets them thinking about that sort of thing, even if Hawthorne wasn't quite that ham-handed about it.
posted by Copronymus at 2:11 PM on May 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


And Moby Dick - I read almost the whole thing and [there were no] penises to be found.

apparently you missed the best chapter


Did you mean this chapter?
posted by yeti at 2:57 PM on May 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


That's the second-best chapter. "Cetology," obviously, is third.
posted by RogerB at 3:00 PM on May 7, 2013


And yet I found Fitzgerald's first novel This Side Of Paradise entirely likable, readable, engrossing.

It's a novel that reads very well in your early twenties, around the same age as Fitzgerald when he wrote it and became a literary sensation. I'm not sure if it ages so well, because I haven't gone back to it since then. All of his novels are flawed and yet readable. Even The Beautiful and Damned.
posted by holgate at 3:50 PM on May 7, 2013


Schulz wrote: "Indeed, The Great Gatsby is less involved with human emotion than any book of comparable fame I can think of."

That's so funny, because just the other day I was trying to explain Gatsby to my husband (who did not read it growing up in Egypt) and once again, I teared up. I reread Gatsby every few years, just to see what I'll get out of it as I get older. I'm never disappointed. In fact, it is difficult for me to discuss Gatsby without getting choked up.

I love Fitzgerald's unfinished novel The Love of the Last Tycoon: A Western much more than Gatsby. There's a 15 year gap between the writing of the two works, Fitzgerald's prose improved immensley over the intervening years. Tycoon would have been the West Coast bookend of an East Coast story Gatsby began, but so so much better.

I'm continually astounded by how many layers are packed into both novels.

I'm pretty sure the reader is not meant to feel romantic or emotional pangs for Gatsby and Daisy, as this lack of emotionality is a feature of the romances in Tycoon, too.

I suspect if we started discussing what Fitzgerald was really getting at.... Well, I guess that's the point of commissioning and publishing a hit piece on a lauded work of literature almost 90 years old.

Schulz tries to make "not getting it" look like the cool hipster position when thinking about Gatsby.

Don't fall for it.

Gatsby is as relevant today as it was in 1925 when discussing society, money, and the criminals who control both dominant aspects of life.

I don't think Fitzgerald was any sort of revolutionary, I don't think he was trying to change the world.

His insights were accurate, though, and his bitterness honestly come by.

Schulz is a hack. I'm not sure if the point of the piece is to create content and capitalize on the release of the upcoming film by being hipsterishly snarky, distract anyone from seriously considering (feeling) the deeper spiritual and socio-economic themes of Gatsby, or both.
posted by jbenben at 3:55 PM on May 7, 2013 [6 favorites]


Daisy is a vapid pleasure seeker. If Gatsby wants her that badly, he must be about as shallow.

Wow. Clearly you have never been in love with the wrong person.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:01 PM on May 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


This game is a much more fun way to be hipsterishly snarky about Gatsby.
posted by gladly at 5:42 PM on May 7, 2013


I tend to read for plot and language, the symbolism is secondary if I notice it at all.

Symbolism in general isn't nearly as important as high school English teaches you it is. I think it's just something they hit hard because it's a very basic technique of literary analysis that's easy to explain and easy to use. You can just tell the kids that the color red represents sin or whatever, and at least it gets them thinking about that sort of thing, even if Hawthorne wasn't quite that ham-handed about it.


As a high school English teacher, symbolism isn't the end all be all, but it is important. We also use books where the symbolism is very direct for several reasons:

1) Symbolism is used literature throughout time. While specific literary techniques vary greatly due language and literary movement, understanding symbolism is a skill that once you get down you can use on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, The Great Gatsby, Of Mice and Men, and all the other books you might read in high school.
2) Symbolism repeats endlessly throughout art and life in a way that many high schoolers are at first oblivious to. Understanding that things can be both themselves and have secondary (and tertiary) meanings, allows students to understand the multiple complex meanings in life. Part of being in the adult world, especially in the adult academic world, is this crucial knowledge of theme and meaning, of things being fiction and true, lies and meaningful. Symbolism is a basic step, but a needed one.
3) We use the more overt symbolism because not everyone has the developed academic mind to recognize subtlety. There's a huge range in not only my regular classes but my honors classes too. What you may see as obvious (because you're a self-induced reader) others might be oblivious to. In addition, more pronounced symbolism breaks some students of the "anything can mean anything" path that leads them to produce perhaps creative but not useful connections in literature. It's hard to teach students that just because there is not one right answer doesn't mean that all interpretations are right (or useful). Something overt allows a more controlled environment to get the hang of symbolism before taking off into the wild blue yonder that is college (or personal) reading.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 5:43 PM on May 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


I know, right? And Moby Dick - I read almost the whole thing and there was neither bland commercial techno nor penises to be found.

Uhh, Dude, there were penises everywhere. Giant white penises. Yar.
posted by Trochanter at 5:53 PM on May 7, 2013


Forget Gatsby, I want to talk about GADSBY: 50,000 WORD NOVEL WITHOUT THE LETTER "E."
posted by pravit at 6:00 PM on May 7, 2013


This game is a much more fun way to be hipsterishly snarky about Gatsby.

Far superior videogame adaptation.
posted by miyabo at 6:14 PM on May 7, 2013


I just think of Robert Redford dancing in a gas-mask in the Mad Magazine interpretation of the 1974 film. I can hear the music by Eric Carmen playing...
posted by ovvl at 6:20 PM on May 7, 2013



Why isn't "I just don't like this" enough of a reason to talk about why you don't like something?


A-fucking-men
posted by jonmc at 6:27 PM on May 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Gatsby might not be that bad, the problem is the idea that it's an important book that sums up AMERICA. Fitzgerald has some points to make about wealthy white Americans, and some middle class people who want to be wealthy, and how terrible women are, but that's about it.
If I got to set the great American novel syllabus, it would be Moby Dick, then Lolita then probably moby dick again i love that book
posted by velebita at 6:30 PM on May 7, 2013


Daisy is a vapid pleasure seeker. If Gatsby wants her that badly, he must be about as shallow

Christ, I shudder to think what would be made of Of Human Bondage.

it's about themes that are totally antithetical to teenagers' experience.

I actually really disagree with this. I read Gatsby as a teen, not for school just for funsies, and it resonated so deeply with me. Themes of ambition, of idolising, of alienation and discomfort, of perceiving people and social milieus one way only to discover ambiguity underneath, of relationships based more on ideas of yourself than anything external, of personal myth and image-making - these are all super relevant (or were, to this one) to the adolescent life.

Another theme of the book I think is what happens to faith-based patterns without a faith to hang them on. In the absence or rejection of being told what to believe in, that characters all try to create their own objects of worship/salvation - and it works out terribly for them all. Nick's realisation isn't that Gatsby is a fraud so much, but that he, Nick, is.
posted by smoke at 7:21 PM on May 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Count me as one of those who hated Gatsby in high school but upon rereading it in my late twenties I fell in love. Possibly because it was around 2007, and I was in Manhattan working for Goldman Sachs and watching the same sort of wretched excess in a different era. But also because I adore a beautiful turn of phrase and it's a book full of them. I'm reading it aloud to my infant son while he breast feeds and it is a real joy to read aloud. It's forcing me to savor every word and is a very entertaining way to pass the time.
posted by ch1x0r at 7:38 PM on May 7, 2013


Incidentally - If The Great Gatsby were just published today by an unknown, would you still like it? How much of your (apparent) appreciation for the book is bound up in the reputation you've been told it has?
posted by EmpressCallipygos


I'm pretty cynical with anything I'm told is 'great'. I read Gatsby late, and I was pretty blown away. I have no problem with people being critical of the book. Different strokes and all, but to believe the book's reputation is simply due to its rep is just silly.

Incidentally - how many people hate the book simply because it's cool to hate something you've been told is the 'great American novel'? That idea can easily cut both ways.
posted by justgary at 8:54 PM on May 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


I like the way Luhrmann is so very fakeGatsby when he says stuff like:
Luhrmann is taking quite a risk with his own Gatsby. His decision to film in 3-D has garnered more than a bit of skepticism. ''The idea of drama in 3-D is thrilling,'' he says. ''You're so absorbed in it. In 2-D, you tend to have to artificially create energy.''
So instead of being borne back into a horrid past where you had to use these simply awful 2-D techniques such as "dialogue" and "plot" and "timing" and "framing" to create "energy", Gatsby is such a vacuous palimpsest that it enables you to move into a glorious, remorseless future. Much like Jay Gatsby's fantastical mechanical juicer. That's the enduring attraction of Gatsby: it's so slight, it can be all things to all people.
posted by meehawl at 9:36 PM on May 7, 2013


I'm pretty cynical with anything I'm told is 'great'. I read Gatsby late, and I was pretty blown away. I have no problem with people being critical of the book. Different strokes and all, but to believe the book's reputation is simply due to its rep is just silly.

Justgary, I think you're actually in agreement with me. I was talking to Item, who did seem to be a person who felt that we shouldn't criticize Gatsby "because it's a classic" - in fact, that's exactly why I asked him "if it just came out now would you feel the same about it".

I agree with you that "I have no problem with people being critical of the book," that was kind of my point. It was item who had a problem with people criticizing it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:54 AM on May 8, 2013


Anyone who likes Middlemarch is probably anhedonic in general.
posted by Phssthpok at 5:20 AM on May 8, 2013


''The idea of drama in 3-D is thrilling,'' he says. ''You're so absorbed in it. In 2-D, you tend to have to artificially create energy.''

My mind is boggling. I'm having trouble thinking of another comparably ridiculous claim about technology and the arts. Maybe Sony calling the Playstation 2 CPU the "Emotion Engine"?

"I was interested to hear that Sony is to use 'Emotion Synthesis', which focuses particularly not just on how images look, but how in-game characters think, act and behave...One big factor to be untapped up to now is 'emotion'. PlayStation 2 looks as though it could have this covered, but we'll have to wait and see" - Peter Moleneux, 1999
posted by straight at 8:37 AM on May 8, 2013


It's not that you shouldn't criticize Gatsby "because it's a classic", it's that if you're going to criticize something that's acclaimed as a classic by generations of people who've studied it seriously, the bar's a little higher than "I don't like it." I mean, you're welcome not to like it, but your liking or not liking it is of no interest to anyone other than yourself. And while not liking a classic is fine (though limiting), thinking that the acclaim for a classic is a hoax perpetrated by a cabal of sneaky critics is silly.

Empress, I know you do theater---what do you think when someone says "I don't like Hamlet because it's boring and stupid"? Or "What kinda play is Godot---nothing even happens?" Do you think "Well, yeah, I guess Hamlet is boring and nothing happens in Godot", or do you think "You maybe need to think about these pieces a little more before you can call b.s. on them"?

What's most frustrating about articles like this is how little they contribute. I'd much rather read something that makes me see what's of interest in a book I've never liked than an article that tells me to ignore something I already don't understand.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 11:35 AM on May 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


Empress, I know you do theater---what do you think when someone says "I don't like Hamlet because it's boring and stupid"? Or "What kinda play is Godot---nothing even happens?" Do you think "Well, yeah, I guess Hamlet is boring and nothing happens in Godot", or do you think "You maybe need to think about these pieces a little more before you can call b.s. on them"?

I think you misunderstand what I was complaining about.

If someone said "I don't like Godot because nothing even happens," I would engage with you about the ideas that you expressed to me. However - what I would not do is say "oh, you're not a theater scholar so I don't even have to listen to you," and I would not say "well Godot is a classic so you shouldn't criticize it in the first place".

That is what I was challenging item about. Item wasn't challenging the ideas being expressed about Gatsby, Item was saying those ideas didn't deserve to be expressed in the first place. And I disagree with that premise.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:05 PM on May 8, 2013 [1 favorite]




I don't like Gatsby--pretty much because everyone in it is an asshole and I don't give much of a shit about any of them even though I do feel sorry for Gatsby somewhat--but man, this book was far less noxious than 99% of the books I had to read in school that made me want to drink heavily, so there's that.

Seriously, why must all Great Literachoor be depressing as fuck? Other than Jane Eyre and Austen, I never got to read anything that didn't seem to end in mass suicides or something else godawful.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:28 AM on May 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Seriously, why must all Great Literachoor be depressing as fuck? Other than Jane Eyre and Austen, I never got to read anything that didn't seem to end in mass suicides or something else godawful.

And when it wasn't mass suicide it was a mass wedding, which was equally as trite...

This was one reason why I made friends with the school librarian my senior year in high school - whenever I had an assignment to "study a book from X period" and I couldn't think of anything I'd like, I'd hit him up for a recommendation. He was the one who recommended Ivanhoe at a time when it seemed like my only other option was Jane Austen (whom I wasn't all that into), and he got a huge kick out of the fact that I was a kid who actually liked reading and liked talking about books, so we both just sort of dove in and indulged whenever I had a study hall in the library.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:36 AM on May 9, 2013


Seriously, why must all Great Literachoor be depressing as fuck? Other than Jane Eyre and Austen, I never got to read anything that didn't seem to end in mass suicides or something else godawful.

The court of Elsinore murders itself; Cordelia hangs and Lear dies of grief; Alonso Quijano gives up his arms and dies regretful; the Bovaries die, leaving their daughter an orphan, and Homais joins the Legion of Honor; Mrs. Richard Schiller, her stepfather having brutalized her, dies in childbirth.

None of this depresses me. It belongs to the patten of great art beacuse it belongs to the pattern of life. Goodness fails, mediocrity prospers, talent withers, beauty disappears unseen, and reason finds no meaning for any of it.

Bad art denies this and tries to hide it all with conventions and cliches that are a pleasure to see again but never to recognize as such. Good art affirms life by relating it squarely, however horrible it is. Bad art doesn't recognize horror, or else it exaggerates the horror to the point of insignificance. It cheapens happiness, the greatest gift of all, into contentment and self-satisfaction.

Roger Ebert said this, and I agree with him: "In thinking about 'depressing movies,' many people don't realize that all bad movies are depressing, and no good movies are.”

As far as I can tell, this applies to everything.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 10:33 AM on May 9, 2013 [5 favorites]


Goodness fails, mediocrity prospers, talent withers, beauty disappears unseen, and reason finds no meaning for any of it.

This all happens and is a worthy subject for art, but it's silly to imply that this is all that happens and the only worthy subject for art. This is no real answer to people who complain, "Why does this seem to be the only subject of the books we're forced to read in school?"
posted by straight at 12:43 PM on May 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


That is what I was challenging item about. Item wasn't challenging the ideas being expressed about Gatsby, Item was saying those ideas didn't deserve to be expressed in the first place. And I disagree with that premise.

I think everything Item said is a fair reaction to an article like this that doesn't just criticize Gatsby, but wants to bemoan the ubiquitous praise Gatsby receives without engaging the question of why so many people love what the critic here claims is a bad book.
posted by straight at 12:47 PM on May 9, 2013


This all happens and is a worthy subject for art, but it's silly to imply that this is all that happens and the only worthy subject for art. This is no real answer to people who complain, "Why does this seem to be the only subject of the books we're forced to read in school?"

Fair. I read jenfullmoon's comment less charitably, and probably less accurately, than you did. It seemed she was saying that depressing subjects weren't worth writing or reading about, and I disagree with that. My own implication that life is only bad and that art should only portray the badness of life was unintentional.

I don't have an answer to the broader question you read in her comment, but I liked Bunny Ultramod's take on The Great Gatsby's presence in the high-school canon. I'll bet most, if not all, of the books in that canon have similar reasons for being there.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 2:03 PM on May 9, 2013


What I was going for was, does literally every single book we have to read in school from middle school to the end of college have to end in complete and utter tragedy? I mean, Gatsby and Brave New World are the most "uplifting" books I can think of reading in school after the aforementioned Jane Eyre/Austen, and look how that goes. You can cover the world's great sad subjects and still have some moments of lightness or happiness or god forbid, a less miserable ending once in a damn while. Vary it up a bit.

Either way, I can totally understand why kids don't like to read when all they read for school is depressing.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:54 PM on May 9, 2013


What I was going for was, does literally every single book we have to read in school from middle school to the end of college have to end in complete and utter tragedy?

"Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."
posted by winna at 9:53 PM on May 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


I agree with you that "I have no problem with people being critical of the book," that was kind of my point. It was item who had a problem with people criticizing it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos


Thanks for the clarification.
posted by justgary at 10:36 AM on May 10, 2013


Anachonistic Movie Soundtracks: Better Than Gatsby

As long as they aren't diegetic, I don't care. It's like how Received Pronunciation in current movies signifies a certain Thing about the characters. It's meant to communicate to the audience, by using cultural touchstones they are familiar with.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 1:28 PM on May 10, 2013


Rory Marinich gives a master class in demonstrating he understands why a book is popular before explaining why he doesn't like The DaVinci Code.
posted by straight at 7:50 PM on May 11, 2013


That comment puts the OP to shame. I wish I had time to write a similar essay about The Great Gatsby and how it works, but I write so slowly that I doubt I would finish before the thread closed to new comments.

Incidentally, though, Rory's passing point about A Song of Ice and Fire is dead-on. When I learned that George R.R. Martin used to write for television, I better understood some of the structural quirks of A Game of Thrones. Many chapters, if not most of them, end with cliffhangers, just as TV shows do when cutting to commercial. Each chapter generally delivers one plot development at a time, which mimics the pace of most television. As Rory says, Dan Brown does the same things, so I'd bet his style takes a lot of influence from that kind of screenwriting.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 10:15 PM on May 11, 2013


Heavy plot, heavy symbolism, zero ­psychological motivation: Those are the genre conventions of fables and fairy tales.

I have no problem with this.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 12:38 AM on May 16, 2013


Seriously, why must all Great Literachoor be depressing as fuck? Other than Jane Eyre and Austen, I never got to read anything that didn't seem to end in mass suicides or something else godawful.

Define great. Define Literature.

As You Like It? Comedy of Errors? Most of Mark Twain? The Reivers? Tristam Shandy? Scoop? Candide? Alice in Wonderland? Gargantua and Pantagruel? Three Men in a Boat? Master and Margarita? The Good Soldier Švejk?

You just have to look around, is all.
posted by IndigoJones at 3:03 PM on May 19, 2013




Saving Zelda Fitzgerald
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 9:17 AM on May 31, 2013


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