A Flea in the Fur of the Beast

“Death, fire, and burglary make all men equals.” —Dickens

Tag: great gatsby

No, USA Today, The Great Gatsby Was Not the Best Book of 2013

by evanmcmurry

Can USA Today seriously not find a book published in 2013 that was worthy of highlighting? It’s not like there aren’t lists, if it wants to skip the hard work.

But despite itself, the paper’s post illustrates an interesting point about bestsellers and longevity. I remember talking to a bookbuyer once who said that classics consistently outsell even the Clancys and Grishams of the book world. On any given day, a new Stephen King or David Balducci title might sell astronomically more than Middlemarch, but average it out over the year or the lifetime of a book, and it pays much more to stock George Eliot.

That appears to be what USAT is describing without realizing it:

E.L. James and her titillating Fifty Shades of Grey bondage trilogy is so 2012.

In 2013, it was another love story — one that’s 88 years old — that redefined sexy reading.

At least in the MFA/budding writer world, we tend to view sales in terms of individual careers; year-end bestseller lists view sales as a race among an elite slice of competitive books; nail-biting articles on the health of the book industry tend to view sales as a giant monolith.

Lost in all this is different types of books perform differently over time. Fifty Shades sustained the book industry for a while, but the sheer tonnage of unwanted copies is actually causing problems for charities. Great Gatsby, which was in danger of going out of print when Fitzgerald died, is now a perennial bestseller. It pays to write a book that lasts, even if it doesn’t always pay the author.

That’s no reason to name a title published almost 100 years ago the best book of 2013. In fact, it’s all the more reason to find The Great Gatsby of 2013 among the hundreds of excellent novels published this year to the same modest sales that befell Gatsby’s initial run. Once again, it’s not like there aren’t lists of these things.

The Collective Fog Around The Great Gatsby Thickens

by evanmcmurry

I know it’s Miss The Point Of The Great Gatsby Week in America, but A. O. Scott should at least know better. Here’s him issuing Baz Luhrmann a hall pass:

The best way to enjoy Baz Luhrmann’s big and noisy new version of “The Great Gatsby” — and despite what you may have heard, it is an eminently enjoyable movie — is to put aside whatever literary agenda you are tempted to bring with you. I grant that this is not so easily done. [snip] The book has become, in the 88 years since its publication, a schoolroom staple and a pop-cultural totem. It shapes our increasingly fuzzy image of the jazz age and fuels endless term papers on the American dream and related topics.

[snip] [Luhrmann] sticks close to the details of the story and lifts dialogue and description directly from the novel’s pages. But he has also felt free to make that material his own, bending it according to his artistic sensibility and what he takes to be the mood of the times. The result is less a conventional movie adaptation than a splashy, trashy opera, a wayward, lavishly theatrical celebration of the emotional and material extravagance that Fitzgerald surveyed with fascinated ambivalence.

Balderdash. Gatsby is a sneering, seething critique of the Jazz Age; it’s a couple hundred pages of “careless people” running over poor people with the brand new toys they’d yet to learn how to drive, all filtered through the eyes of a narrator who, much as someone once said about Fitzgerald himself, pressed his face against the store window of the elite.

The “fuzzy image of the jazz age” comes from reductive glosses of the novel—like, say, a film that turns it into a “splashy, trashy opera” or a “wayward, lavishly theatrical celebration.”

NB: Let’s not forget that this was an adaptation whose release date was delayed for five months due to insufficient realism, or that it’s being made entirely by the class the novel savages.

Full disclosure: I haven’t seen the movie, but I reserve the right to preemptively hate it.

Women Authors Are Everywhere!

by evanmcmurry

Hey, a significant female literary author gets a spot on a major cable TV show…to talk about a dead dude’s book.

Great Gatsby Adaptation Now Being Made Exclusively By Rich People

by evanmcmurry

In case the trailer wasn’t enough to convince you that Baz Luhrmann was turning a dense critique of American wealth into an ostentatious buffet of it, obscenely rich human Jay-Z is now composing the score. Because why critique wealth when you can just have it?

Sayeth one cheerleader:

Considering that much of Jay-Z’s recent works have been obsessed with nothing but the spoils of fame, cash and New York, the rapper would be the clear, if obvious, choice to contemporize the story.

If you take Nick Carraway out of the novel, I suppose so.

On the bright side, at this rate the movie will never come out, so I guess they can do whatever they want.