Tag Archives: Literature

The Great Gatsby? Or the Greatest Gatsby?

Why make a Great Gatsby movie? It’s 2013. I’m not trying to say that anything old doesn’t deserve to be made into a movie. And who knows, maybe it’ll wind up being a great film. But it just seems like such a joke. The Great Gatsby? The same book that every high school junior is supposed to read? The same book that lulls every high school junior to an early bedtime as they flip open to page one and attempt to start their required reading? They’re seriously making a Great Gatsby movie?

The Great Gatsby, probably thanks in no small part to its ubiquity on every single high school syllabus in America, it’s transcended literature. It’s like the Bible. Nobody actually reads The Great Gatsby. You’re supposed to, sure, but at this point, it’s been around for so many years, every single generation of students passing down the same worn paperback copies. It’s an ancient source material that’s rarely accessed directly.

No, I don’t even think most of our teachers have read The Great Gatsby. Go ahead teachers, tell me all about how small-minded I’m being. But take a look in the mirror and try to tell yourself that you’ve read the whole book. No, not just the selected readings you’re assigning to your students. I’m talking like every page, the stuff that’s not on the test. Reflections don’t lie.

The truth is, you go to high school and you listen to your English teachers talking about The Great Gatsby. When the lesson plan is a little thin for that day, teach might pull that trick where you go around the room, everybody taking a turn reading a paragraph, feeling bad for that kid who really, really doesn’t want to read out loud, but the teacher’s like, “Well, I could always give you a zero for class participation,” and so he has to sort of stutter along, sweating profusely the whole time, not looking anybody in the eye for the rest of the week because he’s just imagining them, laughing at him behind his back, ridiculing what had to have been his botched pronunciation of the world “irrecoverable.”

And then nobody thinks anything more about Gatsby until it’s time for the test. When I was a high school student, that meant going to a bookstore and buying the Cliff’s Notes, showing up at school the next day where the tech savvy kids were like, “Bookstore? What are you a noob? Sparknotes has this stuff online for free.” Today you can just go online and probably search for the most common Great Gatsby high school test questions, memorizing everything you’ll need to ace the exam.

I never read the whole thing and I got through high school English just fine. In fact, I was on the honor roll. I’m not bragging, I’m just pointing out that The Great Gatsby is this great American joke. This is what we’re passing off as high literature, in what members of Congress would tell you is the best education system in the world. Blah blah blah Jay Gatz. Blah blah blah Daisy. Something about lighthouses on opposite forks of Long Island. Swimming pools filled with champagne. I get it, how decadent.

And now a major motion picture? Starring Leonardo DiCaprio? This can’t be real. It shouldn’t be. Entourage already made fun of the whole idea, with Vinnie Chase starring in a Scorsese adaptation of Gatsby. We’re pushing here past art, past life. We’re at life imitating art imitating life. Doesn’t anybody remember when they did that whole season about the Aquaman movie? They weren’t suggesting that a big studio make an Aquaman movie. They were making fun of the whole big movie business. But it’s like Hollywood didn’t get the joke. Everybody’s laughing at them and they’re just like, “Hmm. The Great Gatsby. That sounds terrific. Get me DiCaprio on line one.”


I’m kind of getting carried away here, but over a decade after Gatsby was published, F. Scott Fitzgerald set out and moved to Hollywood to try his luck as a screenwriter. Despite his best efforts, he left after two years with barely one film to which he was loosely accredited with helping to write. What I’m getting at here is, just because something works in a book doesn’t mean it’s going to work in a movie. And I feel like this is blatantly obvious with The Great Gatsby. It needs a rest, from high schools, from movie screens. Perhaps generations from now somebody will be able to look at it with a pair of fresh eyes. Again, maybe I’m totally wrong, maybe it’ll wind up being a great movie, maybe Fitzgerald’s story about class and wealth and the 1920s will resonate with today’s audiences. But I doubt it.

Classic literature review: Moby Dick

I just finished reading Moby Dick. Wow! What a great story! I can’t believe how big that whale was. And so white! That’s pretty crazy. I’ve seen whales a few times, but they were all very dark gray. The whale from Free Willy had white spots, but it was mostly black, definitely not what anyone would call a white whale. The book was awesome, but I kept wondering why the crew never tried to go inside the whale. It seemed like an obvious solution. They could have cut down on the majority of those repetitive chase scenes. Once they made it inside, and the whale started its dive, they would be in the perfect position for a pursuit. And maybe they could have found Ahab’s leg while they were in there.

People had warned me all about how challenging it is to read Moby Dick, but I didn’t really understand the difficulty. Well, there was this one chapter I had to reread a few times because I mistakenly thought the whale had taken over as narrator. Although after realizing my error, I was surprised Melville hadn’t even attempted to write at least something from the whale’s point of view. I mean, this guy’s a writer, right? Where’s the imagination?

OK, I’ll be real. I’ve never read Moby Dick. But there is this guy at work who spent like eight months reading it. I felt like I read it vicariously through him. Every day I had to see him walking in with this ridiculously oversized book. It didn’t even fit inside his bag. At first I thought it was just a joke, some sort of a prop. Maybe he planned on hurling it at would-be attackers on the train. But week after week he would walk into the restaurant and plop down his novel while I’d be forced to take note of his white whale-shaped bookmark, swimming slowly but surely towards the end.

At first I mocked him silently in my head. “Ha!” I thought to myself, “That guy isn’t going to make it through the first chapter.” I imagined him carrying it around to appear a little more interesting, a little bit more sophisticated than everyone else. What a jerk. But he didn’t give up. Then I thought he was just taunting me. Every day, I thought, he might just move the bookmark just a little bit ahead, just to show how much smarter than me he thinks he is. But then he started having these really deep, really interesting sounding Moby Dick conversations with the ice cream scooper. I started to worry that he might actually be reading the book.

The whole idea of actually reading it is completely ridiculous. I always thought it to be some sort of a big national joke. Like every other high school junior in America, I was assigned to read Moby Dick. We spent maybe a day or two taking turns going around the room reading passages completely devoid of context that did absolutely nothing to capture anybody’s attention. Now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure only select chapters were required reading, not even the whole book. I’d even bet good money that our teacher had never so much as cracked it open outside of his own classroom. We had a stupid quiz at the end of the week, but it didn’t matter, because we had quizzes every week, and the lowest two or three quizzes of the trimester would always get dropped. For the final exam, the teacher just repeated the same questions from the quiz, so it was just a matter of looking up the answers to get right a very small fraction of a very stupid test to get a couple of nonsense multiple choices correct which, by the way, even if I didn’t put in any of that effort, I still had a one in four chance of getting right.

The closer my coworker got to the end, the more infuriated I would become every time I even so much as thought about his face, buried inside of his precious book, his eyebrows furrowed in such a way as to show everyone just how pensive he is, just how well-rounded this amateur English professor is, scratching his chin in mock confusion, but only for a brief moment, before he lifts a finger subtly in the air and opens his mouth slightly, as if to say, “Ohhhh, I get that part,” then giving himself a small smile of satisfaction, nodding almost imperceptibly once or twice before taking that finger out of the air and bringing it to his lips, where he wets the tip and uses his moistened digit to very slowly turn the page over, starting the whole maddeningly impossible process all over again.

I hate Moby Dick. I wish I could read it, but I know that the task would be so daunting, so hopelessly huge that it would consume me, it would drive me mad. I’d lose my job. My family would abandon me. I’d wind up on the streets. But still I would press on, reading every word slower and slower until the book would ultimately devour everything that I am. I don’t want that kind of a life.