Wednesday, April 16, 2014

[Reading the Classics] The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald


Author: F. Scott Fitzgerald
Publication Year: 1925
Pages: 177

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My thoughts

The first (and second) time I read The Great Gatsby was for grade 11 English class (2009). It was one of the only books required for class that I actually read ahead of the deadline, and it was also one of the only ones that truly grabbed me and convinced me to love it. It was all so profound and felt somehow relevant to our times and just who I was as a person. I couldn't get enough of the story, the characters, the setting, the themes and ideas portrayed and explored by Fitzgerald, an author I've been itching to read more of since.

But in 2013, I dared to revisit this highly-revered modern classic: partly so that I'd be refreshed and ready to view the upcoming film adaptation (which I still have not watched!), but also because I was curious. Curious to see how I would react after a relatively significant amount of time had passed since my first reading it. It was like going to a reunion, a warm one, where everyone is the same as they were the last time you saw them, save for a few details here and there (that you may or may not notice).

Bottom line: I fell in love all over again.

The writing style, as with many classics, may require a bit of time for the reader to get adjusted. Fitzgerald's/Nick Carraway's descriptions are at times too abundant, but it is very in character and suits the storytelling well. The 1920s is encapsulated in the most amazing way--not quite as razzle-dazzle as the movie (or so I can gather from the trailer)--but Fitzgerald set the scene extremely well. After all, this book is what prompted my interest in the Roaring 20s and seek out other books and stories set in this time period.

The characters. They're all thoroughly unlikeable, but that's kind of the point. This book isn't meant to paint a perfect picture of the 20s and the social scene and the behaviours of the characters in this novel reflect that. Despite their flaws, somehow I was able to understand them and love them in some weird way. 


Fitzgerald uses symbols and imagery that strengthen the messages he wished to be portrayed. The billboard eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg, the green light at the end of the dock, the valley of ashes, the differences between the two "eggs"...

The ending is kind of amazing. The disillusionment that the narrator, Nick Carraway, faces is so terribly memorable and I doubt I will ever forget those last lines in the book. The ending is extremely depressing... and that's kind of why I like it. That's kind of why I love this book as a whole, because there is no sugar-coating, no sweeping under the rug the terrible injustices that occur to some of the characters. It is a raw, bleak and realistic account of the disillusionment that Fitzgerald himself witnessed back in 1920s New York.

About the author

F. Scott Fitzgerald (24 September 1896 – 21 December 1940) was an American writer, most famously known for his depictions of the Jazz Age -- a term which he coined himself -- in his writing. Born in Minnesota and raised in an upper-middle class family, his parents of Irish/English descent. He spent most of his childhood in New York, moving with his family back to Minnesota in 1908 after his dad was fired. From an early age he showed great interest in literature and wrote a detective story at the age of 13, that was published in his school newspaper.

In 1911 he was sent to a Catholic prep school in New Jersey. Following graduation, 1913, he attended Princeton University, was placed on academic probation and in 1917 he dropped out to join the army. 

He met Zelda Sayre, the "golden girl", at a country club and they fell in love. After the war ended in 1918 he asked her to marry him. She agreed, but broke off the engagement after he failed to convince her that he could support her financially. He went back home to his family and revised a novel that he had written while at the war, which would become known as This Side of Paradise. The book was a huge success, and they later got married. They had a daughter, Frances Scott "Scottie" Fitzgerald, born 26 October, 1921.

During the "Jazz Age", Fitzgerald formed a friendship with Ernest Hemingway, who disliked his wife and how he sold his stories off for good money. 

[To be continued in the next Fitzgerald "Reading the Classics"... whenever that is.]


Major Works by F. Scott Fitzgerald
(in order of publication)
  • This Side of Paradise (1920)
  • The Beautiful and the Damned (1922)
  • The Great Gatsby (1925)
  • Tender is the Night (1934)
  • The Last Tycoon (1941; published posthumously)
  • and several short stories


About reading the classics

I have been reading more classics lately, and rather than just reading them, I've decided to share some of my thoughts with you. Reading the classics also motivates me to research a little bit into each of these famous authors, motivates me to understand the context and think my thoughts more complexly.

I will never write an essay--that's not the point of this, but if it gets even one person even thinking about reading this book then I'll be happy. Discussion is encouraged. If you have read this book or anything by this author, please leave a comment. =)

#1: Of Mice and Men // John Steinbeck
#2: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn // Betty Smith
#3: Mrs Dalloway // Virginia Woolf
#4: Animal Farm // George Orwell
#5: The Great Gatsby // F. Scott Fitzgerald
#6: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz // L. Frank Baum
#7: Breakfast at Tiffany's // Truman Capote

Monday, April 14, 2014

[Review] Poppy (#1) by Mary Hooper

Publication (dd/mm/yyyy): 08/05/2014
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Pages: 288
Source: Publisher for review
Genre: YA (12+) - Historical

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My Rating: 
Highly entertaining!
My thoughts

I had no idea that this book would have a sequel, but as I was nearing the end I knew there was no way there couldn't have been. May 2015, 'Poppy in the Field'. I know it's going to be an emotional and intense read.

Last week I received a package from Bloomsbury in the mail, containing two books: this was one of them. I hadn't heard anything about it, but 1) I adore good historical fiction; 2) Mary Hooper is quite a well-known staple of YA historical fiction; 3) This book focuses on WWI; 4) The heroine becomes a VAD nurse for the war effort, so I picked it up almost immediately and don't regret the decision one bit.

Poppy Pearson is a young woman working as a parlourmaid for the de Veres. The war rages on. While the older de Vere brother enlists to fight in the war, the younger, Freddie, only joins after being handed an anonymous white feather in the mail (which Poppy's teacher had encouraged her to send). It is also by her teacher's suggestion that she also partake in the war effort by joining the VAD as a nurse. She's good at taking orders and she is no stranger to hard work and long hours. Before Freddie and Poppy part, they share a few moments: a look, a kiss, a touch and squeeze of the hand; and despite their difference in social standing they exchange letters and agree to meet once again. But Mrs de Vere will not allow the two of them to end up together--her son must marry someone of higher class...



 
Poppy was quite an easy read and definitely recommended for younger readers (12+) who are interested in learning more about what it was like in these times. Written in third person, with simple prose.

The characters were just okay for me. None of them were really that fleshed out or memorable. I like Poppy; she's a hard-working, honest and kind young woman, but she can be a bit frivolous and indecisive. Nonetheless, I liked following her in her progression as a nurse, and found that I could relate to a few of the situations that arose. Obviously, as a nurse myself, I had to draw some comparison between the conditions of the war hospitals back then, and how the hospitals are now. It was highly interesting and I think Hooper did a good job portraying the hospital working environment in England at the time.

Freddie de Vere doesn't have much of a personality at all; all I can really gather is that he's fighting in the war, he's from an extremely well-off family, he's quite a sentimental person, and he loves Poppy. Despite this, I think things will get a lot more interesting in the sequel. Something big happens in the end of Poppy, and it'll be interesting to see how that escalates, how both of them react to the actions of the other. As for the other young man in her life, the doctor at the hospital...

Poppy's VAD friends at her station, Matthews and Jameson, were interchangeable for me. They were the support that Poppy needed to get through the various ups and downs in her life, but I could never tell them apart!

A few of the Tommies (soldiers) and higher-ups were fun to read about. I like that Hooper included some of the injured, gave them names, personalities and back-stories of their own, so that they weren't just something thrown in the background. Instead, Hooper gives them life and brings forth the point that all of the injured and those who died in the war, had lives and voices of their own.

Finally I want to mention Poppy's brother, Billy/William. I think it is important that he was included in this story. While many young men jumped at the chance to gain glory and fight the good fight, many were frightened and were bullied or pressured into enlisting. The experience proves too much for him and he returns home in pretty bad circumstances. I can't wait to find out what happens to him next!

Poppy is the first book I've read that was set in England in 1914-1915 and overall I think that Hooper succeeded in portraying the setting with a level of realism worthy of the historical fiction genre. While I didn't fall in love with any of the characters I am invested in their lives and stories such that I will, without a doubt, be reading on with the sequel, Poppy on the Field! An easy to read account of what VAD nurses may have experienced in war-time England.


Quotes

First lines: "Poppy sat, bolt upright and uncomfortable, on one of the carved, wooden chairs in the blue drawing room of Airey House in the village of Mayfield. In front of her, looking equally out of place, sat Molly, the other parlourmaid. They were winding wool: Poppy had her arms outstretched with a long loop of wool around each hand, Molly was winding it into a ball, from right to left and back, catching Poppy's eye every now and again and giving her a look. Each time she did this, Poppy would have to glance away quickly or risk giggling."

   
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INTERNATIONAL: Fishpond | Book Depository




I have received this review copy in return for an honest review.




Friday, April 11, 2014

[Review] The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

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Publication (dd/mm/yyyy): 01/01/2012
Publisher: Doubleday
Pages: 296
Source: Bought
Genre: Adult contemporary

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My Rating: 
Bittersweet
My thoughts

I was drawn to The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry because I'd read The One-Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared (review), which also involved an elderly man walking... somewhere. I didn't really know what to expect when I started reading this book.

It wasn't long before I was hooked on the story, the characters and the meaning behind it. This is a very simple story. It's about an elderly man who pledges to walk from one end of England to the other because he believes that as long as he keeps walking the woman he let down 20 years ago will continue to live. She has cancer. All he knows is that he must get to her; he will not let her down again.

I just can't get over how engrossing the story was, how invested I became in it. I couldn't put it down, or if I did before long I was itching to pick it back up again. I think the simple writing also contributed to this. I didn't have to focus too hard to make sense of the sentences.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is a story about love, hope, loss and death, redemption, forgiveness and moving forward. Putting one foot in front of the other - as Harold continues to walk he continues to remember the past and sort out and come to terms with all that has happened.

I like that Harold Fry's past is revealed bit by bit. I liked the development of his relationship and marriage with his wife: how the walk changes them and reminds them of why they got married in the first place. I like the parallels between that punk kid (can't remember his name) and his own son. I like the simplicity in the writing style. I like the emphasis that Rachel Joyce, the author, places on the idea that everyone and everything, the places you go, the people you meet, leave imprints on a person.


Quotes

Favourite quotes:

"'You have to believe. That's what I think. It's not about medicine and all that stuff. You have to believe a person can get better. There is so much in the human mind we don't understand. But, you see, if you have faith, you can do anything.' ... 'I mean trusting what you don't know and going for it. Believing you can make a difference.' (5%)

"'I'm setting off right now. As long as I walk, she must live. Please tell her this time I won't let her down.' (7%)

"'You'd think walking should be the simplest thing,' she said at last. 'Just a question of putting one foot in front of the other. But it never ceases to amaze me how difficult the things that are supposed to be instinctive really are.'
She wet her lower lip with her tongue, waiting for mroe words. 'Eating,' she said at last. 'That's another one. Some people have real difficulties with that. Talking too. Even loving. They can all be difficult.' (16%)


"People were buying milk, or filling their cars with petrol, or even posting letters. And what no one else knew was the appalling weight of the thing they were carrying inside. The superhuman effort it took sometimes to be normal, and a part of things that appeared both easy and everyday. The loneliness of that. (28%)

"Beginnings could happen more than once, or in different ways. You could think you were starting something afresh, when actually what you were doing was carrying on as before. (49%)

"There was so much out there, so much life, going about its daily business of getting by, of suffering and fighting, and not knowing he was sitting up there, watching. Again he felt in a profound way that he was both inside and outside what he saw; that he was both connected, and passing through. Harold began to understand that this was also the truth about his walk. He was both a part of things, and not. (63%)

"They [the people in his life who have passed on] were part of the air he walked through, just as all the travellers he had met were part of it. He saw that people would make the decisions they wished to make, and some of them would hurt both themselves and those who loved them, and some would pass unnoticed, while others would bring joy. (98%)
   
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I purchased this book with my own money. All opinions written here are my own.



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