Monday, January 26, 2009

More Personal Time with Fitz

4. Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Fitzgerald returns to a more personal novel in Tender is the Night. While This Side of Paradise is undoubtedly based on his college days and young single manhood, this novel combines elements of his nomadic life with Zelda and his Hollywood days, though more of the former. The two main characters, Dick and Nicole, seem more real than any of the characters in his other books. Daisy, for example, is sort of an idea that might have been similar to Nicole had she been more fleshed out. But Gatsby was deliberately a novel of ideals, and works in that context.

What I love most about Fitzgerald, is that the ending isn't what matters, especially in Tender is the Night. There of course, is an ending, a plot turning of sorts, but it doesn't give the full message about the novel. If you knew the entire plot of a Fitzgerald novel, without reading it, you would never be able to explain the significance of it.

The interplay of the relationship between Dick and Nicole is what makes this novel tick. Fitzgerald begins with an affair between Dick and a young Hollywood actress, Rosemary, but this loveplay feels stale and stagnant. When he backtracks to the story of how Dick and Nicole met, and their life together, it is easy to see why. Dick and Nicole are tied together, in a romantic, maybe terrible, way. Fitz uses a lot of his trademark creative wording, some of which works, some of which doesn't. He slips into dialects and thought consciousnesses, but on the whole I find them more bearable than modern stream-of-consciousness.

I can't decide if this novel represents a step up from Gatsby or not. I understand why it was not as well beloved, it is harder to relate to, with less symbols to grasp. It is more amorphous. But all of those are what makes Tender is the Night more real, more darkly human. I think Fitzgerald improves his realistic portrayals in each novel, while still managing to retain his unique style. Before I read The Last Tycoon, I think I want to go in for some of his short stories, and see how they're different from the novels.

About the Azar Nafisi talk, it was WONDERFUL. She didn't even get to reading from her book, she was too busy talking about the place of literature in the world, attitudes in the U.S. and Iran, women's rights, Islam, the new presidency, and so on. I really can't wait to read her next book, the one she's still working on, The Republic of the Imagination. In the meantime, I'm looking forward to reading about her sad literary childhood in Things I've Been Silent About.

Friday, January 23, 2009

I'm Excited

Tonight I'm going to see Azar Nafisi talk about and read from her new memoir Things I've Been Silent About.

All Fitzgerald's Cracked Up to Be

3. The Crack Up by F. Scott Fitzgerald (a collection of his essays, notebooks, and letters), edited by Edmund Wilson

I picked up this old paperback in a used book store. It's inspired in me an even deeper connection to "Fitz." Even though, at times, he had an even more bitter, apathetic outlook than I would have imagined, he's still so...pure. He stays faithful to his boyhood dreams and writing scruples till the end.

He writes continuously about how he missed out on dreams of football and battlefield glory, and the profound effect it had on his life and writing. His notebooks, though admirably organized, were admittedly a bit of a bore. The editor, an old friend of Fitzgerald's, claims they are best read with Tender Is the Night and The Last Tycoon, the first of which I have just started for the first time. This was really my first exposure to Fitzgerald's older work, so far I've only read TSOP, Beautiful and Damned, and Gatsby.

There were plenty of great quotes in his essays, but most were snatched up immediately. A slightly less ubiquitous one I liked was "In the real dark night of the soul it is always three o'clock in the morning."

I was particularly fascinated with his letters to his daughter. He addresses her so intimately and familiarly, and not altogether kindly. There is a marked difference between those letters and his letters to his friends. In the latter, he is often complimenting and seeking advice, and he prefaces any criticism with apologies. His letters to his daughter often veer straight into condescending advice about every part of her life. But apparently she takes it well, he responds to questions and thoughts of hers. I should have liked to see her side of the letters as well, whether she addresses him teasingly or dutifully. He obviously has a great love for her, he calls her "Pie," and mostly just wants her to avoid his mistakes.

The thing about F. Scott Fitzgerald is, he knew he was great. He thought Hemenway was better, and he recognized when he wrote a stinky article or story, but he slaved over his novels until they were perfect. He expresses his surprise in one of his letters when The Beautiful and the Damned doesn't sell as well as This Side of Paradise. Personally, it would have baffled me as well. At least up until Gatsby, he just keeps getting better and better. I'm having trouble relating to Tender Is the Night right now, but hopefully I'll learn to appreciate it too.

Monday, January 19, 2009

I've Been Negligent-Reviews Soon

1. The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke

2. The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak

Also I realized I have a Word document listing 100-some books I intend to read in my lifetime. But then I keep going to bookstores and buying anything that catches my eye. Starting work in Cambridge hasn't helped.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Happy New Year

I accomplished and surpassed my goal for 2008! I enjoyed the 50 book challenge so much that I want to continue it this year. However, I've added some alterations to make it more interesting.

For 2009, I want to read 52 books, one for every week in the year. I've also decided to add quotas for certain categories of books. Requirements can overlap.

At least:

1. 5 nonfiction
2. 10 books published in 2009
3. 5 science fiction
4. 1 book of poetry
5. 5 books translated from a language other than English

It may seem modest, but it's a start toward diversity. The reason for reading so many books published this year is so I can have a better perspective on annual writing awards.

For the best of what I read in 2008, I decided it's a toss up between Beggars in Spain and House of the Spirits.