The Orgastic Future That Year By Year Recedes Before Us

It was by accident that I had never read The Great Gatsby. Half a decade ago, an obsession about this book seemed to take hold of my closest friends, but bypassed me for some strange reason, and then again a few years later, other friends were hit by the wave (they were studying it in English Lit) and at around the same time a new film adaption of it came to and went from the cinemas.

That I have not seen this film is another small wonder. After all, it had all a film needs to lure me into the red velvety seats: Some famous director (Stephen Spielberg? No?), Leo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan and Kanye West and all my friends raved on about it. I can’t actually remember the exact reason why I did not see it, but I suspect that it was an accumulation of factors (no money, all my friends had already seen it, had to study or at least pretend to do so, or really anything along those lines).

I finally did it now. Read the book that is, not watch the film. Usually when I read so-called “classics” that I have heard so much about before even opening the book, I have a repertoire of three possible reactions:

  1. I love it.
  2. I don’t love it. This can mean both indifference and a proper dislike.
  3. I love it but still close the book with a disappointed impression.

Gatsby was the latter. Most people will agree with me that there are some undeniably brilliant qualities to this work: I mean, just how it is written. Fitzgerald generally has a way of being ridiculously quotable, but he’s definitely grown beyond himself in Gatsby. And it’s not even the main plot that makes you think “this is so true”, but the detailed descriptions. Take the descriptions of the first of Gatsby’s parties that our narrator attends. Even though this is a posh, sophisticated party set about a century ago, there are so many parallels to parties I’ve been to (that were improvised, featured cheap liquor and 90s music), or maybe just universal truths. Here are my five favourite quotes from that passage:

The bar is in full swing and floating rounds of cocktails permeate the garden outside until the air is alive with chatter and laughter and casual innuendo and introductions forgotten on the spot and enthusiastic meetings between women who never knew each other’s names.

“(…) I’ve been drunk for a week now, and I thought it might sober me up to sit in a library.”

I had taken two finger bowls of champagne and the scene had changed before my eyes into something significant, elemental and profound.

“And I like large parties. They’re so intimate. At small parties there isn’t any privacy.”

I was alone and it was almost two.

But then, marvelling at all this brilliance, as mentioned before, I was also stuck by some disappointment. There’s really only so much praise that a book of 50 000 words can sustain. The hype, the myth about this book as long outgrown it’s physical presence, the ink on the pages. This, of course, I can only judge from my point of view, which, in this case, is that of a leisurely reader. From the point of a scholar, or even just a year nine studying this book in class, I can only suspect how amass of literary devices and quirks the work is.

Here, as a way to end perhaps, is the quote that I think sums up the book best (back in my days of literary analysis and interpretation, oh boy, the amount of meaning I could have read into this one sentence…):

They were careless people, Tom and Daisy – they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made…

B x (this post was part of an “Around the World Reading Challenge” I’m doing. Read all about it here!)

You Had Better Not Meddle With Little American Girls – My Thoughts on James’ Daisy Miller

Inspired by Azar Nafisi’s memoir ‘Reading Lolita in Tehran’ I got Henry James’ ‘Daisy Miller’ from my local library. To get to the point quite quickly, my final judgement would be this: I liked it, found it a stimulating read, but don’t believe it has left a lasting impact on me.

Easy as that. What I liked about it was the conciseness: Unlike many other classics, James cut the chase and did not linger too long on a plot that is only able to cover the number of pages it does cover. The resulting shortness of the book also allowed me to read the novel in one sitting, which gently fostered my reader’s pride.

Then, Daisy Miller satisfied what is most important to me in a book: I want it to make me think about things, not only in the context of that fictional scenario, but also in relation to my life and life in general. Pretty much every character in that book left me conflicted. As a generally conflicted little feminist, I was outraged about the narrator’s stance towards Daisy, but also about Daisy herself. Part of me has always held a grudge against incredibly pretty characters, whether in books or films or real life, I don’t know whether this is caused by jealousy or a feeling of inferiority, but it is definitely there. This was only enhanced by the fact that that there was a male narrator constantly appraised her candor, which, again, as a little feminist led to some conflicting feelings about my own feelings.

I mean, do I dislike Daisy because I think she is an easy girl? Because she challenges the conventions? Because she is so unwittingly dependent on male recognition and company? And what kind of person does that make me? Am I really as liberal and progressive as I like to think myself to be?

So many questions – point to James. Still, even though it has only been a day since I read the novel, I have not found myself thinking back to these questions or Daisy Miller.

So, overall, three stars out of five to Miss Daisy Miller.

B x

Morbid Envy

As part of my current non-fiction craze I have started reading Marina Keegan’s collection of essays ‘The Opposite of Loneliness’ (come on, you’ve heard about it) last night. For those who are not familiar with the ‘concept’ of the book: Marina Keegan, 22, brilliant, courageous, popular, died in a tragic car crash (I’m making this sound way too trivial…) and friends and family decided to publish her (also brilliant) essays posthumously.

Now, I have just started reading it, meaning I’ve only read the introduction by one of her lecturers at Yale about how brilliant she was and how tragic everything is, the acknowledgements by her parents and the title essay (that I believe to be her graduation speech, but not entirely sure). And already the book troubles me. Well, it’s not the book that troubles me, really (it’s not you, it’s me!), but my emotional reaction to it.

I feel admiration, but strangely, also envy. She was literally living the dream. She was everything I want to be. She had it all: a supportive environment at Yale, a great (and pretty rich as far as I could tell, there was a mention of a summer house on Cape Cod and sailing) family (that could also pay for her tuition at private schools and an ivy league university), a loving boyfriend, great friends, and, last but not least, all the attributes that I wish I had: talent, courage, determination, grit. She had a job at The New Yorker lined up for after college, which I’d say is the definite dream of any liberal arts student pretty much.

But then feeling envy for a dread girl somehow feels wrong. After all, she never got to have that post-grad life we all want too, she had that tragic accident instead. And though she might have risen to world fame through this collection of essays, she cannot experience this moment, the moment where she has finally made it as a writer, the thing everyone told her was impossible which she pursued nevertheless.

It makes me sad, but I don’t think her book would have been such a commercial success had it been published while she was alive. People (including me, probably, sadly) don’t like to read essays by the brilliant girl that has it all and will have even more nearly as much as they like to read essays by the brilliant tragic girl that had it all and could have had so much more.

In a very morbid way, the fact that this remarkable lady is dead is lucky for me. I would not have been able to admire her thoughts and actions to this degree had I been blinded by envy (which would have by far outweighed the admiration). It allows me to fully take in what she has written and reflect upon it for myself, maybe learning from her even, with tons of admiration and only that tiny grain of envy.

Morbidly yours,

B x

Leon, oh Leon…

Featuring today: The best ever cookbook(s) I have come across so far in my life. Woohoo!

We all eat. It is a necessity, yet it can also be a source of a lot of problems and issues. We eat too much or too little, we spend too much money on food, we don’t eat healthy enough, we don’t know how to cook, we never have the time and energy to cook, and then if we cook we always cook too much and don’t know what to do with the leftovers, … the list is bloody long. And we haven’t even started on actual eating issues.

Of course, now to expect a cookbook to solve all these problems would be foolish, but it can certainly help. More with the problems I mentioned earlier, but if you consider yourself to have eating issues and you consider to buy a cookbook, you’re certainly on a good way (or not, who knows). Anyway, I have found the ideal cookbook for myself, which helped (and continues to help) me out significantly in my day-to-day life.

Now maybe if I describe to you how and why this is true, you’ll also get to know some of the features of the book(s). As you have already established from the plural in brackets, there is more than one book. Basically, these books are written by some people who run a small chain of fast food restaurants in London. Their business idea was to make and sell fresh and healthy fast food that tastes delicious. So when they were successful with that, they decided to publish some of their tried and tested recipes in a book. And then another. And then another.

So, you now already know that these books help me solve some of my food-related problems: It is fast, fresh, (more or less) healthy and delicious. More importantly though: generally, the books feature quite simple meals. Simple not only in terms of making them, but also in terms of their style. For someone like me, who has the taste buds of a child, a lot of cookbooks are useless, because the meals they feature are waaay to fancy. Especially when people think that they should combine fruit with a savoury meal, they have lost me entirely. And this doesn’t mean I don’t love food, oh, believe me, I do. And my taste is very varied: I love classic dishes at home, Greek food, Italian food, Asian food, all of that. But rather rustic, please.

Then, the other major problem I have with cooking and eating is the effort. It just takes so much time till something is ready and so little time for me to eat is once it is ready, so why bother. Well, these books are beautiful. Like truly beautiful. And you don’t even have to be a bibliophile to notice it. Every recipe is elaborately illustrated, the entire book benefits from the ingenious graphic design and it is nice to look, even nice to touch. It all looks so delicious and easy to make that walking to the supermarket over the road and preparing a fresh meal feels like so much less of a hassle.

Now, I almost forgot mentioning the name, although you might have gotten that from the title. They are called LEON and so far five big books (one for vegetarian cooking, one for baking, etc., cost about £20 each) and several smaller books (for things like soups, breakfast and stuff, cost about £6 each – also make great presents!) have been published. This is the website, there are also recipes and videos online. I also know that some of the books have been translated into German, so chances are good they will be available in your language too (which might be more convenient with the measurements).

Please go to the bookshop closest too you and look at it yourself, this is not the kind of book you can check out on Amazon (unless you are absolutely certain that you want it and the purchase is just an annoying formality), you have to hold it in your hands.

Also, do share any cookbooks that lighten up your life day after day.

B x

Christmas, Poetry And A Teary Me

Many of you will be celebrating Christmas today or will at least be enjoying the holiday and the free time that comes with it. And as I really don’t want you guys sitting in front of the screen all day (read! eat! spend time with your family! maybe even sing?), this will be my shortest post to date (well, we’ll see about that…).

It also contains my present to you! A poem! YAY (at least this should be your reaction)! I know that people have very different opinions on poetry, but I think it’s like music: you’ll like some, some not, and it is entirely up to you what kind of role it plays in your life. For example, although I do appreciate it, personally I do not read poetry on a regular basis because it makes me feel melancholy and often it makes me cry. Not in a bad way, but it does include tears rolling down my cheeks. Which is a tiny bit annoying, especially if you’re on the bus or in a cafe. But whenever I feel melancholy anyways and I seek the sensation of drops of salty water crisscrossing my face, I grab a book and read some poems (Spanish poetry especially cracks me up, can’t say why).

I stumbled upon this poem randomly (it was featured as the Guardian poem of the week, you can read more about it here) and I liked it. Also it didn’t make me feel too teary.

Louise Glück

A Work of Fiction

As I turned over the last page, after many nights, a wave of sorrow envel-
oped me. Where had they all gone, these people who had seemed so real?
To distract myself, I walked out into the night; instinctively, I lit a cigarette.
In the dark, the cigarette glowed, like a fire lit by a survivor. But who would
see this light, this small dot among the infinite stars? I stood a while in the
dark, the cigarette glowing and growing small, each breath patiently de-
stroying me. How small it was, how brief. Brief, brief, but inside me now,
which the stars could never be.

Hope you like it too, and Merry Christmas and all that!

B x