The Great Gatsby

The Great GatsbyThe Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I read this in high school, but remembered virtually nothing about it except that it was about spoiled, rich people that I couldn’t identify with in any way and didn’t enjoy much. It’s probably over the heads of most high school students. Yes, the prose is lovely, but it’s still about spoiled, rich people that I can’t identify with. But now, at least, I do recognize its literary merit and I’ll give it a solid three stars. I have the feeling that if I were to read this a third or fourth time, that rating would most likely increase. Such is the nature of classics.

I started by listening to the recorded version of this and found it somewhat incomprehensible. I couldn’t follow the story, would lose some detail that informed me who was being spoken about, and felt I was missing too much of the storyline so I got a paperback copy from the library. Reading it, I almost wonder if the audio was abridged (it wasn’t), because there were sections that I did not remember listening to. Usually I love audiobooks, but this one I had to read.

I’ll be interested to watch the various film versions now.

Book description: The story of the fabulously wealthy Jay Gatsby and his love for the beautiful Daisy Buchanan, of lavish parties on Long Island at a time when, The New York Times remarked, “gin was the national drink and sex the national obsession,” it is an exquisitely crafted tale of America in the 1920s that resonates with the power of myth. A novel of lyrical beauty yet brutal realism, of magic, romance, and mysticism.


Why Read Moby-Dick?

Why Read Moby-Dick?Why Read Moby-Dick? by Nathaniel Philbrick

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A slim and very readable summation of what makes Moby-Dick great. It almost makes me want to reread it again now.

Moby-Dick is perhaps the greatest of the Great American Novels, yet its length and esoteric subject matter create an aura of difficulty that too often keeps readers at bay. Fortunately, one unabashed fan wants passionately to give Melville’s masterpiece the broad contemporary audience it deserves. In his National Book Award- winning bestseller, In the Heart of the Sea, Nathaniel Philbrick captivatingly unpacked the story of the wreck of the whaleship Essex, the real-life incident that inspired Melville to write Moby- Dick. Now, he sets his sights on the fiction itself, offering a cabin master’s tour of a spellbinding novel rich with adventure and history.

Philbrick skillfully navigates Melville’s world and illuminates the book’s humor and unforgettable characters-finding the thread that binds Ishmael and Ahab to our own time and, indeed, to all times. A perfect match between author and subject, Why Read Moby-Dick? gives us a renewed appreciation of both Melville and the proud seaman’s town of Nantucket that Philbrick himself calls home. Like Alain de Botton’s How Proust Can Change Your Life, this remarkable little book will start conversations, inspire arguments, and, best of all, bring a new wave of readers to a classic tale waiting to be discovered anew.

“Contained in the pages of Moby-Dick is nothing less than the genetic code of America: all the promises, problems, conflicts, and ideals that contributed to the outbreak of a revolution in 1775 as well as a civil war in 1861 and continue to drive this country’s ever-contentious march into the future. This means that whenever a new crisis grips this country, Moby-Dick becomes newly important. It is why subsequent generations have seen Ahab as Hitler during World War II or as a profit-crazed deep-drilling oil company in 2010 or as a power-crazed Middle Eastern dictator in 2011.” – p. 6

“The novel has inspired plays, films, operas, comic books, a television miniseries, and even a pop-up book. Those who have never read a word of it know the story of Ahab and the White Whale.” – p. 8

Sense and Sensibility

Sense and SensibilitySense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I might have given this 4 stars, for Jane Austen’s characteristic witty dialogue and skewering of society, but it was just so predictable. You knew who was going to end up with whom, so there really wasn’t any suspense about the outcome. I found the ultimate pairing of Marianne, 17, with the 35-year-old Colonel Brandon to be unsatisfying. Why not give the widowed Mrs. Dashwood a love interest? She is only 40, not that much older than he is! Elinor is boring. And Willoughby deserved better, I thought! I really only read this as a prequel to reading Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters for my Moby-Dick project. Except for being set in Devonshire, I don’t see how sea monsters are going to be featured. Could be interesting!

The audiobook was narrated by Susannah Harker.

Description: The difference between the two sisters, Elinor and Marianne, lies not only in their appearance but also in their temperament. Elinor’s good sense contrasts with Marianne’s impulsive candor. Yet in the face of a highly competitive marriage market, the sisters’ experience of love causes both to readjust… Jane Austen’s satirical powers of observation and expression spare no one in this lively study of the constraints on women of a particular class in the eighteenth century.


Moby-DickMoby-Dick by Herman Melville

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Long, rambling, and something of a sea monster of a book. Called by one early critic “a chowder of a book,” I would have to agree. At times it is brilliant, laugh out loud funny, thought-provoking, philosophical, and I can certainly appreciate all the historical detail. It’s just not a subject I have any great interest in, or affinity for. Is it the greatest American novel ever written? It is certainly iconic, and I am glad that I have made the effort to finish the whole thing.

Book Description: The story tells the adventures of wandering sailor Ishmael, and his voyage on the whaleship Pequod, commanded by Captain Ahab. Ishmael soon learns that Ahab has one purpose on this voyage: to seek out a specific whale—Moby Dick, a ferocious, enigmatic white sperm whale. In a previous encounter, the whale destroyed Ahab’s boat and bit off his leg, which now drives Ahab to take revenge.

In part, Moby-Dick is the story of an eerily compelling madman pursuing an unholy war against a creature as vast and dangerous and unknowable as the sea itself. But more than just a novel of adventure, more than an encyclopedia of whaling lore and legend, the book can be seen as part of its author’s lifelong meditation on America. Written with wonderfully redemptive humor, Moby-Dick is also a profound inquiry into character, faith, and the nature of perception.

Opening lines: “Call me Ishmael. Some years ago – never mind how long precisely – having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world.”

Pride and Prejudice (1940)

P&P OlivierPride and Prejudice (1940)

Starring: Greer Garson, Laurence Olivier

Director: Robert Z. Leonard

Length: Black and White, 118 minutes

After watching two mini-series, I wondered how P&P would fare as a two-hour movie. Well, there were some significant changes made to the plot, nevertheless it worked. I won’t divulge any spoilers – I’ll just say I LOVED the twist at the end with Darcy and his Aunt Catherine. After two faithful series, and three faithful fanfic books, it’s nice to be surprised.

I’d give this version 4 stars. It delivers in typical 1940s Hollywood style. The costumes were all WRONG but you forgive them. They could have been borrowed from Gone With the Wind. Then there was Colonel Fitzwilliam in full Scottish regalia, with sporran almost as large as his kilt! And the dance scenes were all WRONG, but who cares. This could so easily have been a musical. I half expected the actors to burst into song at any moment. Some nice humorous moments, too, like the talking parrot during Lady Catherine’s visit. And a bit of 1940s feminism with the archery scene.

Laurence Olivier was not really convincingly haughty. He was far too handsome and charming. Is Greer Garson a redhead? Her Elizabeth certainly was the stereotypical feisty redhead. But wouldn’t she have been in her mid-30s? About 15 years too old for the role! Oh well. Jane was sweet and lovely – definitely fit the part. Lydia was suitably silly and flirtateous. Kitty and Charlotte were quite forgettable. Mr. Collins, Wickham, and Colonel Fitzwilliam – all much too old. But so were Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, and Mrs. Lucas. So we had 30-year-old daughters, 40-year old suitors, and 60-year old parents. Oh well. I’ll be watching this again tonight.

Pride and Prejudice (BBC, 1980)

Pride and PrejudicePride and Prejudice (BBC, 1980)

Starring: Elizabeth Garvie, David Rintoul

Director: Cyril Coke

Length: 265 minutes

This was another enjoyable miniseries. I would rate it almost as highly as the A&E version, even though it is very different. This version is very faithful to the book, and includes many scenes that were left out of the A&E version. The sets are simple, rather than cinematic. It is like watching a stage play – very intimate. The costumes are wonderful. The casting is wonderful. I liked Mrs. Bennet and Mary better in this version. And I LOVED Lady Catherine and Mr. Collins. They were much closer to how they were portrayed by Jane Austen. The A&E version almost made caricatures out of all the minor characters. Where it excelled was in the portrayal of the three sets of lovers: Darcy and Elizabeth, Jane and Bingley, and Lydia and Wickham. The BBC version downplayed the stories of Jane and Lydia. This may be closer to Jane Austen’s book, but it felt lacking to me in comparison. On the other hand, the BBC version showed more of the relationships between Elizabeth and Charlotte, and Charlotte and Mr. Collins, even adding a rather nice proposal scene between Charlotte and Mr. Collins. The A&E version gave short shrift to Charlotte, and made Mr. Collins so odious, that Charlotte’s acceptance of him was difficult to fathom. The A&E version also gave us a very stripped down version of Lady Catherine.

Mr. Bennet grew on me. He is quite jolly and loveable in the A&E version – not quite the way Jane Austen portrayed him, but I liked him, and I liked the way it portrayed his relationship with Lizzy. In the BBC version, he is very stiff and cranky. But as I said, by the second viewing, this very different portrayal was growing on me. Mrs. Bennet was much better done here. Oh, she is a scream in the A&E version, and a lot of fun to watch, but the BBC portrayal is again much closer to the mark. Instead of being a comical caricature, she is a silly, rather empty-headed woman, who was once obviously very pretty. She is lively, and you can see why Mr. Bennet may once have been attracted to her. Their mismatched relationship is very well done here.

The sisters: Jane had no appeal for me in this version. I didn’t sense any spark at all between Jane and Bingley. She was just a bland character. Mary was quite adorable, for all her misguided efforts to be learned and accomplished. You could see her as a real person instead of a caricature. Kitty was just silly. The actress seemed too old for the part to me. Lydia was much like her mother, but I confess I liked the more flamboyantly reckless portrayal in the A&E version better.

Elizabeth Garvie is an adorable Elizabeth Bennet. David Rintoul is a truly haughty, but handsome Darcy. Again, his portrayal was probably closer to Jane Austen’s, and he also grew on me the second viewing. But comparing him to Colin Firth is like comparing apples and oranges. I didn’t feel the spark or the tension between Darcy and Elizabeth that Colin and Jennifer portrayed. Jennifer’s Elizabeth is a little more refined, and I can easily envision her as the future lady of a great estate.

So all in all, there was much to like in the BBC version, but for sheer romance and for cinematography give me the A&E version!

Pride and Prejudice ( A&E, 1996)

Pride and PrejudicePride and Prejudice – The Special Edition (A&E 1996)

Starring: Jennifer Ehle, Colin Firth

Director: Simon Langton

Length: 300 minutes

There are several movie versions of P&P, but this seems to be the one everyone talks about. I got it from the library last week on 6 videocassettes. I was riveted. Watched the entire thing twice, and then went and bought the DVD. I don’t know if that makes me a Jane Austen fan, or a Colin Firth fan!

I’d say I might be in danger of going off the deep end. I now have the BBC version (1985) from the library, another one on hold ready to pick up, and the old film with Laurence Olivier on order.

I thought this version was very well done, and very faithful to the book. Whatever liberties were taken (the famous swimming scene, for example) fit into the whole. Okay, I have one quibble. Mary Bennet, who likes to show off on the piano but isn’t very good, suddenly becomes most proficient whenever she plays for the dancing. The contrast is noticeable.

I read recently that most novels in Jane Austen’s time were meant to be read aloud. The emphasis on dialogue really lends itself well to the stage. I look forward to comparing the other films.