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The Great Gatsby June 3, 2013

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

great gatsby bookOften called “the Great American Novel,” F. Scott Fitzgerald‘s The Great Gatsby has been popular since first published in 1925.  An instant hit with the flappers and philosophers of the Jazz Age, the story struck a cord and the reverberations are still felt today as the title appears on countless reading lists and is now a getting the star treatment from director Baz Luhrmann.

The tale is narrated by Nick Carraway, a young man fresh from Yale and World War I, as he moves East to be a bond trader on Wall Street.  Renting a tiny cottage in West Egg, Long Island, Nick finds himself neighbors with the mysterious Jay Gatsby.  Next door Nick is witness to decadent and lavish parties held at Gatsby’s immense mansion.  Across the bay from Gatsby’s, a green light blinks on a dock on old monied East Egg.  This happens to be the home of Nick’s cousin Daisy Buchanan and her philandering husband Tom.

Naive Nick quickly becomes embroiled in the exploits of the super wealthy, complete with trips to NYC, gangsters, and socialites.  Tom takes Nick to meet his mistress, Myrtle Wilson, wife of poor mechanic George.  They reside in the “valley of the ashes” between Long Island and New York City.  This depressed and destitute border town is watched over by the eyes of Dr. T J Eckleburg, a billboard and silent witness of events to come.

Nick is then invited to one of Gatsby’s parties.  Here he encounters Daisy’s friend Jordan Baker and finally meets the Jay Gatsby.  Later, Nick learns that Gatsby and Daisy were sweethearts before the war.  Separated by distance and social status, Daisy eventually married Tom instead.  Now, Gatsby wants Nick’s help in reuniting with Daisy.

Events come to a head when the five travel to the Plaza Hotel in the city.  Gatsby urges Daisy to confront Tom and tell him she never loved him.  Tom counters with questions about Gatsby’s dubious origins and the real source of his millions.  Unable to commit to Gatsby, Daisy wants to leave.  Tom sends them home together as he, Nick and Jordan follow in another car.  While speeding through the “valley of the ashes,” Daisy hits and kills Myrtle.  Gatsby takes responsibility for the accident, trying to cover up the evidence.  When Tom finds a distraught George Wilson at the scene of the accident, he tells him it was Gatsby in the yellow car.

Nick leaves Gatsby as he waits in vain for Daisy to change her mind.  Taking a dip in the luxurious swimming pool he’s never used, Gatsby is shot to death by a vengeful George Wilson, who then takes his own life.  Myrtle’s death and adultery is attributed to Gatsby.  Daisy and Tom flee to Chicago, heedless of the destruction left in their wake.  Nick remains to make arrangements for his deceased friend.  Only Gatsby’s father, the stranger known as Owl Eyes and Nick are mourners at the funeral.

The Great Gatsby‘s themes are timeless and universal.  The desire to achieve and accumulate doesn’t make you happy.  You can’t buy love or friendship.  You can look to the past, but rarely recapture those moments.  As powerful as it was almost 90 years ago, F. Scott Fitzgerald‘s The Great Gatsby is just a relevant today.

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

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The Outsiders April 9, 2013

Filed under: Books,The Classics — Heather @ 5:52 pm
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The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

Review by Hunter Stokes – Grade 7, Memorial Middle School

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Amazing.  Intriguing.  Unstoppable.  These are the three words that best describe S.E. Hinton’s book The Outsiders.  A tale that takes it’s readers on a journey of friendship, gang life, and the challenges that every teenager takes on in their everyday life.  It’s impossible to put down.  Ponyboy Curtis, a fourteen year-old member of the Greaser gang, knows that there will never be an end to the senseless fighting between them and the rival gang, the Socs (So-ches).  He’s the only member of the gang that likes school, learning, reading, writing, or even movies, but that doesn’t stop him from continuing to be Greaser with his two brothers Darryl (Darry for short) and Sodapop (that’s right, it even says so on his birth certificate!), and their friends Two-Bit Matthews, Dallas Winston (Dally for short), Johnny Cade (Ponyboy’s best friend), and Steve Randall.  After Ponyboy gets beat up by some of the Socs he goes out to the movies with his pals Dally and Johnny, where they meet two girls named Sherry Valance (Cherry because her hair is red) and Marcia (no last name) who are from the Socs’ part of town.  Dally, being the “bad boy” he is, proceeds to talk dirty to them and Cherry end up throwing her Coke on him.  As most guys would do, he runs off in a fit of rage.  The girls ask Johnny and Ponyboy to come and protect them, and the boys do.  Two-Bit shows up and threatens the boys.  This is the point in the book where the story really takes off, bring your mind with it.

To me, this book showed me another side to the world.  As kids in Middlebury or Southbury, we live mainly sheltered lives, thinking we know how hard life can be.  But let’s be honest, we live great lives, no matter how you feel towards family, friends, or peers.  These kids have lived horrible lives, in Oklahoma City.  When you think of cities with a lot of crime and violence, you think Detroit, Los Angeles, or even Waterbury.  But not Oklahoma.  That brings to mind one of the best basketball teams in the league, but that’s for another time.  My point is, we don’t know how hard life can be.  Modern problems for us are grades, and small things that show how spoiled we are.  They had to worry about being split up from the little family they had left, whether the police would arrest them, or if the Socs would try to ambush a single member of the gang.  Noticing the differences in our lifestyles, this book made me able to see the other side of life, and how some people have it much harder than we do.  Oh and did I mention that this book is based on S.E. Hinton’s life, and that she wrote it when she was 15!

 

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons February 24, 2013

Filed under: Books,The Classics — Heather @ 8:06 pm
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cold comfort farmMiss Flora Poste is orphaned by the death of her parents and must find a solution to her sudden situation.  She writes to her plentiful relatives in hopes of finding a place to live.  She chooses to take up her residence with the Starkadders of Cold Comfort Farm in Sussex.  Flora hopes to find diversion among her lowly relatives.  She comes from London, after all. Convinced she’ll find disaster and ruin in their rural existence, she sets out on her adventure.

Flora “cannot tolerate a mess,” yet that’s exactly what she finds in Howling (yes, that’s a town).  The farm is everything she imagined and much, much more.  Aunt Judith speaks of a wrong done to Robert Poste that must be atoned for, but don’t ask her what it is.  Her lips are sealed.  Flora’s cousins have other things on their minds.  Reuben wants the farm and suspects Flora has come to take his inheritance.  Seth, when not impregnating the hired girl, longs to be a movie star.  And Elfine dreams of poetry and Dick Hawke-Monitor, the young lord down the lane.  Flora, or Robert Poste’s child as she is called, sees immediate need for intervention.

“There have always been Starkadders at Cold Comfort Farm” is the mantra bellowed by Aunt Ada Doom, Flora’s great aunt. When only a child, the old lady “saw something nasty in the woodshed” that has forced her to take to her room and never venture past the farm gates.  Her manipulations and antics keep all the members of the Starkadders afraid to leave Aunt Ada or the farm.  Ask anyone and they’ll tell you there is a curse on Cold Comfort Farm.

Flora systematically works her magic on the members of her extended family.  She transforms Elfine from a will-o’the wisp into a proper modern lady fit for marriage (not to a first cousin).  Amos, Judith’s husband, takes Flora’s advice and leaves to preach across the United States in a Ford.  This leaves Reuben with the farm.  Seth is discovered by a famous movie producer and is whisked away to Hollywood.  After Flora shares her magazines and travelogues, Aunt Ada emerges from her room to announce she will travel the world starting with the French Riviera.  The doom has been lifted from Cold Comfort Farm . All the Starkadders live happily ever after.  And Flora Poste flies off to marry the man of her dreams, Charles.  After all, he does have heavenly teeth!

This novel is a hoot!  Cold Comfort Farm is a sharp parody of romantic fiction popular at the time.  Stella Gibbons creates cringe-worthy yet endearing characters not soon forgotten.  You’ll in for a good time with this one, just mind the sukebind’s not in blossom!

 

Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger February 13, 2013

Filed under: Books,The Classics — Heather @ 1:28 am
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franny and zooey

Originally two stories published in the New Yorker, “Franny” and “Zooey” are combined here into one novel.  This is the story of the two youngest of the seven Glass children.  They are highly educated, intellectually superior children entering adulthood.  All seven Glass children were child stars on a popular quiz show “It’s a Wise Child”.  As the children mature, their genius and family prosperity does not combat their woes and questions about the larger world.

In the first part Franny is having dinner with her boyfriend Lane Coutell, in a fancy French restaurant.  She is telling him about her recent spiritual crisis.  Lane represents all that is elitist and materialistic, all that Franny has come to detest. Lane gorges himself on frog’s legs, as Franny is unable to eat her simple chicken sandwich. This piece of the novel ends with Franny blacking out in the restaurant.

The second part of the novel is Zooey, focusing on the youngest Glass son, actor Zachary.  It is a few days later and Franny is home recuperating on the couch of the Glass family apartment in New York. Zooey is indulging in a bath, re-reading a four-year-old letter from brother Buddy.  Constantly interrupted by his mother’s urging to see what’s wrong with his sister, Zooey erupts angrily at Bessie Glass.  Here is where we learn all the “dirt” on the Glass family.  Their parents’ roots in vaudeville, the children’s intelligence and proclivity towards the dramatic arts, and the suicide of eldest brother Seymour is explained through the narrative of Buddy’s letter to Zooey.

Bessie Glass appears confused over the fact that Franny doesn’t want to go back to college.  What could be so wrong since she’s smart AND pretty?  She won’t even have any chicken soup!  You sense Zooey’s frustration towards his mother.  The struggles to grow up, live up to expectations, and become self-actualized are themes still prevalent today.

Critics were not kind to Salinger’s work.  Franny and Zooey has been dismissed as a self-indulgent work by an intelligent, reclusive artist (not unlike Buddy Glass).  I view it as a timeless family drama about disenchanted youth.  The Glass family may be pretentious and privileged, but they are human.  Franny and Zooey are brother and sister, young adults, trying to find their niches in life and leave behind parental expectations.

 

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Filed under: Books,The Classics — Heather @ 12:31 am
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rebecca-by-daphne-du-maurier

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”

A young woman, a paid companion, is in Monte Carlo with her rich, American employer. It is here she meets Maxim de Winter, a handsome widower not impressed with the frivolities of the French Riviera. Drawn to her unpretentious character and attractive inexperience, the two spend all their spare time together. Somber Mr. de Winter was married before. A mystery surrounds the death of his wife. They say he just can’t get over Rebecca. Our heroine seems to melt Maxim’s chilly exterior and soothe his wounded heart.

After a whirlwind romance the new Mrs. de Winter arrives home at Manderley, a picture postcard perfect estate on the Cornish coast of England. The young bride (who remains nameless throughout the story) is in for a shock. Along with the estate comes a litany of servants and responsibilities. Mrs. Danvers rules Manderley with her steely façade and grim presence. Danny loved Rebecca and takes every opportunity to remind the new Mrs. de Winter she’ll never fill the void left by her predecessor.

Feeling like an outsider, not belonging to the world of landed gentry into which she has been dropped, the new bride hopes she hasn’t made a mistake. Inept at every turn, the second Mrs. de Winter is haunted by the past perfection that was Rebecca.

Maxim’s first wife was the epitome of elegance and beauty. Her shadow hovers over Manderley, casting doubt into the heart of her successor.

Maxim never speaks of Rebecca, never mentions her death. She drowned off the coast while boating alone one night. Haunted by her memory, happiness evades Maxim. Our young protagonist is the antithesis of glamorous Rebecca. Can she fill the shoes that trampled over Maxim and all of Manderley?

Since publication in 1938, Rebecca has stood the test of time. A classic tale of romance and suspense, it will satisfy lovers of both. Famous for introducing readers to the windy Cornish coast, dashing Maxim de Winter, and insidiously creepy Mrs. Danvers,  Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca is worth reading and re-reading…and re-reading.