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I Want To Live Forever (Or At Least Until the Giants Win the World Series) - De File
Does Collecting Make You Feel Dirty?
cbertsch
cbertsch
I Want To Live Forever (Or At Least Until the Giants Win the World Series)
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.

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."
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.
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Comments
masoo From: masoo Date: September 16th, 2005 08:54 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I especially like this since I'm teaching Gatsby right now, myself. In fact, I've assigned the news article to my students, which is probably more appropriate than you'd think, since your picture also adorns the front page of our class website!
From: thewhitaker Date: September 16th, 2005 09:49 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
On the one hand, Gatsby is a great novel for the aspiring creative writer. His use of motion is something to be emulated. He understood, perhaps better than any American writer before or since, that to best engage the reader is to lead the reader to believe the characters are living right now (which jives nicely with the prevailing use of present tense in critical writing) . He always makes sure to have a curtain moving, or a car moving, or a wind, or whatever.
On the other hand, now when I read the novel, I cannot stop thinking about Law and Order--which thinking, of course, has its roots in the movie and not in the novel.
masoo From: masoo Date: September 16th, 2005 11:08 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
It's funny you say that, because while I thought Sam Waterston and Bruce Dern were excellent in their roles, the only person I "see" (and just as importantly "hear") when I read Gatsby is Mia Farrow.

Robert Redford apparently made no impression on me ...
From: thewhitaker Date: September 16th, 2005 11:42 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
There could have been no other Nick. Waterston exhibited the perfect mix of humility and yearning.
Strangely enough, I referenced Farrow's biography several days ago in one of my entries.
elf_owl From: elf_owl Date: September 17th, 2005 12:22 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
It's all abuot the light across the water... so lonely, so beautiful.

I need to read that again.
From: (Anonymous) Date: September 17th, 2005 09:07 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
This is great--personally, I always get stuck on the moment when Daisy starts crying over Gatsby's "beautiful shirts."

The person who owned my copy before me wrote "Daisy's best moment" in the margins. I've always thought it was her most selfish--where she fully realized the wealth she'd missed out on by choosing Tom.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: September 17th, 2005 11:20 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I've often wondered about that passage. My latest thinking is that it's not that Tom couldn't afford the shirts but that he wouldn't waste his money on them. A mistress, yes. Shirts, no. Regardless, Daisy strikes me a being very selfish in that moment. But I'll admit to being more than a little attracted to her. . . :-)
From: (Anonymous) Date: September 19th, 2005 03:45 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Well said. I teach high school English - American Lit. and have been teaching GG for the past seven years. When I hear of kids not loving the book, it's usually because the teacher made it painstakingly monotonous. My most vivid memory from reading it my junior yr. of h.s. is the imagery of Jordan and Daisy rising off of the couch in their summer dresses - like ballons. I could completely picture it in my head. His prose is beautiful. God, I love teaching that book.

cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: September 19th, 2005 04:23 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Great to hear from you! I like that passage too. Where do you teach?
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