Sunday, November 24, 2013

This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald

This Side of Paradise was the debut novel of acclaimed American author F. Scott Fitzgerald. The story follows the young Amory Blaine, born into the upper-class and raised by a highly cultured and slightly eccentric mother, Beatrice. From prep school to Princeton to New York City, Amory is in a struggle to find himself, to discover who the "fundamental Amory" truly is. 

I hadn't read any of F. Scott Fitzgerald's works before this, but from this book I got a very strong impression of who Fitzgerald is as a writer, and as a person as well. Amory Blaine seems to be an almost auto-biographical character of the writer himself: his insights and feelings are too intimate and specific to be imagined. 
The beginning of the book, chronicling Amory's elementary and teen years, was quite reminiscent of The Catcher in The Rye, which I also read this year. The idea of a youth, in some ways rebellious, thinking himself different from everyone, sent away to prep school with a stint in New York City- there were many similarities to be seen. However, as I got more into the book the differences started appearing, developing Amory as his own independent character. I got many gasps and shocked expressions when I told my friends that I did not identify with Holden from Salinger's book. However, Amory Blaine was a character I strongly connected with. He was this illusion that he was different, somehow, from everyone else. Better. This led him to being very vain, as he was well aware of, and this trait carried with him throughout the book. Despite this vanity, though, he didn't have too much a sense of who he was, and he was sensitive to other's criticisms. He let many things affect him, and change who he was, and he was in the habit of putting on "poses", acting like who he wanted to be. I admired this about his character, that he was aware of what he was doing quite a bit of the time. I think most people act like who they want to be, or how they feel they should in different contexts, so at the end of the day we seldom, if never, actually act like ourselves.

An aspect of Fitzgerald's writing that appreciate, although much of it went over my head, is how educated his storytelling is. He makes many allusions to writers and philosophers, many of whom I don't recognize, but you can tell he is very well read, and this trait carries over to Amory. At first Amory's reading is introduced as part of a pose- he feels it's cultured to read deep books. And don't so many of us do this, though? Why did I even read this book in the first place? It's because it's a classic, and to a certain degree I feel special, or educated, or better than others by saying that I'm reading Fitzgerald. Of course it's not something that I'm proud of, and so I don't truly acknowledge it, but that's the thing about this book; it acknowledges truths and feelings that we hide from because they're distasteful. Amory acknowledges these things in himself, which is a little ironic considering he feels like he doesn't really know himself for most of the book. But back to his reading career, he soon becomes more and more involved in books and poets, and it stops being for the benefit of his image and becomes simply for himself. He starts writing, and thinking about ideas. This was the point where I really began to see myself in Amory's character. One of my favorite quotes was ," He was proud of the fact that he could never become a mechanical or scientific genius." I mean, that sounds pretty pretentious, right? And yet without letting myself be truly aware of it, that's how I've felt quite a bit of the time. Later Amory says to his friend, "I'm in a superior class. You are, too. We're philosophers." That was the quote that really cemented my love for this book, and for Amory as a character. Fitzgerald pinpoints that superiority that writers and philosophers and thinkers feel, combined with the inadequacy that is inherent in those types of people simultaneously, or, at least for me. 

My favorite part of the novel was book one, where Amory is in prep school, and mainly, Princeton. It's the period where he experiments most with who he is and who he could be, and is surrounded by interesting individuals. The thing I like about Amory is his lack of motivation to achieve. He floats, and he doesn't live to get somewhere, he just lives for living, and he thinks, and he's subject to moods and whims and bursts of interest, all of which he takes in stride. At Princeton he did want to be class president, but when it came down to it, to really having to do something he didn't want to to achieve his goal, he gave it up. His friend told him, "You're a literary genius. It's up to you." to which Amory replied, " I wonder if I could be. I honestly think so sometimes. That sounds like the devil, and I wouldn't say it to anyone except you." It's interesting to consider that Fitzgerald may have been modeling much of this off of himself, that he was writing this book and put that in there because he thought it about what he was writing- he knew it was good but he couldn't say it outright, so he had his character say it for him.

After book one a lot of my interest for the novel waned. I knew from the start that there would be a lot of focus on love in the book because, well, the main character's name was AMORy, but the parts when Amory was in love tended to be my least favorite: they were the parts where I felt most distance from Amory. Maybe Fitzgerald meant for that to happen, because when Amory was in love he wasn't as in touch with himself. There was a part in the book that was written as a play, where Amory was in love with a girl Rosalind, and I liked this technique- it made the lovers seem like actors in a play. This was contrasted with Amory's next love, where everything was written in poetry and beautiful descriptions, like some kind of eloquent dream. Although I wasn't really as interested in the ideas of love in the book as in some other things, I did like how Amory tended to not be in love with actual people, but rather what he projected of himself onto them. This supported his persona of vanity and egotism. And I really do admire Fitzgerald's representation of the women in the story. There was not one weak woman character- they all were interesting and knew what they wanted, didn't fold to love like women in stories so often do. Fitzgerald saw the unfairness of womens' situations during the time, but instead of simply protest it, he made his women take advantage of it. No, they didn't like that they had to get married, but they didn't simply rebel and say they were in love. They understood love, but they saw the importance of marriage and money for them, and put themselves first above everything. 
Fitzgerald expresses a lot of views on class and money, greed, social systems, but personally I'm not so interested in those things, which was one of the only downsides to me. 

The writing style in the book was so beautiful- the F. Scott has a way with words where he can describe things in fresh new ways, clever ways, that show them in a light you had never seen them in before. I liked how much poetry was in the book- it was beautiful and added to the feel of the story. A complaint would be how much he jumps around- from place to place and time to time without so much transition or context, so that sometimes I got a little lost. But overall it was a very good book, and I can't wait to read more Fitzgerald's works. 

Some of my favorite quotes:

"They slipped briskly into an intimacy from which they never recovered."

"The great tapestries of trees had darkened to ghosts back at the last edge of twilight. The early moon had drenched the arches with pale blue, and, weaving over the night, in and out of the gossamer rifts of the moon, swept a song, a song with more than a hint of sadness, infinitely transient, infinitely regretful."

"'I was born one,' Amory murmured. 'I'm a cynical idealist." He paused and wondered if that meant anything."

"'I'll never be a poet,' said Amory as he finished. ' I'm not enough of a sensualist really; there are only a few obvious things that I notice as primarily beautiful: women, spring evenings, music at night, the sea; I don't catch the subtle things like 'silver snarling trumpets' . I may turn out an intellectual, but I'll never write anything but mediocre poetry.'"

"You'd sniffled through an era's must,
Filling your nostrils up with dust,
And then, arising from your knees,
Published, in one gigantic sneeze..."

"People unconsciously admit it,' said Amory. 'You'll notice a blonde person is expected to talk. If a blonde girl doesn't talk we call her a doll. If a light haired man is silent he's considered stupid. Yet the world is full of 'dark silent men' and 'languorous brunettes' who haven't a brain in their heads, but somehow are never accused of the dearth."

"And he must have remarked patronizingly how different he was from Eve, forgetting how different she was from him..."

"His judgement walked off to prison with the unconfined imp, imagination, dancing in mocking glee beside him."

"If we could only learn to look on evil as evil, whether it's clothed in filth or monotony or magnificence."

"SHE: You're not sentimental?
HE: No, I'm a romantic- a sentimental person thinks things will last- a romantic person hopes against hope that they won't."

"He wanted people to like his mind again- after awhile it might be such a nice place in which to live."

"'Then you don't think there will be any more permanent world heroes?'
'Yes-in history- not in life"

"The man in the street heard the conclusions of dead genius through someone else's clever paradoxes and didactic epigrams."

"'I know myself,' he cried, 'but that is all.''" 

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Dead Poets Society (1989)

Painfully shy Todd Anderson has been sent to the school where his popular older brother was valedictorian. His room-mate, Neil, although exceedingly bright and popular, is very much under the thumb of his overbearing father. The two, along with their other friends, meet Professor Keating, their new English teacher, who tells them of the Dead Poets Society, and encourages them to go against the status quo. Each, in their own way, does this, and are changed for life.
(Liz Jordan)

The impression I got from this film was in one word: romance. Not the sort of romance in cheap novels or sappy movies; no, the sort of romance one gets with ideas and dreams. The setting is one that I'm known to have a weakness for: prep school. The film was a profusion of plaids and cable-knits, old wood and white-washed walls. There wasn't much to be said for the cinematography or style of the movie- it was more centered around the plot, but the plot was compelling. It was so inspiring to see a teacher come in and inspire students, to see them want to read poetry and actually be passionate about things and speak seriously about their ideas. It made me yearn for a "dead poet's society" at my school, for people with whom I could recite poetry and discuss ideas, be passionate about beliefs with, because there is a large part inside of me that wants to do that. I suspect there is a large part like that in many people, yet the problem is that none of us show it, preoccupied as we are with maintaining the superficiality that keeps everything passively pleasant in our social lives. I'll say that the ending of the film came as a bit of a shock to me: I won't give spoilers but the ending kept the film from being too cheesy and inspirational. I don't have too much to say- although some of the ideas were inspiring in the movie, there wasn't too much I really connected with, or that made the movie stand out. I feel like this idea has been done in the past, and has been done again- teaching the younger generation that there is rebellion in free thought. Watching Dead Poets Society brought to mind the movie Les Choristes, which follows the same sort of storyline, except with a music teacher and set in France. I much preferred Les Choristes to this: it was much more atmospheric and the soundtrack lent an air of beauty that wasn't there in this movie. 

2.5/5 stars

As a last note, something I was sort of annoyed by was how the ideas were just outright stated by the characters rather than illustrated in the story- it almost seemed like cheating to me. It's my belief that in movies the ideas should be shown rather than told; it makes them that much more potent. It just seems lazy to have a character say everything.

If you liked this movie you should watch Les Choristes.

Monday, November 11, 2013


Her life was like a watercolor painting.
Everything running and bleeding into eachother,
No straight lines.
A quiet rebellion in the flow and blend,
The refusal to stay where put.
You got the sense upon meeting her she didn't much know where she was going,
And she didn't much care either,
Because she trusted that in life,
Like in art,
Like in a watercolor painting,
There are never truly mistakes.

Fall snapshot

It's after midnight and I have school tomorrow, but I made the exceedingly wise decision of drinking a full huge bottle of dark black tea from trader Joes, so I'm up whether I like it or not. Some updates on my life:
-I'm auditioning for the regional band day after tomorrow and Ive only looked at half the audition piece, so at this point I'm just going to wing it. First concertino in e flat? More like... the sax riff from thrift shop. Yeahhhh....
-all As on my first semester!! Savoring the feeling while it lasts.
-I have one hundred percent made up my mind that bard college in Annandale on Hudson is the promised land and that I will attend even if I have to sacrifice my firstborn. I ordered the book that bards president, Leon botstein, wrote (Jefferson's children) and I cannot WAIT for it to arrive.
-I'm sad because I haven't posted any reviews recently (sorry for the excess of art) but I will get back to that asap.

Anyways, I found these pictures in my phone-- I took them a couple weeks ago when the weather was still temperate enough to go walking around town. Autumn is my favorite season hands down. The colors are so beautiful and vibrant and you get to wear sweaters and it has an air of creativity and studiousness about it. What I really like though is that the whole season is a celebration of sorts. You have these fall foods and this happy fall feeling, like the whole season you're rejoicing just because. I hate holidays where theres so much suspense, and then the actual day is anti-climactic because you've built up so much to it(christmas, im looking at you)

Theres also a dark irony in fall though-when you think about it, its a season of death, and yet we consider it one of the most beautiful times of the year. It's like nature is putting everything it has, all of its beauty and life, out there in one big finale before its all frozen and dies.

So ill try to do some actual posts soon, and sorry for the lack of punctuation and overall legibility of this post- I'm writing on my phone and my thumbs are disproportional to the keypad.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Color Studies

In art class we had to do color studies for 
-colors we like
-colors we dislike
-four moods/feelings/emotions

I had to do the last four at home because I'm a slow poke when it comes to art. (did I really just say slow poke..)

The top one is writer's block- I don't know if that counts as an emotion.... I used guache paints for all of these and for the top one I used makeup sponges. The on below is inspiration/inspired. I tried to contrast them, because the writer's block is very dry and not going anywhere, while the inspiration is all flowing and running together to create new things, etc.

This one summed up in one word is sleepiness, but what I was really thinking of was when you wake up but you're still in a deep sleep and sleep keeps dragging you back down, and reality and dreams start blurring together. 

The last one is loneliness-- it was kind of an eh because I couldn't come up with another emotion that I wanted to paint, but I'm fine with this.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

End of Semester Sketchbook Dump

I take art at my school and aside from our projects we have to do weekly sketchbook assignments focusing on still life and cross-hatching. These are some from first semester.


I'm looking for some good writing competitions to submit to-- if anyone knows of any leave a comment below!

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