Friday, May 31, 2013

Book of the Month Review: The Great Gatsby

It's the end of our first month, and I've fallen just a bit behind in my posting about The Great Gatsby. So to get us back on track, this post will pull together my thoughts about the book, and specifically about some of the questions I posed for you think about earlier this month.

Do you sympathize with any of the characters?
I love the story, but oddly enough don't like many of the characters. If there's anyone that I sympathize with it's George Wilson. He's the only person who isn't trying to manipulate or use anyone else. At least not so much that we can see it. He loses everything at the end, all because of the boredom and carelessness of the other characters.

Is there anyone you just don't like?
For me this is an easy one. I don't like Tom, but I do find him to be one of the more honest characters. He's not trying to be anything that he isn't, but there's nothing really redeeming in who he is.

I also don't like Nick. I find him to be an oddly detached hanger on to the world that exists around and between Daisy and Gatsby. He's close, but not really a part of it, just somewhere on the fringes. I think his apathy towards most of what happens around him makes him an interesting narrator, but not someone I'd want to have at one of my parties. Nothing seems to hold much lasting impact for him.

Since we're only seeing things from Nick's point of view, it's really his opinion of Gatsby that we see. On a few occasions, Nick chooses to ignore inconsistencies in Gatsby's story about his past and how he accumulated his money. It seems like Nick wants Gatsby to be "great" as the title implies. How do you see him?
I tend to read this story and see the dreamer in Gatsby. The relentless hope for something bigger and better than what he has, that ultimately drives him to his end. I don't know if that makes hime great as the title implies, but it does at times make him seem larger than life. I think it's more about the aura that he has created and some of the rumors that exist about his past and how he obtained his wealth. Maybe he even created some of those rumors. It's like Nick says at one point "some time before he introduced himself I'd got a strong impression that he was picking his words with care."

Are Gatsby and Tom more similar than they realize?
I tend to think so. I think they're almost two sides of the same coin. Part of me thinks that's what seems to scare Daisy when they're all in the hotel room at the Plaza. I want Gatsby to be the more geuine of the two, but I'm not sure that he really is. In their own ways they each love Dasiy more for what she represents than for who she actually is. It's all a competition for status and power, and of course as many people more educated on the topic than I am have pointed out, Fitzgerald's commentary on the flaws in the American Dream.

What does Daisy really want? Will she ever be able to get what she wants?
I don't think Daisy knows what she wants, at least not completely. I think she wants to be the center of someone's world and Gatsby offers her that feeling. I also think that most of reality is too harsh for Daisy. Not to imply that she's a delicate flower who needs to be protected from the cruel reality of life that surrounds her, but that she has created an existence so far removed from that reality that she's made herself incapable of dealing with it. Her life has become a series of movements from one escape to another.

What about Gatsby's obsession with recreating the past. Is it possible? Is there a spot in your own past that you'd go back to?
I don't think you can recreate the past. If you could, I don't know that I'd want to. There are places I'd like to visit again, and things I've done once that I'd like to do another time, but nothing that makes me wish I could go back in time. Moreso I want to see those places and have those experiences now to see if they've changed either on their own or as a result of the changes that have taken place and altered my perspective. This isn't intended to take away the value from the happy memories we all have, I think those are really important for a variety of reasons. But I think at a certain point, and certianly it got to this point for Gatsby, memories can turn into fantasy and obsession.

Is anyone in this story ever happy?
Maybe. I think the potential for happiness is all around, but I never get a good sense that anyone grabs it and holds on to it. I think most of characters are satisfied in some way or another, but that satisfaction isn't truly happiness so much as it's acceptance and tolerance of current circumstances.

The Great Gatsby- Champagne Cocktail

There will be a longer post next week with my thoughts on the book. I'm going to be a bit longer in that review since it's a book of the month. For now, let's just talk about the drink recipe.

The obvious choice was something with champagne. I wanted to use champagne because in my mind as I'm reading the descriptions of the parties at Gatsby's house I keep picturing piles of empy champagne bottles. It's always been a drink that I've associated with celebrations and big occasions, which I think definitely fits in with the atmosphere on West Egg.

There are a variety of options to use with champagne, but I went simple and somewhat traditional with a basic champagne cocktail.

Sugar Cube
Dash of Bitters

I probably had too much bitters in mine to be honest. I got a bit carried away with my dash. It did give the drink a very pretty pinkish color. I also intended on making two of these so I could share one with The Big Guy, but my champagne bottle was only big enough for one glass. Next time, Love. Next time. I did give him a sip though, so he wasn't totally left out. His verdict- too sweet. I can see that- there is an entire sugar cube in the drink after all.

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Great Gatsby- Movie Review

I can't claim to be a movie critic. I can't claim to know much about what makes a movie great as opposed to really entertaining. I can however claim to know what I like, and that's what this post is about. It might go without saying that there are spoilers in this post, but just in case it doesn't- there are spoilers in this post for both the movie and the book.

The Big Guy and I went out to see the new movie adaptation of The Great Gatsby recently. Actually on opening night because he knows how much I love this story. The verdict? Loved it. It's one that I've already mentioned we should own and would be a great gift for me. I'm not very subtle when it comes to those sorts of hints. We didn't see it in 3D, mostly because I don't care for 3D, and this wasn't an action or horror movie where I felt like the 3D was going to add anything. Still glad we made that choice.

Visually, I found the movie stunning. The depiction of the parties and the differences between East and West Egg and the valley of ashes was amazing. The stark contrast among the locations and the people within them was really well executed. I loved the effects while everyone was driving, it was definitely dizzying, which I think was perfect for those scenes. The extravagance of Gatsby's parties and the pure excess of everything that goes on at his place was amazing. The music was great, not as period-specific as it could have been, but a really good compliment to all that was happening on screen. Probably going to be downloading it this week.

I did have a few problems with the movie and the interpretation that Baz Luhrman and team provided. First, if you're looking for an exact replica of the novel, just on the big screen, it's not this one. First, this is not a love story. Gatsby and Daisy are not a pair of star-crossed lovers who have been kept apart by a cruel universe. He's in love with all that she represents that he'll never have, and she's bored. That's cynical I know, but if you really look at each character, it's true.

Second, what happened to the Tom and Myrtle story? Myrtle was barely present which diminishes the tragedy around her death. I wanted to see more of her. Tom was far too sympathetic in this movie. I almost felt bad for him, which I don't want to do. He's careless and selfish and truly the "hulking brute" that Daisy accuses him of being in their opening scene. But you miss that aspect of his character in this. He's too polished, he's too invested in the possibility of losing Daisy. He knows she'll never leave, and neither will he. They belong together. They have this carefully crafted existence where other people are of no real consequence and they insulate themselves from everything that is inconvenient or uncomfortable, which is most of reality. It's like at the end when you see Daisy reaching for the phone like she might call Gatsby, like she wants that final moment of connection so that she can move on. She doesn't. She's already moved on to whatever Tom decided would be next.

Third, I really didn't care for the way they changed things around Nick. Making him a writer and an alcoholic just wasn't necessary. (I kind of assume that almost everyone in the story is an alcoholic to some extent.) We get that he's the one telling the story, we get that he's the one doing the voice overs. You don't have to show him to me at a type writer for me to understand that. It weakened his position in the story. He's a hanger on, he doesn't really care about the people he's with aside from the entertainment they provide, and to imply that he was so affected by Gatsby that he's been driven to a sanitarium is just too much. Some of this may be that Tobey Maguire is just too wide eyed and innocent to play this role with the apathy I think it needs.

Having listed off the main things that I didn't like, the one thing done differently in this movie that I absolutely loved, was Leonardo DiCaprio's performance. For most of the movie I was comparing his Gatsby to Robert Redford's Gatsby. (I recently re-watched the version with Redford and Mia Farrow.) Redford was all suave and polish, DiCaprio had a few cracks and those cracks got bigger as the movie went on. There was an excited, frenetic energy to his portrayal that made you think he was on the edge of a complete collapse at any moment. Then he does collapse and it's like everything about his image, his facade comes crashing down around him. In that moment you get to see that he and Tom are two sides of the same coin. He's already lost Daisy at that point, but his outburst is still shocking.

The Big Guy thought there was too much that actually showed Gatsby as a criminal rather than leaving it up to you as the viewer to put together, but I liked that. I thought it supported the way DiCaprio presented the character. He was under so much pressure, from himself as well as these outside sources, that he wasn't going to be capable of standing up forever under it all. He was frayed at the very beginning and he slowly comes more and more unravelled. It's like the scene at the Plaza towards the end where he tries to straighten his pink jacket and tuck his hair back into place- once you've seen it out of place it never goes quite back to where it was or where you think it should be. Just like how the truth about Gatsby eventually comes out and you can never get quite back to what you first thought of him when you thought he was just a millionaire playboy.

Overall I thought it was a beautiful movie, and one that I will definitely watch again. A few of the things I didn't like stood out to me because I'd just finished the book a few days before. I'm sure that if I give it enough time those things won't be nearly as obvious as they are right now. Like any book to movie adaptation there are going to be changes, changes that make the story more entertaining or more accessible to a wider audience, and in some cases a different audience than those who read the book. For all its flaws, this one was well done, and absolutely lived up to and exceeded my expectations in a few areas.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Sex and the City- The Cosmopolitan

In keeping with our book-to-movie-theme for the month, I'm pulling out a book that inspired not one but two movies, a successful TV show and put one of my go-to drinks while I was in college on the map for most single girls in America. Yup- Candace Bushnell's Sex and the City.

This is one of the rare occasions where I can't say that I liked the book more. I'm a long time fan of the TV show, and actually watched it first before reading the book. That might have been part of the issue that I had with the book. I was looking for the same sort of filled in characters that I was used to seeing on the show- not perfect, a little predictable, but full characters. That's just not what I got with the book. I think the things that those of us who watched the show and then the movies were drawn to didn't come across the same way.

I wanted to like it, I really did. I think there's a part of most of us that wanted to be like Carrie. Not be her exactly, but to be caught up in that unique excitement that only seems to exist in New York City. In the show and the movie, her flaws make her likable, while in the book I just found her to be shallow, as were most of the other people in the book. Having said that, I will always covet Carrie's shoe collection. Until I can completely kick the Big Guy out of our closet and claim it as my own, that type of shoe haven will just have to remain a Manolo and Prada filled day dream.

For the drink portion of this review, I did a slight twist on the traditional Cosmo. We have some friends who have infused their own vodka. We have a bottle of the cranberry-orange infusion which I thought would tie in well with this recipe. It's a great way to get a little added flavor into what you're drinking. I realize that not all of you are lucky enough to have friends who will you give you gifts like this, so feel free to experiment with whatever flavored vodka you have on hand. For this recipe, I recommend sticking to a citrus or berry flavor.

Brie's Cosmopolitan
1 oz orange cranberry vodka
Dash of lemon juice
Cranberry juice to fill the rest of the shaker

Combine ingredients, shake over ice, pour into a martini glass and enjoy!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Reading Guide: The Great Gatsby

For our Book of the Month, The Great Gatsby, I want to avoid anything that is directly stolen from my high school English class. There are a lot of metaphors, a lot of symbols, and just as many if not more ways to interpret those. (No questions about the green light here- although I'll probably mention it in my review.) That's one of the things I like most about the book- you can really find what speaks to you.

It's the same thing I like about art- no two people will view a piece in exactly the same way. Your experiences and preferences will color the way you see things and influence what resonates with you. Books are just like that for me.

Keeping that in mind, I've compiled the following questions for your consideration while you read.
  • Do you sympathize with any of the characters? Is there anyone you just don't like?
  • Since we're only seeing things from Nick's point of view, it's really his opinion of Gatsby that we see. On a few occasions, Nick chooses to ignore inconsistencies in Gatsby's story about his past and how he accumulated his money. It seems like Nick wants Gatsby to be "great" as the title implies. How do you see him?
  • Are Gatsby and Tom more similar than they realize?
  • What does Daisy really want? Will she ever be able to get what she wants?
  • What about Gatsby's obsession with recreating the past. Is it possible? Is there a spot in your own past that you'd go back to?
  • Is anyone in this story ever happy?
Along with the questions, there are several themes that come up in reviews and introductions to the book. Things like the American dream, revenge, envy, ill treatment of people, class structure, social values. Those are the things I was thinking about while I was reading the book.

Enjoy your reading!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Chocolat- Chocolate Chili Blueberry Martini

I first picked up a copy of this book after reading something else by the author and quickly found myself caught up in the world that exists in what had been a sleepy little town. I loved the author's descriptions of the places and the characters and wanted to be a part of their world.

As much as the book is about chocolate, it's also about progress and changes in relationships. We all have certain expectations that we feel we must live up to, whether they are self imposed or those placed on us by society.The characters grow in ways that they never expected or in some cases even thought possible. It's not always easy and there's much to be done in the way of breaking through prejudices and breaking down the walls that have been built up over little hurts that were allowed to grow into bigger more destructive instances.

I liked the way the movie translated those changes. You can see the town becoming more colorful and alive, and not just because of the seasonal transition. The people seem brighter, because they are happier.

It's been a few years and I actually marked a few phrases/passages that stood out to me while I was reading. (I write in my books. Not all the time, but often enough that you shouldn't be surprised to see if it you borrow a book from my shelves.) Here are a few of those.

This is one dream I mean to cling to.

For a second her face is naked in its love, hope, pride.

A good month, March, with February blowing out of the back door and spring waiting at the front. A good month for change.

"I could do with a bit more excess. From now on I'm going to be immoderate- and volatile- I shall enjoy loud music and lurid poetry. I shall be rampant," she declared with satisfaction.

I made a dessert style martini to go with this book. Anything that wasn't chocolatey and a bit decadent just wouldn't have fit. We happened to have some chocolate-chili liqueur, and it seemed like the perfect tie to the chocolate Vianne makes in her shop. I tempered the heat a bit with some blueberry flavoring and some cream. I'm going to have to make this one again! Even the Big Guy (my husband) liked it.

Chocolate Chili Blueberry Martini
1 part blueberry vodka
2 parts chocolate chili liqueur
Cream to taste

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Breakfast at Tiffany's- Iced Coffee with Amaretto

Thinking about other books to review this month, I decided to do a look at books that have been made into movies since that was one of the main reasons I chose Gatsby. In most cases I try to read the book first, but that doesn't always happen- especially with older movies. Case in point is one of my favorite movies- Breakfast at Tiffany's.

I remember watching it with my mom and being completely swept ay by Audrey Hepburn and how glamorous she was. I loved the way she made a sleep mask and earplugs look like high fashion. I kind of wanted to find a bath tub that I could cut in half and fill with pillows to use as furniture. Not sure I want to do that any more, it wouldn't really fit with our decor,and it probably wouldn't be a comfy spot to stretch out and read. That's pretty important to me.

Naturally with those images in my head, I pictured Audrey and George Peppard the whole time I was reading the book, which is probably not fair to either version of the story. Like many book to film adaptations, the story had to be changed in order to be more easily accepted by a wider audience. The book is grittier than the movie, I think that's pretty well established.

Holly Golightly is a fairly polarizing character. You either find her endearing or annoying. For me she's endearing. Yes, she's most likely a hooker, yes she's naive to a point where it's to her detriment, but there's a hopefulness in her character that I appreciate even if to some it comes across as delusional.

If I were to know her or someone like her in real life, she'd probably drive me crazy. In the context of the book however, I feel differently. I find myself getting caught up in her exploits, getting entranced by the idea of gallivanting all over the world and simply reinventing an identity when the current one no longer fits the image you have in your head of who you want to be or who you are becoming. It's the stuff of daydreams, and somehow this character has the ability to make those daydreams real. Is that me being overly idealistic? Maybe, but I feel like that's kind of the point.

Why not search for something better? Why not try to evolve into an improved version of yourself when you have the chance? Semper ad meliora- Always towards better things.

When selecting a drink to go with this novel, I found the most inspiration from the title, and admittedly from the opening scene of the movie where Audrey stands with her coffee and Danish looking into the windows of Tiffany's. It's this moment that perfectly captures that dreamer spirit of hers. The base of the drink is coffee, as I'm sure you would have expected even if you hadn't read the title of this post.

Iced Coffe with Amaretto
Brew some coffee- for this drink I chose French Vanilla
Add ice to a glass, pour coffee over ice
Add 1-2 oz Amaretto
Fill the rest of the way with cream

Had I been thinking about it, I would have waited to stir the drink until after I'd taken the picture. All in all, it came out a little sweeter than you'd expect- which I think is a result of the French vanilla mixing with the almond flavors of the amaretto. Just like Holly- probably not for everyone, but this would work just as well with regular coffee.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

May '13 Book of the Month: The Great Gatsby

This is our first book of the month. This is also the first book we're going to mention on this blog. I have to admit, I felt a fair amount of pressure to pick the right one. Maybe it was unfair pressure since it was all self-imposed, but you know what I mean. I didn't worry too long though, we're going to be talking about a lot of books over time, so we'll have plenty of time to add new titles to our library.

For the month of May we're going to focus on one of my favorite books- The Great Gatsby. It feels like a good time to revisit this classic with the new movie coming out this month as well. Here's what you can expect over the next four weeks.

Week 1: book selection revealed (ta-dah!)
Week 2: discussion questions, things to consider while reading
Week 3: cocktail recipe, menu to be used at book club meeting
Week 4: my review of the book

There will be other posts about other books while the book of the month discussion is going on, just to keep things interesting. If I find some things that tie in with the book of the month I'll post about those as well. Notable events in history, design and art influences, and anything else fun that I come across will find their way here.

This is my copy of the book, and it's one of my favorite additions. I love how glamorous the cover design is, and how it perfectly captures the Art Deco style of the time. It's part of what I'm excited for with the movie as well. I have high hopes for what Baz Luhrman can do with the opulence and excess.