The Beautiful and the Damned

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Beautiful and the Damned
by F. Scott Fitzgerald
In 1913, a 25-year-old man, Anthony Patch, falls in love with a socialite named Gloria. The pair is ill-suited, neither one practical or hardworking, but their passionate love is based more on momentary infatuation than a long-lasting partnership. What follows is their marriage and then their inevitable disillusionment with each other and their lives. Fitzgerald’s gift for language is clear in every description. His novel paints a poetic picture, even though the characters themselves fill you with disdain.
“Things are sweeter when they're lost. I know—because once I wanted something and got it. It was the only thing I ever wanted badly, Dot. And when I got it it turned to dust in my hands."
"I've often thought that if I hadn't got what I wanted things might have been different with me. I might have found something in my mind and enjoyed putting it in circulation. I might have been content with the work of it, and had some sweet vanity out of the success."
The progression of their marriage is all too familiar. They’re delighted with each new thing they discover about each other. Every new behavior is endearing instead of infuriating, but soon the delightful revelations turn to irritating quirks and then to soul-crushing habits. As you learn who your spouse truly is, flaws and all, it can be incredibly painful to come to terms with the marriage if you’ve chosen badly.  
“It was, at first, a keen disappointment; later, it was one of the times when she controlled her temper."
Their downfall is so tragic because it’s so inevitable, yet it still comes as a surprise to them. They are trapped in a state of arrested development, perpetual partiers who are shocked when they begin to grow older and realize the life they love requires money that they don’t have.
Anthony is a pitiful character. He expects his family to give him money and has never had to work for a living. Because of this he has a view of self-importance but a lack of self-respect. As the story progresses he loses himself more and more in drink. Gloria reminded me of Estella from Great Expectations. She’s so admired that most men bore her. She flits from one to another with no real attachment. It’s not until she’s unhappily married for years that she begins to grow up. Her downfall feels all the more tragic because she doesn’t really become aware of what she values and desires until she is saddle with an alcoholic husband and those dreams are even farther out of reach.
BOTTOM LINE: For me it’s Fitzgerald’s writing and not his characters or plot that make him great. Tender is the Night is still my favorite of his books, but this one captures that unique moment in time when an entire generation glittered with hope before reality set in. That oft repeated pattern still rings true today when bright-eyed millennials realize the party finally has to stop.  
“In a panic of despair and terror Anthony was brought back to America, wedded to a vague melancholy that was to stay beside him through the rest of his life.”
"A classic," suggested Anthony, "is a successful book that has survived the reaction of the next period or generation.”
“Surely the freshness of her cheeks was a gossamer projection from a land of delicate and undiscovered shades; her hand gleaming on the stained table-cloth was a shell from some far and wildly virginal sea….”

Banned Book Week: Go Ask Alice

Monday, September 22, 2014

It’s Banned Book Week!!! As I may have mentioned in the past, banned book week is a big deal to me.

As Heinrich Heine said, “Where they burn books, so too will they in the end burn human beings.” I know that banning a book isn’t the same as burning it, but it’s not far off. Anytime we decide to restrict what others are allowed to read, we are treading into dangerous territory. Reading gives people the opportunity to explore new worlds and ideas and forbidding that should never be an option.
So celebrate your freedom to read this week and check out this list of frequently banned and challenged books to see how many you’ve read.
This year, in honor of banned book week, I read “Go Ask Alice” a book that has been banned countless times since the 1970s. The reasons cited for banning include profanity, explicit references to runaways, drugs, sex, and rape.

Go Ask Alice
by Anonymous
This fake diary of a teenage girl explores her downfall by drug use. At the beginning we see a self-conscious girl who isn’t sure where to turn. By the end she’s tumbled beyond society’s ability to help her because of the bad influences by friends. This book rocked the literary world decades ago when teens everywhere thought they were reading an actual diary.
The book has an oddly childish tone and never sounded like a real teen to me. There are too many times when the girl says how wonderful her mother is or how sorry she is for her actions. In my experience, most teenage girls are a bit more critical of their mothers. It felt like something a mother would write to make her daughter scared of drugs.
It was hard for me to take seriously because it just felt so forced. I know that when it first came out people thought this was a real diary and if I’d read it at that time I’m sure I would have had a completely different reaction. But instead I went into it knowing that it was later revealed to be a work of fiction.
BOTTOM LINE: Not my cup of tea. I know a lot of teens struggle with drugs, but there are other books I’ve read that deal with that issue is a more convincing way.
“Sometimes I think we’re all trying to be shadows of each other, trying to buy the same records and everything even if we don’t like them.”
Image from here.

Meeting Brona!

Friday, September 19, 2014

I am back from vacation and fighting jet lag right now. I promise that in coming weeks there will be photos and more info about the trip (it was incredible!) but before all that I just wanted to take a minute to tell you about one highlight.

While the Huz and I were in Sydney, Australia we met up with Brona from Brona's Books. We had planned to meet for a quick drink so we could say hello. Instead, we ended up spending four hours chatting and laughing with our husbands. It was just so much fun!

Brona gave me the cutest fold-out book about Australia (see above) which I just love! The whole evening was this wonderful reminder of why I started blogging in the first place. For me, blogging is about discussing the books I've read and having a place to journal about them. That's enough right there, but then there's the huge bonus of meeting other book bloggers online. Brona and I had never met before that night, but we'd emailed and read each others blogs, so we instantly felt connected.

We sat there, 36 floors above the Sydney Harbor at a gorgeous hotel bar, drinking G&Ts and never once had a pause in our conversation. It didn't matter that we'd never met before. We shared a love of books and theatre and travel and so there was no need for awkward small talk. We lived on opposite sides of the globe, but we loved so many of the same books. It's just incredible.

Here's to blogging and Brona and our great husbands who made the whole evening even more fun. I hope we all get to meet up and do that again in the future!

p.s. Brona's posted about the night too!

Photos by moi and the Huz.