I've flown across the country on Continental Airlines twice in the past few months. Four times the flight attendants handed out the same snack:We never opened ours. No one around us opened theirs. At the end of each flight, the seat-back pockets showed one Dave's Lil' Loafer after another peering over the edge, mocking the passengers' cowardice. How bad could they be, after all? Perhaps they are delicious. Sadly, I will never find out because I remain a coward.
In addition to everything else that's been going on, I spent the last two weeks discussing The Great Gatsby with a reporter for the Arizona Daily Star. Most of our discussions were actually about the time in the future when we would really be able to discuss things. But I finally got to have two long talks with her while at the English Institute last Friday. There's something surreal about giving advice on how an ordinary person should approach a classic work of "literature" surrounded by coffee-breaking English professors of the highest order. Still I managed to overcome my self-consciousness long enough to find something to say:
Instead of waxing poetic about themes, exposition and plot, Charlie Bertsch, an assistant professor of English at the University of Arizona who teaches "Gatsby," suggested simple tactics free of English-lit jargon and rhetoric.Surprisingly, given my experience with being interviewed for news pieces in the past, the reporter did an extremely good job of approximating my actual statements. There's nothing to be ashamed of in the finished article, which appeared in today's "Accent" section. I was especially pleased that they asked me to come with a list of five books to recommend. Then again, I did make the mistake of using the word "poignant," which is sure to inspire Kim's ire, particularly since I had the temerity to recommend something by Thomas Pynchon.
Rather than think about the book's sweeping theme, focus on details. If you like to cook, focus on scenes with meals or in a kitchen. Re-read a particularly appealing passage.
"When you focus and sort of slow down and look at one little part of it, it becomes less overwhelming and you start to find out what might interest you as a reader," he says.
Plus, focusing on something you like allows you to stick with the book long enough to notice qualities you might have otherwise overlooked.
When Bertsch read "Gatsby" as a freshman in high school, he was "really into the bootlegging stuff." Now he finds himself lingering over Fitzgerald's descriptions of interiors.
Pulling out an engaging bit causes you to "leap from reading in a neutral way to reading for things you're interested in," Bertsch says.
For me, it was Daisy's white dress moving in the wind. I pictured that in my head, and suddenly I had a whole new appreciation for Fitzgerald's use of detail. I found myself reading "Gatsby" differently.
Bertsch also suggests that before reading any novel, figure out its time period. Then take a half-hour or so and read up on the decade's history.
"All of a sudden," Bertsch says, "the book becomes a lot more multilayered because you can see how it's responding to history."
Today is my longtime friend cpratt's birthday. Yes, he is a Virgo, which may explain why he used to reverse alphabetize my CD collection without asking permission or disassemble and reassemble the rice cooker "just because." I don't think it accounts for his extreme generosity, though. A few minutes ago I was scanning my bookshelf for a book by Adorno and saw all the German-language treasures that Chris brought back from Cologne for me. As I noted a little while ago, I came to Live Journal through Chris, so he holds special meaning for me in this space. I only wish I'd saved Dave's Lil' Loafer for him as a belated present, since he used to be ever so fond of age-hardened cakes and pastries. Instead, I'll offer a list designed to provoke a stream-of-consciousness: Beeman's gum, sweaty Andreas, driving in reverse through Kensington Circle, John Searle asking you what your GRE scores were, instant sauce béarnaise, cutting up the Book of Mormon, the interrupted communication with Mr. Severed Heads, meeting Dan at the trippy-hippy Melvins show at Slim's, stopping at the Walnut Creek Target --at that point the closest one to us, believe it or not -- on the way to Stockton with Annalee, Negativland at the Kennel Club, red sauce and garlic bread, Hajo's Dialectic of Enlightenment reading group with Rita from El Centro, "Hey, it's Franklin!," going to Santa Cruz with that blonde co-worker of Kim's named Heather, listening to the German tourists in front of the store in Yosemite Valley, that Mexican candy from Soledad you ate on the hike up to the top at Pinnacles, Bear magazine, Thai mint beef, going to that 30 Rose poetry reading of Kim's, Bianca, Arno Schmidt.
You know what I say to all you haters out there? My love stays strong. Reading this story is like sitting at your computer while your partner makes disturbing noises with her mouth in your ear, then morphs into "Melba," the deranged southern nymph who is all about sex.