You find all sorts of weird stuff in your classroom when you are a teacher. This is my favorite thing ever “left” for me when I taught my high school kids in Oak Cliff. The students were all pretty interested in our David / Marat lesson. Some chose to express their interest in a visual way. I have this framed on my wall now and will keep it forever. Someday I will write an essay on why this is one of my favorite works of art ever made.
As I move on to Book 2 of my 50 book challenge, I have decided this is a good opportunity for early reflection. I’ve read The Great Gatsby before, as many people have. It’s pretty standard public school book list material. But I wanted to put F. Scott Fitzgerald on my list of ten authors, as I’ve never read any of his other works, and it was tough curating five works of his without including this one. Plus, they are making a movie version of it, and I thought it might be nice to have a little refresher before Carey Mulligan has a crack at Daisy Buchanan.
More than any of that, though, I realized when making my list that I remember almost nothing about this book, because I read it my sophomore year of high school, a whopping eighteen years ago (shudder). I remember liking the book. I remember thinking it was full of pathetic, hopelessly flawed characters, my favorite kind. I remember thinking the writing was sexy. But I was 15 and what did I know? Now I reread it at 33 and find out if it can still light a spark in me.
Nick looked on at the moon, coming up over the hills.
“It isn’t fun any more.”
He was afraid to look at Marjorie. Then he looked at her. She sat there with her back toward him. He looked at her back. “It isn’t fun any more. Not any of it.”
She didn’t say anything. He went on. “I feel as though everything was gone to hell inside of me. I don’t know, Marge. I don’t know what to say.”
He looked on at her back.
“Isn’t love any fun?” Marjorie said.
“No,” Nick said. Marjorie stood up. Nick sat there, his head in his hands.
– An excerpt from “The End of Something”
That was published in 1925. It is now 87 years later, and it is still exactly right. That is precisely how it goes down when one person no longer loves someone they once thought they did. I know, because I have been on both sides of that conversation. In its most recent appearance in my life, I am heartbreak’s Marjorie. That is what prompted this task of reading 50 classic works of American literature in a year. My heart is broken and it needs a distraction. I want to get lost in a world outside of my own.
The challenge: read 50 works in 2012, 5 each by 10 authors.
William Faulkner - The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying, Absolom! Absolom!, Light in August, Go Down Moses
F. Scott Fitzgerald – The Great Gatsby, Tender is the Night, This Side of Paradise, The Beautiful and the Damned, The Crack Up
Ernest Hemingway – In Our Time, For Whom the Bell Tolls, A Moveable Feast, Garden of Eden, Across the River and Into the Trees
Toni Morrison - The Bluest Eye, Sula, Song of Solomon, Jazz, A Mercy
John Steinbeck – Cannery Row, East of Eden, The Winter of Our Discontent, The Red Pony, Travels With Charley
John Updike – Rabbit Run, The Centaur, The Coup, Roger’s Version, In the Beauty of the Lilies
Kurt Vonnegut – Slaughterhouse 5, Cat’s Cradle, Breakfast of Champions, God Bless You Mr. Rosewater, The Sirens of Titan
David Foster Wallace – Infinite Jest, The Pale King, Brief Interviews With Hideous Men, Girl With Curious Hair, The Broom of the System
Tennessee Williams – Battle of Angels, The Glass Menagerie, A Streetcar Named Desire, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Orpheus Descending
August Wilson – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, Two Trains Running, Seven Guitars, Gem of the Ocean
On Halloween night in Las Vegas, my mother and sister jokingly sat down at a street fair psychic and had their fortunes read. The psychic led off with, “2011 has been a bad year for your family.” It was one of the worst. There were multiple deaths in the family, some inevitable but one of them violent and completely unexpected. My father was forced into early retirement from his military job, leaving him and my mother without health insurance. I lost my job, leaving me in a similar position. I have struggled financially for six months. My brother’s poker dealer tournament gigs didn’t show up this year, because no one showed up in Vegas to play. My sister struggled to be in love in the military, with someone else in the military, and the two of them have now been stationed a world apart. I was left by man I was in love with. And while I know that it is a normal part of life, it doesn’t make it hurt less.
This morning I decided to start off my 2012 by going on a diet, trying to lose a few pounds. I figured I should hop on the scale and see where I was starting from. I was surprised to find I am 5 pounds smaller than the last time I checked. I am going to assume those mystery 5 pounds were the weight of 2011 dragging me down. Onward I go.