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Archive for the month “February, 2014”

Revisiting “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald

After reading Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald on audio book last month, I was more than keen to revisit her Zelda’s husband’s works, most notably, “The Great Gatsby”. I first read the novel some 17 years ago when I was a junior or senior in high school, and to say that my life was forever changed by that book is an understatement. It for sure changed the way I read and looked at books. I even think that F.Scott Fitzgerald, along with John Steinbeck, were the ones responsible for me turning towards the historical novel as my go-to genre of sheer reading pleasure.

My first time reading Gatsby was my introduction into the 1920s and The Jazz Age, which would eventually become my passion decade- the decade I hope to time travel to someday (I’m not delusional, by the way, just fantastical), as well as the decade I probably romanticize the most. I remarked in an online post about one episode of Boardwalk Empire on HBO (another 1920s show) that The Jazz Age depicted on the show is no Fitzgerald’s. I’m not the only one who complains that the show is occasionally too dark and emotionally heavy. I should point out that I had “The Great Gatsby” in mind when I made that statement. Now, after re-reading “The Great Gatsby” nearly 20 years later, I may actually revise my thoughts on the decade as a whole.

What do I even remember from my first time reading the novel? What was it that stuck in my mind and soul all these years? I asked myself this before starting the book a few weeks ago. First of all, I remember there was a lot of discussion in class about Fitzgerald’s use of color (greens and blues) and the fog horn that would constantly go on and off throughout the book and what all of that symbolism was supposed to mean. Don’t even ask me if I remember the answers! I vividly remember the car crash, in which the state of the woman’s torn torso and nearly severed breast is graphically described. In fact, I found myself waiting impatiently and in dread for that part of the book to arrive on my second reading and find out if it is as gross and disturbing as I recalled (it is). The party scene stuck in my mind as the epitome of revelry and fun. As far as what touched me emotionally, I’m no longer sure what that specifically was. Perhaps it was the rich language, or the depiction of an era that just seemed to me to be so wonderful and full of life, that has stayed with me all of these years.

Was I disappointed by the book the second time around? No, but the book is definitely different for me now. First of all, I don’t recall it ever being so sad. It is truly a sad, lonely kind of book. That fog horn we talked about in school? I don’t know if there is a lonelier sound, and Fitzgerald uses it here perfectly. Secondly, I actually didn’t remember the ending to the book at all. Gatsby’s death took me completely by surprise. Even the party scenes at his home earlier on in the book were all nearly borderline depressing. At 17, having never really ever been to a raucous affair, this type of extreme partying seemed to me like the ultimate good time. Flappers, champagne, tuxedos, The Charleston, loud cars, and bobbed hair… I wanted to be IN IT. But upon re-reading the book, the party didn’t hold the same joie-de-vivre for me. Sure, Fitzgerald accurately describes folks in full gaiety and frivolity, but it’s all tinged in a drink infused haze that I am well aware now is only make-up for desperate people trying to escape the harsh realities of life. The rest of the novel feels much like a “morning after” hangover.

But, after reading “Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald” and  knowing what I now know about F. Scott Fitzgerald and his experiences during his marriage and the 1920s party scene, I’m more than convinced that the man was brilliant. He captures struggles with identity, loneliness, alcoholism, sexual frustration, fear of success, and fear of aging so beautifully in this novel. And it’s no coincidence that the main protagonist in Gatsby, Nick Carraway, bears a strong resemblance in character to that of his creator. For Fitzgerald, turning 30 was a career death sentence. He strongly believed that in order to be considered a success, one had to fulfill his dreams before the age of 30. He wrote “The Great Gatsby” when he was around 27, and this fear and anxiety seeps into his work. Nick turns 30 in the book and he views his life as a down-ward spiral with virtually nothing to look forward to. His eventual idol and hero, Jay Gatsby, plays on another of Fitzgerald’s big fears: the fear of becoming an unknown.

F. Scott Fitzgerald the man was driven to succeed. He had the chops, he had the talent, and all he craved was the validation. After reading Gatsby a second time, it became clear to me that one of his other greatest fears was that he indeed would become successful, validated, worthy, and famous. And it would eventually be worth nothing. Gatsby dies at the height of his popularity, but he’s remember by almost no one. None of his friends, besides Nick and his own father, attend his funeral. Daisy, Gatsby’s would-be paramour, leaves him in the end without so much as a goodbye. His name and his celebrity die away as quickly as he sprung into the public eye. It’s been described that Fitzgerald was constantly terrified of being abandoned by Zelda and by the publishing industry and literati elite. Not a coincidence at all that abandonment and self-worth are huge themes in this book.

One thing I’m also sure of is that Fitzgerald was the ultimate observer. The way he crafts his characters and scenes can only come from someone who was a constant study of human behavior. One of my favorite scenes in the novel is where Nick Carraway walks the streets of New York City and imagines what would happen if he walked up to this girl or that girl. Would they fall in love? How would his life be different? It reads like an existential search for a soul mate. It’s an achingly isolated guy going through a quarter-life crisis who doesn’t know where his life is going, but he would like it to go someplace better. It was so damn well written, I nearly wept.

I found the below gem in a recent article in The Paris Review with Toni Morrison that I think touches on the very essence of why this book is a national treasure after nearly 90 years:

“I remember introducing Eudora Welty and saying that nobody could have written those stories but her, meaning that I have a feeling about most books that at some point somebody would have written them anyway. But then there are some writers without whom certain stories would never have been written. I don’t mean the subject matter or the narrative but just the way in which they did it—their slant on it is truly unique.”

She includes F. Scott Fitzgerald in her short list of writers with a truly unique slant. Is Gatsby a unique story? Not really. At the end of the day it’s a tragic love story, and one that’s been told and retold several times. But just the way Fitzgerald captured these people and their fears and struggles with and about becoming something great and how he captured a nation in the throes of excess and desperation after having endured one of the most horrific wars in history is pure magic. The beauty behind “The Great Gatsby” is that it really can’t be replicated. Fitzgerald took a written snapshot of a moment in time that was very real and raw.

“The Great Gatsby” is no longer the romanticized fantasy that I once held it to be, nor is it an outdated classic. Sure, some of the slang is dusty and no longer used today and you could argue that Fitzgerald was occasionally guilty of overly florid language, but this is a book that truly stands the test of time. Every theme is relevant today, even if “Old Sport” is not.

You never needed to worry, F. Scott, you will always be remembered. Your greatest fear turned into your greatest triumph, and I am hereto say that my life is better because you were in it.


Can digital and print books coexist in harmony? Looks like they must…

I just read an article that states print is dead, get used to it. Well, print- books in print, to be precise- is definitely not dead but it might be if it doesn’t learn to coexist among the digital e-readers. And this brings up a great question: Can books in print and digital books live side by side, or will one medium eventually push out the other?

I’m voting for side-by-side existence. But it’s gonna take some work.

The publishing world and libraries are finally starting to get it. Recently I read that libraries are starting their very own 24hr vending library machines, similar to RedBox, in order to compete with the digital e-reader vending machines available at airports (buy a kindle before you board, kind of deal). While I worry that library book vending machines might only cater to the newest and most popular books and not have the greatest of variety, I’m amazed no one came up with the idea sooner.

And it gets even better for books-in-print readers, at least in Los Angeles. Libraries are slowly starting to realize that in order to compete with the immediacy and ease of a digital reader, they need to figure out a way to be just as accessible. Los Angeles libraries had, in years past, cut down on hours at certain branches and even closed most branches on Sundays. Not anymore. I’m very happy to report that libraries are back open and fully operational nearly 7 days a week.

Look, I get it. The fact remains that digital e-readers are just more convenient. It’s an average wait time of about 7-10 days to get a book on hold delivered to your local branch and that’s assuming the library even has the book in stock. But this doesn’t mean e-readers are necessarily always better. For example, a few months ago I downloaded a short story on my Nook for a book club meeting. I opened the file and discovered it had downloaded in a funky format leaving about 4 words on the right side of each page cut off. I emailed B&N to see what they could do about it and the help center gave me some tips to try and re-download, but no dice, the problem persisted. A week later I took my Nook into B&N store. After 30 minutes it was confirmed the issue was not with my e-reader (a 1st gen, mind you), but with the actual file itself. They would have to contact the publisher and have them send the B&N Nook department a brand new scanned file and send me an email confirmation. This was going to take two weeks. My book club meeting was a week and a half away. After waiting three weeks I still hadn’t received an email saying the new file was received, my book club meeting had already come and gone, and for all this fuss over a 98 page book, I said screw it. In the time it would have taken to get the new file, etc, I could have easily just gotten the darn book from Amazon, or even the library, and read it before my meeting.

Sometimes technology gets the better of us.

The one thing a library ultimately has over a Nook , Kindle, or iPad is that libaries are hubs. And in order to survive in the digital age- where digital libraries are now sprouting up- they have to become the ultimate meeting spaces and places for minds to meet over books. An article from the KCRW radio show “Which Way L.A.?” calls it the “Starbucks Effect”. Where folks used to check out a book and leave, now they take a book off the shelf and curl up in a chair to read. Libraries are suddenly becoming cool places to hang out. And libraries are finding they have to accommodate their digital friends too. The call for digital resources is becoming more of a demand. Digital libraries can’t very well cater to books-in-print people as well, so it is up to our libraries to break the mold.

So if you offer a safe space for book lovers and digital enthusiasts to co-mingle in harmony, how bad is that? I think you might just be on the path to change the way we view reading. Perhaps it’s not the device after all, but the place in which to read it.

For more info below is a cool link and article on changes in the publishing industry (pardon me, but the link wouldn’t show up so I copied and pasted here. Yep, I’m old school!).

Guy Kawasaki knows a thing or two about business. Kawasaki was involved in Apple’s early days and now has a new gig at Google. In between working at some of the world’s largest companies, he’s written extensively on topics like Google+self-publishing, and and the digital media revolution. His interest in digital media lead to the founding of new startup AllTop, which helps content consumers find the best headlines from all over the Web.

I learned these five lessons on a recent call where we discussed the future of publishing:

Lesson #1: Business leaders and entrepreneurs need to be looking toward the future.

Entrepreneurs and business leaders need to anticipate the business models of the future, not be stuck following the way things were done in the past. Kawasaki has seen publishers balk at the idea of a more digital future for the industry, but you can’t ignore trends.

“Publishers are basically dinosaurs,” Kawasaki said. “They look up and see a tiny speck in the sky and they think it’s dust, but it’s actually a meteor coming for them.”

You don’t have to be in the publishing industry to take this lesson to heart. Focus on the future of your industry, not the past. Know what direction your field is going, whether it’s digital adoption or mobile optimization. New technology is changing everything, from traditional publishing to advertising, hiring, and healthcare. Don’t get left behind because you’re stuck in the past.

Lesson #2: Digital is the future.

“A long-term trend will be us going in the direction of established, digital readers,” Kawasaki said. “I realize there’s a resistance to giving up paper, but just as we’re not using cartography or landmines anymore, we’re not going to be reading paper books.”

The digital reader adoption rate continues to trend upwards, with 43 percent of Americans age 16 and over owning either an e-reader or tablet. As the Pew Center for Research found, digital reader adoption has gone from only six percent in 2010 to almost 50 percent today. Ignoring the popularity of digital readers is a huge mistake.

While paper might never completely disappear, across industries digital is streamlining processes. Just take a look at what we’re doing at Open Me, keeping the ‘paper’, but making the process of sending thoughtful greeting cards easier and more efficient by focusing on the digital aspect first.

Lesson #3: Self-publishing is the future.

We’re beginning to see a self-publishing revolution, with self-published books breaking their way into the mainstream literary world and making a stir. Kawasaki believes strongly in self-publishing, having self-published Ape and What The Plus!. He points out that he can actually make more off his self-published efforts than he would with a traditional publisher.

“Ape is a $10 ebook. I make seven freaking dollars on a $10 book. For another book, the suggested retail was $25 and the street price was $16 on Amazon. So, on a $16 book, I make $9,” Kawasaki said. “So yes, you can make more for a book, but the question becomes: Will a traditional publisher sell five or six times more than you will alone? And the answer is no.”

Kawasaki sees digital and social media as great publicity channels to get the word out about self-published works. He notes traditional publishing is still great for big names like Hilary Clinton, but for smaller authors with the ability to promote their own material, self-publishing is the wave of the future.

Lesson #4: Quality journalism needs to be protected.

In the age of BuzzFeed and The Huffington Post, what happens to long-form journalism? Is it all replaced by baby animal GIFs thrown together by unpaid contributors? Kawasaki sees the new contributor model of digital content as a definite challenge to journalism.

He wonders how Woodward and Bernstein would have investigated Watergate without the backing and support of The Washington Post. He notes today’s digital publishers just don’t have the pageviews, money, or resources to send a reporter out into the field for six months to report on a single story. Yet, it’s important to protect and foster quality journalism, for our democracy and our world.

“I think there are going to be two solutions,” Kawasaki said. “One is that the government may have to pay for experienced journalism. The second is foundations like the MacArthur Foundation and Ford Foundation pay for investigative journalism.”

Lesson #5: The digital landscape brings greater opportunities as well as challenges.

The digital landscape is presenting challenges to the way many organizations do business, not just media and publishing. Companies need to relearn their traditional business models and shake up existing paradigms which just don’t work anymore in our digital reality.

However, it’s not all bad news when it comes to the digital revolution. Digital media is also allowing for many more voices to be heard than the traditional system would normally allow. It’s easier than ever to connect with consumers, brand your company, and listen to feedback. Now anyone with a computer and something to add to the conversation can become part of the dialogue.

“I think it’s a great time for writers because everyone can publish a book, more or less,” Kawasaki said. “But now you don’t have to rely on five publishing houses in New York to see success. So, the democratization of publishing is good in that sense.”

The digital revolution is changing many industries, including publishing. Challenges and opportunities for growth await smart companies willing to look to the future and adapt to the new digital reality.

It’s February 2014… do you know where your blog is?

I can’t believe it’s February! I am not posting as much as I should. I have a draft post started, and I very excited about it… if only I can find the time to write it.

Why aren’t you writing it now, you ask? Well…

I came across this great article on writing recently, and it sums what I need to be doing every day: finding the time to write.

#1 Make writing a priority

#2 REALLY make writing a priority

“8 Steps to Starting a Writing Habit that Sticks” 

I don’t write because it’s a chore, I write because I love it. And I don’t want lose this passion.

Check out the link above, writers. And get writing!!

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