Saturday, March 5, 2011

Two Book Reviews and Some Rambling

     My assignment for this week is to write a book review on a book of my choice. I’m supposed to select a specific “audience” to address, and then write a review that either encourages that audience to read the book, or explains in excruciating detail why that audience should not read the book.
     I chose to review “The Great Gatsby” because that happened to be what I was reading at the time, but I wasn’t yet sure whether I would be writing a favorable or an unfavorable review.
     Well, I’m still not sure. The thing is, I don’t yet know who my audience is. I have no idea what your literary preferences may be.
     So here’s what I’m going to do: I’m going to write two book reviews, intended for different audiences - one favorable, one unfavorable - and hopefully one of them will apply to you.

     F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (or: Liebestod) is a romantic tragedy in the great tradition of Shakespeare. The members of the fated cast of characters all begin quite distant from one another, but their lives become inexorably intertwined.
     The author speaks through the voice of Nick Carraway, an innocent observer who is gradually dragged deeper and deeper into the novel’s events. He inadvertantly moves in next door to the mansion of the mysterious Gatsby, and eventually begins to attend Gatsby’s weekly parties.
     Who is Jay Gatsby? We never learn the whole truth, but we know that he and Daisy were in love, years ago, before Gatsby went overseas to fight in the war. Uncertain of his survival, Daisy eventually married…but a piece of her heart remains with Gatsby.
     If Daisy were the only one with split affections, the plot would be a good deal more straightforward. That is not the case. Her husband is having an affair with the mechanic’s wife.
     Had Gatsby never moved to New York City, positioning himself deliberately near Daisy, events would have continued as they were for quite a while - but Gatsby does move in, and Daisy returns to him…half-heartedly.
     Her husband, Tom, is jealous of Gatsby, and Gatsby is jealous of Tom. The mechanic’s wife is jealous of Daisy, and the mechanic himself is jealous of…well, everybody; he knows that his wife is being unfaithful to him, but he doesn’t know with whom.
     This tangled web engulfs the entire cast. Even as more and more strands of hatred are added to this web, it is ever so slowly stretched thinner and thinner until, under the ominous, ever-present gaze of Dr. T. J. Eckleburg…it snaps.
     Boy, does it ever snap. Fitzgerald’s masterpiece draws the unsuspecting reader in, and will hold you until the bitter end.

     F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (or: “Four Attempted Weddings and Assorted Funerals) consists of almost 200 pages of character development. Nothing happens for almost the entire duration of the book.
     The narrator falls in love with the best friend of his favorite cousin, who is married to a guy he went to college with, but this guy is having an affair with the mechanic’s wife. Meanwhile this other mysterious guy is in love with the cousin, and she’s kinda in love with him, cause they knew each other, like, five years ago, but she also sorta loves her husband, but then the mechanic’s wife thinks that the best friend in the yellow car is the college guy’s wife, and the mechanic thinks that the other guy in the yellow car at a totally different time is the guy who’s having an affair with his wife, and then the college guy tattles on the mysterious guy. Hilarity ensues!
     No, seriously, this is the point at which the author begins to employ various colorful metaphors for death, and then the narrator gets all sullen, at which point, once again, nothing happens.
     In short, a pointless story of love out the wazoo.

     My point here is at a larger scale than just a review of one book. My point is that differing perspectives can result in dramatically different opinions. An individual’s tastes are more important to enjoyment than the subject matter itself.
     Oddly enough, I was able to appreciate each of the above viewpoints, to an extent, while reading the book, which is why I still can’t say whether I like it or not. Part of me really enjoyed the powerful form of the novel, and part of me genuinely found it mind-bogglingly dull.

     This whole line of thought reminds me of a comment I wrote last week on a classmate’s blog post. As I mention in “About Me” (over in the upper-right corner), this blog exists because of the writing class I am currently taking (Argumentative Writing and Blogging). My first post, entitled “Writing,” is a kind of homework paper on an assigned topic, and everyone in the class wrote a blog post on the same subject…
     More or less. I was really surprised by the wide variety of perspectives and interpretations among my classmates. Every student’s post was quite different from all of the others, but each was good in its own way.
     To see what I mean, read the blog post at the following URL and compare it to my first one (“Writing”). For convenience, I have reprinted my comment below.
I find it interesting to compare our posts for this assignment. As you know, the question to be answered here was: "Why is writing important?" I interpreted this quite differently than you did. 
I took the question to mean something like "Why are writing skills important, and how is writing relevant to our daily lives?" My answer can be found on my own blog, at: 
It was not until I read your post that I realized that the original question may be interpreted in more than one way. You read the same question and saw it as something quite different, summed up nicely in the title you gave this post: "How writing changes us." 
As you can see by comparing your post and mine, these differing perspectives resulted in posts that are - to use your phrase - "like night and day." While I provided facts, statistics, and analysis, you shared the story of your own journey - the experiences of how writing has changed you. 
While I hope that my post is educational and interesting, yours is personal and motivational. While I explain why writing is intellectually necessary, you make a compelling case that it is emotionally valuable. 
From the very first paragraph of each post, a reader can immediately tell that they will be radically different…but both present perfectly valid styles, and, in my opinion, both posts provide perfectly acceptable answers to why writing is important. 

Incidentally, my favorite of all the "Writing" posts in our class can be found here.


  1. I liked it! tell me when you figure out if you liked it or not. the only thing is when you were review the second time i got very confused because you didn't use names just my opinion :)

  2. Sporadic Blogger – I like the meta-analysis you’re doing here and I definitely like your introspective approach to these assignments. I’m thrilled to see students thinking about these issues from multiple perspectives and engaging with one other. Towards the end here you say "An individual’s tastes are more important to enjoyment than the subject matter itself," and while I agree that individuals like or dislike a book for sometimes individual reasons, I still think there’s a great deal of value in defining some of the universal qualities of good books. Your reviews (both) are primarily plot summary, so it’s difficult to understand the different perspectives from anything other than an “individual taste” perspective (and of course you altered your own “voice” as you reviewed each to reflect that). I’d like to see your analysis of some of the higher level issues in Gatsby though. What do you make of Dr. Eckleberg’s famous eyes? How do they affect the way the reader views the entanglements of the characters? What does the book say about money, poverty, greed? Characters make decisions for a variety of reasons – what is Fitzgerald trying to say about the nature of these choices? If you choose to revise this post (we’ll all be choosing one to revise in the next few weeks), eliminate most of the plot summary and focus on analyzing issues like these. Keep the assessment of how dull the characters may seem to you at times and add to that your assessment of the pacing choices Fitzgerald made and why.

  3. I liked how you did two reviews for different audiences. I liked the review alot, but what is the thing about Dr. Eckleber's famous eyes. Overall though, I loved the reviews!

  4. uhhhhh...The rambling was kind of confusing and at found it very entertaining I am also as always impressed with your very broad vocabulary and formatting But I felt like you could have touched on the plot but from what you said the plot doesn't consist of much. Great work and I am looking forward to the next post.

  5. I can honestly say that I really wasn't expecting this! The contrast in the writing style is what really gets me. The first review was nice, clean, overall very well presented, with very neat spacing. The second review showcases lax writing, ("kinda", "sorta") a muddled summary, general negativity, and features a solid impenetrable block of a paragraph.

    Knowing me, I tend to favor things like the second review, so you pretty much wrote for my demographic pretty well haha!