Tag Archives: The Great Gatsby

ATTN: Jay Gatsby SUBJECT: $$$

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I wonder what Jay Gatsby would have to say about this article in the NYT by Rachel Sherman (@rwsherman10) titled “What the Rich Won’t Tell You.”

Eye-opening though it may be for some, my own experiences with the super-rich here in Toronto have taught me that New Yorkers are not alone in this category of what I like to call “social stratification avoidance.” They drive cars like Subarus and Kias; their kids go to public schools; they take modest vacations within…gulp…Canada.

Alternatively, sandals are what you wear on your feet; first class is the opening lecture of a semester; the Hamptons were a jazz musician (Lionel) and a Confederate general (Wade); and The Great Gatsby is soooooo passé, a novel from a bygone era that is no longer relevant.

Funny to think how out of touch Donnie T. is there in his house painted white. How he must pine to return to the Palace of Versailles on 5th Avenue. Mon Dieu! Imagine if he were cultured enough to actually visit the real Versailles, study its storied past in French history, and understand why it is now a public venue for people to visit and learn from, not live in and show off with unconscionable pride.

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The Power of Invisible

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In a powerful piece for The New York Times, noted writer and essayist Roger Rosenblatt recently penned a piece titled “The Invisible Forces That Make Writing Work.” Although ostensibly about the non-visible forces that shape writing, the overarching theme is one that transcends the craft and whose lessons can be applied to our everyday lives.

That’s why, I suppose, Mr. Rosenblatt begins his piece for the Book Review section by quoting @kathrynschulz:

“[W]e cannot see most of the things that rule our lives. Magnetic fields, electric currents, the force of gravity all work unseen, as do our interior arbiters of thoughts, inclinations, passions, psyches, tastes, moods, morals, and — if one believes in them — souls. The invisible world governs the visible like a hidden nation-state.”

As Mr. Rosenblatt goes on to point out, good fiction mirrors life in that there are signs that pop up at every step of our lives; often it is only in hindsight that we as readers (and human beings) pick up on this and make sense of these clues. And just as nature is defined by change, so too is writing an organic process.

Roger Rosenblatt specifically refers to Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, but I think many readers would be surprised how much even character names (let alone their relationships and personal growth arcs) change through the draft process. The same is also true of us as humans. We have an idea where we want to be in, say, a year, yet along the way there are so many competing forces at play that it’s inevitable we will end up somewhere else – and as someone else.

I think that’s part of the reason an author like Jonathan Franzen is so popular today. His stories aren’t particularly complex or radical in their approach. Still, Franzen manages to capture the complexities of personal growth and interpersonal relationships, especially in a book like Freedom.

Mr. Rosenblatt ends his own piece for the NYT by describing how he resurrects the invisible through his own writing, and it’s a poignant message:

“I am not unaware that my writing has improved in the nine years since our daughter’s death. My work is sharper now, and more careful. Happily would I trade all the books I’ve written in those nine years for one moment with Amy alive, but since that bargain is impossible, I write to fill the void her death created. And something else: Since I believe it was Amy’s death that led me to write more seriously, she lives with me invisible. I write to see her.”

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The Good Ol’ Social Media/Toxicity Conundrum

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Author of Another Place You’ve Never Been (the prequel to I Know This Much is True?), debut novelist Rebecca Kauffman posted a thought-provoking piece on publishersweekly.com called “Is Social Media Toxic to Writing?” Ms. Kauffman explores an issue that I wrangled with for years, ever since publishing my first book way back in the Stone Ages of 2003 (hard to believe, but in that year there were no such things as Facebook [2004], Twitter [2006], Tumblr [2007], or Instagram [2010]): Do I succumb to the pressure and become a social media who**? For many years, I resisted. Social media platforms were dumb, fake (goddamn phonies, to quote Holden C.), pointless, and a waste of the space-time continuum.

Then, in 2013, I published my first novel and reality hit me like a stinky fish from Tsukiji Market across the face –>  No social media presence = No chance of building a core audience = No chance of landing an agent = No chance of signing with a respectable publisher = No chance of turning my dream into a full-time career. So what did I do?

Well, I think the answer is obvious by now. Perhaps Nick Carraway would be disappointed in my decision to sell out, but then again maybe Jay Gatsby would have seen it like Carraway described in Fitzgerald’s classic novel:

“And as I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock.”

Although Ms. Kauffman looks at literary superhero Murakami Haruki as a case in point as to whether one should  spend hours on social media daily, exposing intimate parts of yourself and your inner-workings to the public (the Japanese literary superhero is notorious for giving very few interviews or public readings, let alone using social media on a regular basis), I think it’s dangerous to seek guidance in this area from a writer such as Murakami; for anyone who started a career in writing after 2004, the rules of engagement are forever changed.

I believe it was Jonathan Franzen, celebrated author of The Corrections and Freedom, who said it best when he expressed his sorrow for young writers trying to make a go of it in today’s publishing world because they are so pressured to spend time Tweeting and Facebooking, for example, that it takes time away from their craft. Franzen is especially irked by Twitter, telling all those who gathered for a talk of his at Tulane University in 2012:

“Twitter is unspeakably irritating. Twitter stands for everything I oppose. It’s hard to cite facts or create an argument in 140 characters … It’s like if Kafka had decided to make a video semaphoring The Metamorphosis. Or it’s like writing a novel without the letter ‘P’… It’s the ultimate irresponsible medium. People I care about are readers … particularly serious readers and writers, these are my people. And we do not like to yak about ourselves.”

Ultimately, I think Ms. Kauffman would agree with Franzen when she ends her Publishers Weekly piece by stating:

“For me, the best way to work, the only way to work, really, is to create a space for myself in which the reader’s perception of me (as a person) does not exist. It’s only after I have squashed down all awareness of myself that I’m able to access another world and explore it freely and truthfully.”

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