For The Ages

We were down in London on Saturday night and Sunday:

Dog walking, this post began to come to mind as I strolled and simultaneously contemplated the universe…

[Photo by me, 2018.]

As you may recall, I bought two paperbacks post-Christmas. I have read that left famous story more than once. The right side one, well…

However, as I posted to Instagram on Saturday, I am reading it now:

[The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Photo by me, 2019.]

And I am struck by this. As I wrote on Insta, I had last read it in full – I think – in high school back on Long Island (way too long ago). A book assigned in school is a kiss of literary death: I hated it.

And that experience “scarred” me I suppose. Maybe I didn’t then “get it” either; maybe being a teen it’s harder to relate to but you understand better when you’re older. Whatever it was, re-reading it now, I’m enjoying it.

That Instagram post unsurprisingly led to a brief comment exchange with Gatsby fan and writer (and college English instructor) Laura Thompson, who agreed with my assigned-in-school “kiss of literary death” assertion. I noted in a comment also:

I feel it’s a book for adults. Re-reading it I realize increasingly why I was bored with it as a teen. The issues and problems are more adult than I think register with kids.

A Long Island Instagrammer also commented that her…

…11th grader is reading this now and bored with it, lol…but my 22 yr old loved it especially since she saw the DiCaprio movie prior to reading it.”

I understand. A film of it influenced her older one’s reading opinion of it. That is not a surprise.

[The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Photo by me, 2019.]

Gatsby having long been a staple of high school (grades 9-12; ages 14-17) English literature classes in the USA, I thought about that fact now as a writer. I’m uncomfortable about it. And here’s why, as I noted in another comment:

Kids learn by being stretched. I felt I was. But they need to be in a manner consistent with their ages. I do think a quirky first person tale about observing the foibles of a Jazz Age rich guy on Long Island and his hangers on and the life-worn-down types around him is a bit of an excessive ask for most 14/15 year olds.

Then this obvious fact hit me, so I added:

…we need to remember the novel’s intended audience was adult readers, not 15 year olds.

Which caused me to think about at whom I aim my own books. A potential reader’s curiosity and interest in the general subject matter are required, of course. The second point is their maturity: I feel the books are okay for up from about college age (meaning 18):

[Excerpt from Frontiers, on Kindle for iPhone/iPad. Click to expand.]

Meaning they are pitched at adult readers, not high schoolers. Yes, I’m sure there are teens who might like them; but I didn’t write them for that audience and I suspect most pre-college age teens would not quite “get them.” They might even – alas, yes; but I am big enough to admit this – be “bored” by them.

Finally this minor gripe about Gatsby from this reader. I still feel – as I did in school – Fitzgerald calling the towns “East Egg” and “West Egg” was dopey. They should’ve been “East Bay” or “West Bay,” or “East Cove” and “West Cove.” If you grew up on Long Island (as I did), you may also “get” what I mean by that… “old sport.”😂

Have a good Monday, wherever you are. 🙂

5 replies »

  1. Thanks for the link, Robert! Must confess that while I’m always grateful for anything that will stir a young person’s interest in literature, I was pretty horrified by the newer version of Gatsby. Even though Redford did not match Fitzgerald’s physical description, as the Clark Gable/Cary Grant of 70s-90s movie era—there is no arguing with me on the subject, lol—Redford pulled it off. Furthermore, as a music lover, there isn’t a cut on the newer soundtrack that can touch the haunting, wistful “What’ll I Do” by Irving Berlin. I did thoroughly enjoy the updated versions of Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre and was thrilled that my daughter, much younger then than her current twenty-two years, loved them as well. Funny how some remakes we accept and others we reject. My dad accepted the remake of the Italian Job but is quick to point out that the original version was “so much better” in films I never even knew had an original version! Have a great day!

    P.S. Just realized the above stated makes me sound a bit like I’m shuffling along with a walker. I actually do love a wide variety of music including hip-hop and some rap. 🙂

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    • You’re welcome. It was your Insta comments that helped get my mind going on this. I haven’t seen the DiCaprio version so can’t fairly comment; I may now watch it. Redford had a gravitas and a presence on screen that remains astonishing; DiCaprio (at the risk of sounding old too) to me, does not match Redford; but I do think he can come pretty close at times. But that’s being unfair to Leo, because it’s like saying “Where’s the new Cary Grant?” There can’t be one: there was only one Cary Grant as there is only one Redford.

      And soundtracks tend to reflect their times. I think of the musical Hamilton. I never in my life ever thought so many “young people” would get to know who Eliza Hamilton or John Laurens was. It’s fantastic that.

      As for Pride and Prejudice, my favorite version remains the Colin Firth version from the 1990s; its pace and style were much like the book. (I’m not much on Jane Eyre, I must admit.)

      The original Italian Job your dad mentioned is the one with Michael Caine and even Benny Hill. My wife to this day cannot understand Americans’ love of Benny Hill. 🙂

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  2. I think Benny Hill, like Monty Python, tickles the American funny bone. Even my parents, both in their 80s, have a wonderful sense of the ridiculous. I guess silly humor is an acquired taste and not for everyone, but I understand your wife’s feelings. After all, I never cared for Star Wars/Star Trek and often fear for my life when I’m brave enough to reveal this, lol. My interest in science fiction ended with Lost in Space. 🙂 #showingmyage Have a great day!

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    • Shush. Oh, to reveal you don’t like Star Wars/Star Trek? I may have to delete this comment to protect you. You may well be driven off of the internet and into web exile in disgrace! LOL!!!!

      I fairness I shall reveal something dangerous too: I have never been really a Bruce Springsteen fan. 🙂

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  3. 😂😂😂 I know! I should probably have some sort of extraction plan just in case or at the very least, take up martial arts! I totally get your feelings about Bruce. There are quite a few artists out there I find myself scratching my head, befuddled at the popularity. 😊

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