Tag Archives: F Scott Fitzgerald

Memorial Day, Eagle Rock Boulevard

When I think of L.A. I think of things that are no longer there.

John Fante’s Bunker Hill boarding house,

The crumpled slips between the wooden seats at Santa Anita racetrack,

Where Bukowski cursed his way through another weekday afternoon.

The marble fireplace where Scott Fitzgerald stood,

In the rented Hollywood home where he tried to recharge his life – and where he lost it.

That strange bright emptiness – a great unease – that Joan Didion lived in and wrote about.

The last is still there, high above Eagle Rock Boulevard, where I walk, remembering.

All of these people wrote, and lived and drank and fought, against it. And for what?

The dust, the heat, the dry air, the lure and the promise and the tiredness, are too great to overcome.

Not that we should stop trying.

—–

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Round the Cape with Ishmael, in a one man tent

FullSizeRenderIn the end Chuck D had the last word.

For the past decade we’ve read of the decline of print and the rise of the e-book. Bookshops would close, paper was dead, the Kindle was king.

It turns out that was wrong. Or, as Public Enemy had it, ‘don’t believe the hype’.

Sales of physical books are back on the rise. According to Waterstones, demand for the e-reader has disappeared.

It seems we’ve entered a brave new world of the post-book book. All those over excited tech predictions appear to have been just that.

After being gifted a Kindle three years ago I assumed I’d grow to love it. I bought e-books, read them, used the clunky notetaking system, even synced it with my iPad so I could wistfully view the covers in colour.

But I never felt it a replacement for a book, piles of which continuing to grow – mysteriously – around our apartment.

It wasn’t just a lifelong habit of reading on the printed page, or of scribbling notes in the margins. Nor was it the feeling of satisfaction in  re-reading sections of a book to catch up, or dip back in.

It wasn’t even the physical book itself.

What kept me returning to print was the feeling of a book as an artefact, an item with a history outside of its pages, an object linked to a time or a place or a state of mind.

FullSizeRenderThe two paperbacks above are each an artefact – my reading, marking, spine-breaking and scratching of both linked to a certain time and place.

My old IR£1 copy of The Great Gatsby has margin notes for an all-but-forgotten American literature course, taken at university almost 20 years ago.

Each time I re-read it (and it’s the book I return to more often than almost any other) I wonder exactly why 18-year-old me bothered to notate that specific passage…

But I refuse to replace it.

My Moby Dick contains marks of a different order, elemental ones that Melville may have favoured more than dry academic scribblings.

Many of the pages are curled and stained by water, after the book somehow spent a wet night outdoors during a camping trip I took to the Adirondacks.

I rounded the Cape of Good Hope with Ishmael as rain and wind blew, in a one-man tent.

My memories of Midnight’s Children are drier, dating back to a beach on the shores of Lake Tahoe, where I spent afternoons of a 90s’ summer recovering from working 12 hour standing shifts at a casino the previous night.

My sun-baked copy may still have sand between the pages. Blame the heat or the slots but, alas, I never finished it. (As with books, no reader is perfect.)

Rushdie’s novel, like my Fitzgerald and Melville, lies fading on a bookshelf. It will be picked up, but rarely. Instead it will remain with the others, shelved, untouched and gathering dust.

Not read, but not replaced by an e-version either. After all, how could they be?

_____

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Here Is New York – in five fragments

Central Park, October 2010. Pic: Cormac Looney

Central Park, October 2010.
Pic: Cormac Looney

It’s long been a habit of mine to read my way to a destination before I actually travel there.

Not using guide books, but novels or poems. And so, over the years I’ve come to associate certain places, cities in particular, with certain writings.

When I think of London it’s the city of Great Expectations, and Pip’s coming of age in the streets and rooms of Newgate, or the eerie East End gothic of Peter Ackroyd’s Hawksmoor.

Likewise Haruki Murakami, whose The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle took me to a surreal, paranoid version of Tokyo in fiction, accompanied me on a visit to Japan earlier this year.

On occasion I haven’t, nor am I every likely to, be in the place I’m reading about. While I’ve visited and revisited the remote Gilf Kebir plateau in the Libyan desert, where Michael Ondaatje set part of The English Patient, I doubt I’ll ever see it in person.

But the literary place that’s mapped clearest in my mind is one I have visited – the city of New York.

Hence my interest the recent Reading American Cities series on the Guardian’s Books blog, specifically the entry on Manhattan.

I agreed with one of the titles recommended as a “literary companion” to the city – The Great Gatsby. But the others, DeLillo’s Underworld and Auster’s The New York Trilogy, while certainly books of the city, weren’t books of my New York.

And so I chose my own – here’s New York in five fragments, from five works.


410uN4RypVLCrossing Brooklyn Ferry, Walt Whitman (1855)

Others will enter the gates of the ferry and cross from shore to shore,
Others will watch the run of the flood-tide,
Others will see the shipping of Manhattan north and west, and the heights of Brooklyn to the south and east,
Others will see the islands large and small;
Fifty years hence, others will see them as they cross, the sun half an hour high,
A hundred years hence, or ever so many hundred years hence, others will see them,
Will enjoy the sunset, the pouring-in of the flood-tide, the falling-back to the sea of the ebb-tide.

 

Gatsby_1925_jacketThe Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925)

Over the great bridge, with the sunlight through the girders making a constant flicker upon the moving cars, with the city rising up across the river in white heaps and sugar lumps all built with a wish out of non-olfactory money. The city seen from the Queensboro Bridge is always the city seen for the first time, in its first wild promise of all the mystery and the beauty in the world.

 


a4afce26-ab10-42c8-9180-0a268a4b78f5-280x420Catcher In The Rye, J.D. Salinger (1951)

I live in New York, and I was thinking about the lagoon in Central Park, down near Central Park South. I was wondering if it would be frozen over when I got home, and if it was, where did the ducks go? I was wondering where the ducks went when the lagoon got all icy and frozen over. I wondered if some guy came in a truck and took them away to a zoo or something. Or if they just flew away.

 


2f656cc7-40b4-4e5a-8917-d2ecdf6e9a01-273x420Netherland, Joseph O’Neill (2008)

 We were sailing on the Staten Island Ferry on a September day’s end…Everybody looked at the Statue of Liberty and at Ellis Island and at the Brooklyn Bridge, but finally, inevitably, everybody looked to Manhattan. The structures clustered at its tip made a warm, familiar crowd, and as their surfaces brightened ever more fiercely with sunlight it was possible to imagine that vertical accumulations of humanity were gathering to greet our arrival.

 

Finally, and despite my misgivings above about guide books, it’s impossible to avoid E.B. White’s classic love letter to his home city.

hereisnewyorkHere Is New York, E.B. White (1949)

The city is like poetry: it compresses all life, all races and breeds, into a small island and adds music and the accompaniment of internal engines. The island of Manhattan is without any doubt the greatest human concentrate on earth, the poem whose magic is comprehensible to millions of permanent residents but whose full meaning will always remain elusive.
_____

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‘You’re worth the whole damn bunch’

Scott Fitzgerald the screenwriter, 1937. Pic: Carl Van Vechten

Scott Fitzgerald the screenwriter, 1937.
Pic: Carl Van Vechten

In December 1940 a hack screenwriter died in the sitting room of his girlfriend’s home in Hollywood.

Alcoholic, in poor health, receiving little credit for his work and dropped from a contact by MGM a year earlier, he would spend his last days working on a draft of an uncompleted novel.

When his body was later taken to Maryland for burial just 20 or so people showed up to his funeral.
—–
The screenwriter, Scott Fitzgerald, had described himself as a ‘hack’ – in his final years at least.

Writing freelance movie scripts was some way from his previous work and promise, which included, in The Great Gatsby, one of the closest realisations of the Great American Novel.

Fast forward 70 years and the latest screen adaptation of the book earned $300m at the box office this year, with $200m more expected in re-runs and DVD sales.

Fitzgerald The Hack made it big in Hollywood after all.
—–

'I shouted across the lawn.' 1443 North Hayworth Avenue, West Hollywood.

‘I shouted across the lawn.’
1443 North Hayworth Avenue, West Hollywood.

This week his ghost was all around.

En route to LA in recent days I watched – and greatly enjoyed – The Great Gatsby. Days later my wife and I found ourselves at a hotel in West Hollywood, minutes from Fitzgerald’s last residence, at 1443 North Hayworth Avenue.

The street’s settled, well-manicured homes are the very opposite of the glare and bustle of nearby Hollywood Boulevard.

Passing the property and aware of the last, ill and unhappy days of one of the greatest writers of the 20th century I couldn’t help but think of Nick Carraway’s lament for the doomed Jay Gatsby.

“They’re a rotten crowd…you’re worth the whole damn bunch put together.”

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The high-bouncing gold-hatted Gatsby?

The veranda of a villa on the island of Capri, October 1924. A man and woman sit side-on to one another, each holding a glass.

‘Another gin?’

‘I am quite drunk. Yes. How about Among Ash-Heaps and Millionaires? It contains both.’

‘No. It requires a title for the ages. No ash-heaps.’

‘On The Road to West Egg?’

‘The road that passes by the ash-heaps? You’re fixated on dust.’

‘I am fixated on the title. It must be good, rather than fair or bad.’

‘I’m sick. I’m in pain. We are supposed to be celebrating. Decide. Please’.

Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald (gin not pictured). Pic: Kenneth Melvin Wright (Minnesota Historical Society)

Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald (gin not pictured).
Pic: Kenneth Melvin Wright (Minnesota Historical Society)

‘The High-Bouncing Lover.’

‘This isn’t one of your short stories. It must be magnificent, memorable. Yesterday it was gold hats. Today it’s bouncing.’

‘Something magnificent then. Under the Red, White and Blue. Remember the flag of light-bulbs in Harbor Hill last year?’

‘I’d forgotten. It must be something memorable. Extravagant. Tremendous.’

‘I had a line about the night when the lights fail at his mansion. His career as Trimalchio ends, I wrote. There’s a title: Trimalchio.’

‘You are drunk.’

‘Too obscure, perhaps. Trimalchio in West Egg?’

‘You can place him where you want. No one will be able to pronounce it. It must be something great.’

[Silence]

‘Another gin?’

‘I am quite drunk. Yes.’

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