Of course my student-inmates had their own unique take on the book – and it was a view much more pragmatic than romantic.
The character they felt influenced Gatsby the most? Not Daisy Buchanan. She was dismissed as too obvious or too trivial. Instead they favored a character who surfaces only briefly: the gambler and unrefined “reminiscencer” Meyer Wolfsheim.
My students admired Wolfsheim, the character who unabashedly sports “cuff-buttons” made from “the finest specimens of human molars"; a man who resembles a “real life” racketeer, mobster, and high-roller; the figure who fixed the 1919 World Series and undermined the national pastime, so he “could play with the faith of fifty million people, with the single-mindedness of a burglar blowing a safe," and who “saw the opportunity” and was so smart that he was never jailed for the fix.
And while my students gave Wolfsheim his “props,” they also allocated some admiration to Gatsby. But what they felt mostly was envy mixed with incredulity – and disdain for his devotion to Daisy. (“Get over it, Slick. Move on, fellow.”)
Scholars of the suspicious and the shady, post-graduates in sharp practice and “persuasion,” my students took inventory of Gatsby’s “rides,” his Prince Charming shirts, the draw and excesses of his “shambanginos” – and then, of course, his “crib.”
The question that we came back to again and again was: “What made Gatsby great?” Was it the “wheels,” the clothes, the parties, the mansion? The extravagance? The aspirations?
The answer, I suggested, comes toward the end of the book via Henry C. Gatz – Jay Gatsby’s father.
I’ve looked up a number of reviews that were published when the book first appeared in May and June of 1925. Henry C. Gatz isn’t mentioned at all. And yet he does provide the single bit of documentary evidence of what made Gatsby Gatsby.
We first learn of – and meet – Henry C. Gatz toward the end of the book. He is “a solemn old man” who is genuinely saddened by his son’s death but who can’t help but marvel at the splendor of his son’s life: “His eyes leaked continuously with excitement....”
Fitzgerald describes Gatz’s sad pleasure as he takes in (for the first time) his son’s acquisitions and surroundings: Gatz “had reached an age where death no longer has the quality of ghastly surprise, and when he looked around him ... and saw the height and splendor of the hall and the great rooms opening out from it into other rooms, his grief began to be mixed with an awed pride.”
Gatz sees the splendor as the emblems of a station realized, a life (seemingly) fulfilled. If Jay Gatsby (the former Jimmy Gatz) had lived, he would have become an industrialist, a magnate, a mogul of wide renown and stature. Gatz believes his son would have helped “build up the country.” Maybe. Maybe not.
To some extent, my students overlaid their aspirations onto Gatsby’s romantic longings, his preoccupations – his obsession and bad judgment. He hadn’t been done in by the kinds of bad “bets” that had them doing time. But Gatsby had been done in by mistaken identity. In a way, he had been wrongly accused and unfairly condemned for a crime he didn’t commit. The students found that “conviction” to be something that they could understand.
But prior to that “sentencing,” Gatsby had been able to close in on his dream. And so we wonder, how did he amass what he was able to amass? How was he able to pay for that waterside mansion and the best cars, clothes, food, and entertainment? By ill-gotten gains? By swindling?
My students acknowledged that for all his generosity, Gatsby was far from virtuous. He was no moral Mahatma. He wasn’t among the ethical elite. Here are the multiple-choice “cards” I dealt out to the inmate-students:
Jay Gatsby was great because –
a. he gave the grandest parties with the biggest orchestras, the best music, and the most extravagant fare.
b. he wore spiffy shoes, nifty jackets, and beautiful shirts; and drove a big roadster and lived in an awesome mansion furnished with expensive things and interesting people.
c. he was a man of mystery and power, and he knew how to use his power and mystery.
d. he was an incurable, obsessed, romantic.
e. because of the determination and discipline that he himself chronicled at the age of sixteen.
Closing in on the book’s conclusion, we are provided with the answer. Just prior to his son’s funeral, Gatz shows Nick “a ragged old copy” of a book (“Hopalong Cassidy”) that his son had used to record his personal agenda. On a blank page at the end of the text, sixteen-year-old Jimmy Gatz had set out the game-plan for his transformation into Jay Gatsby, via this schedule:
Rise from bed ………………………….. 6:00 A.M.
Dumbbell exercise and wall-scaling …… 6:15 – 6:30
Study electricity, etc. …………………… 7:15 – 8:15
Work ……………………………………. 8:30 – 4:30
Baseball and sports ……………………… 4:30 – 5:00
Practice elocution, poise and how to attain it ………… 5:00 – 6:00
Study needed inventions ………………… 7:00 – 9:00
Right under this schedule, young Jimmy Gatz had set out his "general resolves": He resolves to no longer waste time at a place that might have been a saloon or a pool hall. He resolves to save at least three dollars every week. He’s not going to smoke or chew tobacco. He will bathe every other day. And he will read one improving book or magazine per week and be better to his parents.
Would it have made a difference to my students – now sitting in their prison classroom – if they had read “The Great Gatsby” in their early teens?
A number of them said they were going to pass their copies of the book along to their sons and nephews.
Will 16-year-old Jimmy Gatz’s schedule and his general resolves make a difference in their lives? Do you think that Wolfsheim would bet on it?
Joseph H. Cooper teaches ethics and media law at Quinnipiac University. His “Pauses and Moments” columns appear at PsychologyToday.com.
“Dreams of Gods and Monsters,” the third and final book in the “Daughter of Smoke and Bone” series by Laini Taylor, will come out in the spring of 2014.
The series follows Karou, a girl who has been brought up by mysterious creatures known as chimaera (beings that have the body parts of different animals) and is sent on mysterious errands in other worlds. But she starts questioning everything she thinks she knows about herself when she meets an angel named Akiva who reveals to her secrets about her past.
The final book will include “enemy armies trying to fight side by side, the possibility of love rekindling, and… new threats,” Taylor told Entertainment Weekly. She said the new book will pick up immediately after the ending of the second book in the series, “Days of Blood & Starlight.”
Taylor is also the author of the book “Lips Touch: Three Times” and the “Dreamdark” series.
As fans wait for “Dreams of Gods and Monsters,” Taylor created a contest in which fans could create trailers for “Days of Blood and Starlight.”
“I was blown away by fan talent in the wake of Daughter of Smoke & Bone, when readers sent me extraordinary art and videos, and even a really good rap!” Taylor said. “With Days of Blood & Starlight coming out, I wanted to recognize that incredible pool of creativity.”
Taylor recently selected Christine Tyler’s video as the winner of the contest – check it out.
Critically acclaimed nonfiction book “Behind the Beautiful Forevers” by Katherine Boo is set to become a stage play via the National Theater in London in 2014.
"Behind the Beautiful Forevers'' focuses on the residents of a slum known as Annawadi located near the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport in Mumbai, India. Boo, a former Washington Post correspondent who is a staff writer for the New Yorker, spent more than three years in the area in order to write her book.
The stage production of the book will be directed by Rufus Norris, who works as one of the associate directors at the National Theater. "Behind the Beautiful Forevers" will be adapted for the stage by David Hare, a playwright behind works such as 2011 play “South Downs,” and the screenplays for both the 2008 movie “The Reader” starring Kate Winslet, and the 2002 movie “The Hours,” for which he was nominated for an Oscar.
"Behind the Beautiful Forevers" is currently scheduled to be part of the National Theater’s fall season in 2014.
The book won the National Book Award in nonfiction for 2012 and was featured on many of last year's "top ten" and "best-of-the-year" lists.
Nonetheless, the conversation was revealing.
It turns out the constant tension between science and religion apparent in Brown’s books are inspired by his childhood.
“I grew up the child of a church organist and a math teacher,” Brown told the crowd of 2,000, introducing his parents, who were sitting in the audience. “I was pretty much confused from day one.”
To illustrate his point, Brown brought along props: personalized license plates from both his parents’ cars: KYRIE for his “Church Lady” mom, METRIC for his rationalist dad, as Shelf Awareness reported.
From childhood, he said, he became curious about the delicate balancing act between science and religion.
“How do we become modern, science-minded people without losing our faith?” he asked aloud.
In a video introducing the author, fans also learned the extent of Brown’s love of puzzles and intrigue: His New Hampshire home, it turns out, is filled with secret passageways.
Fans eager to hear more about “Inferno” didn’t leave entirely disappointed, however. Brown left them with three words that summarized the themes of his book: “Contrapposto,” the Italian word for “suffering the opposite,” which Dante’s victims do in hell when they suffer “ironic reversals of their misdeeds in life;” “transhumanism,” the futuristic science of engineering superior beings and the ethical problems associated with it; and “Malthusia,” the theory that the human race will end due to a collapse following exponential population growth.
That interview revealed even less about the bestselling author. Perhaps a deliberate attempt to maintain the mystery surrounding Dan Brown and his books?
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.
Too many bibliophiles, says Philip Blackwell, have been stranded in a hotel without anything to read except a Bible and some out-of-date paperbacks.
Blackwell, who had served as the CEO of his family’s bookstore business, decided it was time to upgrade the literary offerings available for guests at hotels and started the business Ultimate Library, which selects, then sells, books to hotels in an attempt to make the books offered at each location better for those staying there. The business was started in 2007.
“As frequent travellers and bibliophiles, we have always enjoyed reading about the places we visit and reading those books that best capture the sense of place, whether fiction, traveller's tales or even poetry,” Ultimate Library’s website reads. “Reading great books has always been an integral part of every holiday we have been on. But we have always been dismayed by the poor quality of reading material offered in hotels and have never understood why.”
In addition to suggesting books for a library that are simply enjoyable to read, Ultimate Library notes a hotel’s location and selects books that are related to the surrounding area so guests can learn about where they are staying. Ultimate Library can select books for a hotel lounge, library, and/or guests’ rooms, depending on the hotel’s preference.
Blackwell told the Economist that the company works to create a selection from both second-hand and new titles so the hotel library they create doesn’t only have the current bestsellers.
“The library should not look like you walked into a bookshop in 2013,” Blackwell said. “It needs depth.”
Ultimate Library consults with writers and those who travel often to select books for a certain location. In addition, hotels can choose to have an Ultimate Library staff member come to the building to talk over book possibilities with management there. After the library has been created, the company then touches base with the hotel every so often to suggest new titles to add.
The young adult novel “The Maze Runner” by James Dashner is set to become a film that will be released next February.
“The Maze Runner” follows Thomas, a boy who wakes up with no memory except that of his name only to find himself inside an enclosed meadow-like area with other boys. A large maze is beyond their immediate surroundings, but no one has ever figured out how to get through it or how to escape.
The first book in the series was released in 2009 and is part of a trilogy detailing Thomas’s adventures. A prequel to the series, titled “The Kill Order,” was released last August.
Director Wes Ball, who is taking the helm for the first time for the movie, says Thomas is different from the others surrounding him.
“He’s curious,” he told Entertainment Weekly. “That’s partly perceived as a threat, but it actually may be the thing that gets him out.”
Thomas will be portrayed in the movie by actor Dylan O’Brien of the TV series “Teen Wolf.” Alby, the group’s leader, will be played by actor Aml Ameen, who appeared on the NBC Kathy Bates TV series “Harry’s Law.” Newt, Alby’s second-hand man, will be played by actor Thomas Brodie-Sangster, who’s currently appearing on HBO’s “Game of Thrones” as Jojen Reed, a mysterious boy who can communicate with animals.
Ball says the protagonist, Thomas, is different than the others with whom he’s imprisoned in the Glade.
“Thomas is the boy who takes that step forward when everybody else takes a step back,” he said.
The good news: The number of e-books sold last year grew by 43 percent.
The bad news: After three years of triple-digit increases in sales, that’s a serious slowdown.
That’s the latest news from the Association of American Publishers, which released its annual BookStats study Wednesday. The report found that digital books remain the fastest-growing segment of the publishing market, but that record growth is hitting a plateau after years of runaway sales.
Among the report’s findings:
• E-book sales grew by 43 percent in 2012
• E-books now represent 20 percent of all books sales
• Some 457 million e-books were sold in 2012, compared to 557 million hardcovers sold in last year
• Even if e-book sales have slowed, the industry has made massive progress: the 457 million e-books sold in 2012 represent a 4,456 percent increase over 2008 when 10 million e-books were sold.
As for the reasons behind the e-book slowdown, analysts’ explanations vary. Some, like Hachette Book Group CEO Michael Pietsch, cite the enduring strength of the print format, which continues to outsell digital books by a margin of 4-to-1.
Another reason for slowing e-book sales? The explosive growth simply isn’t sustainable. Any industry that starts from zero and experiences rapid growth will eventually face a slowdown. So says Amazon vice president Russ Grandinetti: “As e-books have grown from practically nothing, you can’t expect to keep doubling it every year,” he told the AAP.
Finally, perhaps the most controversial reason: the digital marketplace may finally be reaching saturation. That is, the folks who have decided to adopt e-reading have already done so and the rest aren’t likely to go digital anytime soon.
“We’ve just reached a point of natural resistance,” Mike Shatzkin, a publishing consultant and organizer of the Digital Book World conference, said, according to USA Today.
Or, as Barnes & Noble CEO William Lynch put it, “Consumers have settled into their book formats of choice.”
The bottom line: Both print and digital will remain important segments for the industry for years to come.
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.
According to news reports, court filings suggest the Justice Department is now painting Apple as the “ringmaster” pressuring publishers to adopt higher e-book pricing in a wide-ranging price-fixing conspiracy.
“Apple knew exactly what it was doing,” the DOJ wrote in its filing in which it described Apple as the “facilitator and go-between,” strong-arming publishing companies to go along with its scheme. “Apple assured Publisher Defendants that it understood and would support their goal of raising retail e-book prices as part of Defendants’ grand agreement.”
The DOJ’s smoking gun? An email from the late Steve Jobs of Apple to James Murdoch of News Corp., the parent company of publisher HarperCollins, that reads: “Throw in with Apple and see if we can all make a go of this to create a real mainstream e-books market at $12.99 and $14.99.”
As we reported in previous posts, the government’s suit, which was first filed last year, accuses Apple and five publishers of conspiring to fix e-book prices in a scheme to force Amazon to raise its e-book price of $9.99. The five publishers – Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin, and Simon & Schuster – have all since settled, leaving Apple to fight the government’s charges alone. The trial is set to begin June 3.
And if pretrial antics are any indication, this is going to be one contentious fight.
Not surprisingly, Apple isn’t taking Justice Department’s latest allegations lying down.
“Apple did not conspire to fix eBook pricing,” Apple spokesman Tom Neumayr said in a statement. “We helped transform the eBook market with the introduction of the iBookstore in 2010, bringing consumers an expanded selection of eBooks and delivering innovative new features. The market has been thriving and innovating since Apple's entry, and we look forward to going to trial to defend ourselves and move forward.”
In its most recent filing, Apple put forward its counterclaim, that publishers had decided to eliminate discounts on wholesale book prices of e-books and to delay e-book sales to first sell more lucrative hardcovers (a practice called windowing), both decisions made independent of Apple in order to force Amazon to raise prices.
In fact, the tech giant claims it ran into opposition when it approached publishers to cooperate in setting up an online bookstore for its new iPad, then under development.
“Early – and constant – points of negotiation and contention were over Apple’s price caps and 30 percent commission,” Apple wrote in its filing. “After Apple sent draft agency agreements to each publisher CEO on Jan. 11, each immediately opposed Apple’s price tiers and caps.”
The DOJ’s and Apple’s dueling versions of the adoption of the agency model are likely to be front and center when the trial begins June 3.
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.
The concept of "Shakespeare behind bars" is not new. At least since 1995 there have been programs in some US prisons encouraging inmates to study and/or perform Shakespeare. But prisoners in solitary confinement? This group – considered to be the most dangerous and hardened inmates in the entire penal system – have always been excluded from such programs.
Until Laura Bates came along. Bates, a professor at Indiana State University and author of Shakespeare Saved My Life, recently talked with Monitor books editor Marjorie Kehe about her experiences teaching Shakespeare to inmates in a “supermax” long-term solitary confinement prison unit. Here are excerpts of their conversation.
Q: What gave you the idea of teaching Shakespeare to prisoners in solitary confinement?
Initially I got the idea to do volunteer work in prison because a friend of my husband’s was working in a maximum security prison. I sort of challenged the whole idea. I thought these maximum security prisoners were beyond rehabilitation. And so I started my own program [teaching college classes] at the local Chicago Cook County Jail with first-time offenders. I didn’t know what “supermax” was until one of my students was sent there. Flash-forward 25 years: Here I am teaching in supermax.
Q: Were you scared at first?
I want to say no but nobody’s going to believe me! I was definitely apprehensive. Of all the years I spent working in prisons, the most apprehensive that I ever felt was that first day that I entered the supermax unit.
But partly I think my background helped. I’m not a traditional academic. I grew up in inner-city Chicago. I worked my way through school. I didn’t end up getting a college degree until rather late in life. My parents didn’t have college educations. So in a funny sort of way, I wasn’t as scared of prison as I was of college or academia!
And in a strange way I find that to be true [of the prisoners as well]. Because of all the prisoners I worked with – the 200 prisoners I worked with – not a single one entered the program through a love of Shakespeare. And many of them were actually frightened of Shakespeare. That’s the ironic thing: these big scary prisoners were frightened of Shakespeare. A 400-year-old dead author. Initially there was that fear factor and challenge that they themselves had to get over.
Q: Can you tell us about Larry Newton, the convicted murderer who had been in solitary confinement for 10 years – and who became your star Shakespeare scholar?
Larry didn’t even know who Shakespeare was. I think that’s part of the beauty of this story. Larry [is like] so many other prisoner readers ... [who] didn’t have a teacher at high school or college feeding them their Shakespeare. They directly connect to Shakespeare. And that’s something that Larry did on a very, very personal level. [While reading “Macbeth”] Larry said that he found himself questioning Macbeth’s motives: Why does he do this deed that he knows is wrong? Why does he give in to peer pressure?
Larry [said that this led to] a very harsh analysis of himself. [He asked himself]: Why did I engage in a variety of criminal behaviors that I personally didn’t want to do? What was driving my motives? [And] that’s where he really found true freedom. [Editor’s note: Mr. Newton’s improved behavior after he began studying Shakespeare eventually led to his release from solitary confinement. He has since written a manual to help other inmates read Shakespeare.]
"Macbeth" is the first play I have the prisoners read. I felt like they would connect, that they would relate to the character of Macbeth who is a good man who is contemplating making a bad choice in killing an innocent person.
Q. And you've seen this kind of character analysis lead to personal reform?
Absolutely! That’s why it’s so important to get the word out [about these kinds of programs]. The Shakespeare program [at the Luther Luckett Correctional Complex in LaGrange, Ky.] and a handful of others tend to focus on the performance of the plays. And that’s a good thing in itself of course. But we use the plays exclusively to try to have the prisoners come to that kind of understanding of themselves. So it’s really about self-analysis and ultimately a change in their criminal behavior.
Q: Could this kind of program work using an author other than Shakespeare?
The beauty of Shakespeare is that his works are so open to multiple interpretations. And I think that is more true of Shakespeare than other literature. And then “Macbeth” in particular is a very important text to be used in prisons because it gets so into the head of a killer who at the beginning of the story is not a bad person. That’s a very important text for the prisoners.
At least 400 sellers are making the book available via Taobao, a Chinese shopping website, according to the Telegraph. The book had already been translated into Chinese for the market in Taiwan. But given China's strict censorship laws, only contraband copies are available in the country.
A spokesperson for the Foreign Multi-Resource bookstore in China said the book was still under the radar in Chinese culture.
“Not many people know about it yet,” the spokesperson told the Telegraph. “There has been no publicity, so it is only a cult book at the moment.”
However, the spokesperson said that not all Chinese readers have been won over by the British bestseller.
“Most of the feedback we get is that it is very repetitive,” the spokesperson said.
(This isn't a new complaint, judging by reviews left by English-language readers on the website Goodreads and in Amazon's comments section. Amazon user DS from LA, for instance, wrote that "I'm convinced the author has a computer macro that she hits to insert one of her limited repertoire of facial expressions whenever she needs one.")
According to the Telegraph, the book is being printed in Guangzhou after copies arrive from Taiwan.
Hollywood is also working to win over Chinese audiences. The movie “Iron Man 3” recently broke an opening-day record in the country, though ticket sales have since slowed down. But it’s a fair bet that the planned movie adaptation of “Grey” won’t be allowed in Chinese theaters, even if some of the country’s citizens have already read the book.