Category Archives: book talk
Taking a break from my regularly-scheduled Wednesday photo posts to talk Gatsby. Honestly, can one have too much Gatsby in their life?
I doubt it, old sport.
Like so many teens, my first exposure to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic came in high school. The Great Gatsby was assigned reading my sophomore year — and though I’ve always been a reader, it took an introduction to this work to get me excited about literature. Gatsby was a gateway drug. I sprang to Austen and Dickens after this 1925 classic, devouring Shakespeare and Welty in turn. Heck, I even humored Hemingway. I was addicted.
Because Gatsby is accessible, entertaining, absorbing and all-around fantastic, I didn’t spend my time as a student afraid to approach Great Literature. I wasn’t scared off by serious tones and symbolism. The Canon of Fabulous Works didn’t intimidate me. My obsession with reading launched my English studies in college, which sharpened my writing skills, which led to my career as a writer and editor.
Can I thank Gatsby for that?
In a way, yes.
But as a lovesick teen girl, I wasn’t focused on the corruption of the American dream or costs of decadence. At 15, I became enamored with the Jazz Age classic because I considered it a love story. (And maybe it still is.) Gatsby’s pursuit of Daisy seemed unrelentingly optimistic and just . . . sweet. Ignorant to the book’s messages, I read it purely as the story of a man who could never forget his first love. Convinced he need only money and luxury to lure Daisy away from the privileged, “careless” life she shares with Tom Buchanan, Gatsby sets off to make it big. And win Daisy back. Her green light is a beacon of hope — one that declares he can have anything he’s ever wished for . . . if he never eases up.
It’s interesting now, examining the story as an adult. I’ve read the book three times and am halfway through a fourth. We went to see Baz Luhrmann’s latest film adaptation on Sunday . . . and I became obsessed with the story anew. No matter how many times I hold Gatsby up for inspection, analyzing his motives and means and parts, I can still uncover more layers. Almost a century after it landed in the hands of its first readers, we still have so much to talk about.
That is the magic of Gatsby. Of Fitzgerald’s writing. Of that particular era of history, the 1920s: so rich and vivid and compelling. Despite some lukewarm to derisive reviews of “The Great Gatsby,”
I loved the film. I loved it so hard. Leonardo DiCaprio was a charismatic, convincing Gatsby, and I viewed his pursuit of wealth and the so-called American Dream with fresh eyes. Daisy’s portrayal by Carey Mulligan was the perfect mix of disaffected ingenue and fragile mess, which I adored, and I despised her all over again.
And can we talk about the music? I know people are all over the place with this one. Executive produced by Jay-Z, the film’s soundtrack features eclectic music — hip-hop, alternative rock — and modern tunes punctuate some of the movie’s most pivotal scenes. As Gatsby and Nick fly in that iconic car and the New York skyline comes into view, a haunting bar of Alicia Key’s “Empire State of Mind” caught me off-guard. But I liked it. It took what could have been a staid interpretation of an iconic story and turned it around. I downloaded Lana Del Rey’s “Young and Beautiful” from bed the next morning. I just . . . couldn’t get it out of my head. It’s so haunting.
The whole film is haunting.
The modern feel isn’t for everyone, I know. And that’s okay. But even the departures from Fitzgerald’s text — notably a framework where Nick is telling Gatsby’s story from a sanitarium, where he’s being treated for alcoholism and depression, among other ailments — just added to the narrative; for me, it didn’t take anything away. I like that Gatsby is still provoking us to imagine things differently, to ask questions and draw the text into the current world.
Did I think the movie was flawless? No. Nothing ever is. But I didn’t go into “The Great Gatsby” wearing my critical glasses. I wanted to be transported, entertained and dazzled — exactly what I’d expect from a Luhrmann film. And I was. As the credits rolled and the lights came up, I blinked in the dim light. I felt disoriented. Even knowing precisely what was going to happen didn’t save me from feeling breathless throughout the movie, and somehow still shocked by its close. I wanted things to be different.
When I got home on Sunday, I dug through my bookshelves until I found my tattered old copy of Gatsby. It’s underlined and highlighted, dog-eared on pages where a passage or two struck me, and worn around the edges from getting stuffed into book bags and purses. I’m 100 pages into my latest reading. Despite being such a relentless lover of literature, I never re-read books. Ever. Seriously, Gatsby is the only book I’ve ever read more than once — and being on a fourth reading is sort of ludicrous. But seeing the film provoked so many new questions . . . and I wanted to be able to compare the film and book after a fresh reading of the text.
But I can’t really do that. Not really. It’s not fair to intricately compare a book to its cinematic counterpart; they’re two different ways of storytelling. Overall, would I declare the film “faithful” to the beloved text? Yes, I would. And if I agree with some of the quibbles about Nick’s role, for instance, that doesn’t dampen my overall enthusiasm. Gatsby moves me like no other story, and “Gatsby” on the big screen was an incredible experience.
I loved it. And if you love the story, too, I trust you’ve got your tickets.
After getting engaged, I was amazed by how many people asked one interesting question: was my dog going to walk with me down the aisle?
For some dog lovers, the idea of tying the knot without their four-legged friend is impossible. Whether their canine is standing in as “best dog” or simply soaking it in from the audience, our pups — our confidantes; our buddies — are members of the family. And they want in on the action.
Katie Preston Toepfer and Sam Stall penned Wedding Dogs: A Celebration of Holy Muttrimony — and it’s just as cute as you’d expect. A collection of photos from weddings across the country, each spread features photos of a canine collaborator along with the story of the wedding they attended. With the Humane Society estimating that approximately 78.2 million owned dogs take up residence in more than 39 percent of U.S. households, I’m surprised we don’t see more pups as ringbearers.
In the introduction, Toepfer writes, “For those who know the joy of being loved unconditionally, who know what it’s like to be greeted each day by a flurry of fur-spinning excitement, this book is for you. Whether or not your precious four-legged friend was a part of your wedding day, or even if you’re yet to tie the knot, I hope this book will be a source of laughter, joy, and inspiration.”
Though we don’t plan to include Rudy, my family’s beloved golden retriever, in our nuptials, Spencer and I often joke about how he would react to being coerced into walking down an aisle. Rudy has a mind of his own — and the lure of so many people around to throw him a ball would be too distracting. There’s really no telling what he would do.
And he was totally not interested in other dogs’ fifteen minutes of fame with this publication.
In Wedding Dogs, some of my favorite spreads featured Lexi and Hayden, two Labrador retrievers who wore flowers around their necks, and a trio of pugs included on their owners’ wedding announcements (they were banned from the formal ceremony!). There are so many great photos, though, and the stories are equally precious. Written in vignettes, it’s the sort of book you can easily “ooh” and “ahh” over on a lazy afternoon, soaking up the gorgeous scenery and equally heartwarming pup stories.
So grab a glass of champagne and celebrate in spirit! These well-mannered pups — and their creative owners — deserve a toast.
Review copy provided by publisher in exchange for my honest discussion
Well, it’s a Monday — and I reckon it’s time for another giveaway. Just takes the edge off, eh?
Courtesy of Harlequin, up for grabs are two copies of Deanna Raybourn’s A Spear of Summer Grass. If that lovely cover isn’t enough to entice you, perhaps the description is:
The daughter of a scandalous mother, Delilah Drummond is already notorious, even amongst Paris society. But her latest scandal is big enough to make even her oft-married mother blanch. Delilah is exiled to Kenya and her favorite stepfather’s savannah manor house, until gossip subsides.
Amidst the wonders — and dangers — of Africa, Delilah awakes to a land out of all proportion: extremes of heat, darkness, beauty and joy that cut to her very heart. Only when this sacred place is profaned by bloodshed does Delilah discover what is truly worth fighting for — and what she can no longer live without.
If you blend glamour from The Great Gatsby and romance from “Out of Africa,” you are beginning to grasp the stunning new novel that is A Spear of Summer Grass.
please fill out this form.
Giveaway is open only to entrants with U.S. or Canadian addresses. The contest will run until 12 p.m. on Friday, May 3, when two randomly-chosen winners will be emailed for their mailing addresses. Good luck!
CONTEST CLOSED, edited on May 3: Congrats to Caitlin and Lisa S, our randomly-chosen winners! Ladies, I’ve emailed you.
If you’ll allow me a moment to explore a girl crush, I’d like to bring Tina Fey to the front of the room.
With her trademark self-deprecating wit, humor and guile, Tina is my hero. I listened to Bossypants, her memoir, on audio last year, and it was just as quirky and hilarious as I expected. As a “30 Rock” devotee for a number of years, I was thrilled that the iconic Liz Lemon found happiness by the series’ end . . . but I’ve mourned the end of the show as though I’ve lost a friend. Because it totally feels like I have.
“Straight-laced Princeton University admissions officer Portia Nathan (Fey) is caught off-guard when she makes a recruiting visit to an alternative high school overseen by her former college classmate, the free-wheeling John Pressman (Rudd). Pressman has surmised that Jeremiah (Nat Wolff), his gifted yet very unconventional student, might well be the son that Portia secretly gave up for adoption many years ago.
“Soon, Portia finds herself bending the rules for Jeremiah, putting at risk the life she thought she always wanted — but in the process finding her way to a surprising and exhilarating life and romance she never dreamed of having.”
Sound like fun? I think so, too. And courtesy of Focus Features, I have a giveaway prize pack to get you extra pumped about the movie, which hits theaters March 22! One lucky winner will receive . . .
• Admission (movie tie-in book)
• Bossypants by Tina Fey
• Folder, notepad, pen, drawstring bag and toothbrush
Giveaway is open to U.S. residents only through 12 p.m. on Friday, March 15, when a winner will be randomly selected from submissions received and emailed for their mailing address by Meg.
EDIT on 3/15: Congrats to Karen, our randomly-chosen winner! I’ve emailed you.
In early February, friends and family gathered to welcome my cousin Karen’s little one — due later this month! Though I meant to write about this a little earlier than right now, it’s fun reliving that afternoon . . . and all the awesome touches that went into making it special.
From the food to the decorations to the games, these lovely ladies — Karen’s cadre of awesome friends — put on a day to remember. Walking up to the front door put you face-to-face with a book-inspired wreath (that I kind of wanted to steal. Did I say that?). I’m not talented enough to even begin thinking about how the ladies whipped this wreath up, but seriously: it was impressive.
I mentioned the prep work for the big day and how guests were asked to bring their favorite childhood reads to build the baby’s library, which I thought was an awesome idea. Upon arrival, we were given book plates to sign so each story would bear an imprint of the giver. I love that my little cousin will someday flip through If You Give A Mouse a Cookie and see my chicken scratch!
Making our way into the dining room, each of the dishes had been inspired by a children’s story — like The Onion’s Great Escape. As I’d started Weight Watchers about two weeks before, I had to run out of there as fast as my jiggly legs would carry me. Still? I could totally appreciate the creativity from afar, and I only snuck in once: to get a snivel of strawberry pretzel salad, a personal favorite (and Karen’s, too!).
As we all admired the stories artfully placed around the living room, it was obvious that Baby’s library was going to be pretty impressive — though most of us were more concerned with a certain dessert in the kitchen. Our grandmother commissioned a book cake for the occasion, topped with Mother Goose reading a story, and I almost died from the cute.
And though I heard it was delicious, I didn’t eat any cake.
I did have two of Maw Maw’s famous homemade peanut butter cups . . . but I’m only human.
We had so much fun celebrating Karen and Ben, who are one of the best and sweetest couples I know. I’m so excited to welcome a new member to our growing family, and I wish their trio so much love and happiness.
And lots — and lots — of good reads!
It’s Valentine’s Day!
Hearts and sparkles and candy for everyone!
For as much as I love heart-shaped things and red things and L-O-V-E, there’s something undeniably cheesy — albeit fun — about this holiday. I have fond memories of writing out little cards for my classmates growing up, then waiting for my latest crush to declare his feelings on February 14. When the proclamation wasn’t forthcoming, I tried to tell myself there was always next year. Always the romantic!
My fiance and I will be cooking up a storm at home and avoiding the crowds tonight, and that’s just fine with me. On our first and only “engaged” Valentine’s Day, I’d rather avoid the chaos and catch up on “Downton Abbey” (though sweet Cupid, it’s been really depressing lately). We went out on Sunday for our traditional French dinner in a nearby town, and it was a sweet and personal evening!
And on this day devoted to romance, I’ve been thinking about love stories. I haven’t read enough good ones lately. I’m always seeking something sweeping in magnitude — yet grounded in reality. I want a give-and-take relationship between two people who recognize that while they could stand separately, they’re better together. I want my novels to be romantic without provoking frequent eye-rolls, and y’all know I can get down with an eye-roll. (It’s how I roll.) (And sorry for that bad pun.)
When it comes to love stories, I usually require them in my reading. An otherwise fabulous book without the emotion and drama of a blossoming romance just doesn’t hold the same appeal. There are exceptions to this, of course — and the love story itself is a delicate balancing act. It’s crucial to have things develop naturally — or for me to feel like they do, anyway.
I’m probably not making any sense. Too many contraband Valentine’s chocolates. Sugar rush!
(Only kidding. I’m still committed to healthy living, though those heart-shaped Peeps are eyeballing me.)
And so, in honor of this day of love, I present to you . . .
Meg’s Favorite Love Stories
(That Won’t Make You Gag)
Okay, I’m a little biased with this one — because it’s one of my favorite books of all time. No exaggeration. In fact, if I can convince you to read one book in my years of book- and life-blogging, I hope it’s Eva Rice’s The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets. It’s that good — and I’m that serious. Though the romance in Rice’s novel isn’t center-stage, it’s unforgettable . . . just like this story. In fact, I really need to pluck it back off my shelf; we’ve been separated for far too long.
Beyond its quaint setting in the English countryside, Harriet Evans’ I Remember You is everything I devour in a novel. Particular care is paid to the two leads: childhood best friends who grow up in one another’s pockets, but separate over the years through grief, romance and everything in between. Though it occasionally falls victim to some chick-lit cliches, it’s a sweeping tale of first love that really resonated with me — and was one I recommended for months.
Separated by war, hostility and racism, Kristina McMorris’ lovebirds in Bridge of Scarlet Leaves face impossible heartache in their quest to just be together. (Makes online dating look like a cakewalk, eh?) This historical novel, set in World War II, is meticulously researched — and absolutely engrossing. Maddie and Lane make an unforgettable pairing.
When you pair romance with the undeniable pull of Italian cooking, you get a savory dish like Melissa Senate’s The Love Goddess’ Cooking School — and I gobbled it up. A budding romance told against the backdrop of familial love on the coast of Maine, this fun story left me with a full heart . . . and a growling stomach.
There’s no denying the allure of Stephanie Perkins’ Anna and the French Kiss, a young adult novel that took the reading community by storm. With its Parisian setting, dreamy male lead and enticing will-they-or-won’t-they premise (they always start out as “just friends,” don’t they?), Perkins’ debut had one of the best finales I’ve read. I was literally swooning, if such a thing is possible, and I didn’t want it to end. If you’ve refrained from grabbing it until now, consider this your homework. Your Valentine’s Day homework.