Tuesday, June 25, 2013

J.R. Moehringer - Sutton

There are few things in this world that make me happier than walking through Barnes & Noble with no set goal in mind. Usually when I go book shopping, it's "Okay, let's hurry and get to the Mysteries section. No, don't check out the special edition classics, you don't need five copies of Pride & Prejudice. Oh, and don't you dare even THINK about going near that Buy One, Get One 50% table..."

But there are a few days a year I allow myself to meander and browse for purchases. One such day was the day this past school year that one of my more... hmm, how to phrase this... quick-fingered students made off with my iPhone. I was distraught. Not because my phone was gone, but because I always thought I was one of the teachers the students actually LIKED (which I was assured I was once word spread that someone took it). I trusted my students, and I take it personally when my trust is betrayed like that. So I needed that retail therapy... specifically I needed that literary retail therapy.

I picked up Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence, because I'd been dying to read it. And while randomly wandering away from the W's, the cover pictured above grabbed my attention and forced me to pick it up. Once I started reading, I quickly realized that the book itself was just as good as its cover.

This novel is a fictional account of Willie Sutton, a real life bank robber. You've all heard of Al Capone. Willie Sutton was friends with him and even took some notes from the notorious thief. This novel travels back and forth between the events that led to Sutton's arrest(s) and his retelling of his life's work to two reporters. Moehringer gives Sutton a voice that is only too suited to a 1920's wise guy. Sutton details his crimes, his motives, and most importantly his love for a very special woman. It's a truly entertaining read. But what makes it better is that it is based off of a real person. Willie Sutton really lived, really robbed, and really loved. I highly recommend this underrated book. It's a great palate cleanser if you're coming off of a hefty classic (I'd just finished the previously mentioned Wharton novel) or if you're looking for the not so typical beach read.

Diagnosis: It's a quick read, but it's a quality read.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Therese Anne Fowler - Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald

When beautiful, reckless Southern belle Zelda Sayre meets F. Scott Fitzgerald at a country club dance in 1918, she is seventeen years old and he is a young army lieutenant stationed in Alabama. Before long, the “ungettable” Zelda has fallen for him despite his unsuitability: Scott isn’t wealthy or prominent or even a Southerner, and keeps insisting, absurdly, that his writing will bring him both fortune and fame. Her father is deeply unimpressed. But after Scott sells his first novel, This Side of Paradise, to Scribner’s, Zelda optimistically boards a train north, to marry him in the vestry of St. Patrick’s Cathedral and take the rest as it comes.
What comes, here at the dawn of the Jazz Age, is unimagined attention and success and celebrity that will make Scott and Zelda legends in their own time. Everyone wants to meet the dashing young author of the scandalous novel—and his witty, perhaps even more scandalous wife. Zelda bobs her hair, adopts daring new fashions, and revels in this wild new world. Each place they go becomes a playground: New York City, Long Island, Hollywood, Paris, and the French Riviera—where they join the endless party of the glamorous, sometimes doomed Lost Generation that includes Ernest Hemingway, Sara and Gerald Murphy, and Gertrude Stein.
Everything seems new and possible. Troubles, at first, seem to fade like morning mist. But not even Jay Gatsby’s parties go on forever. Who is Zelda, other than the wife of a famous—sometimes infamous—husband? How can she forge her own identity while fighting her demons and Scott’s, too? With brilliant insight and imagination, Therese Anne Fowler brings us Zelda’s irresistible story as she herself might have told it. (from amazon.com)

Back when I was my students' age in 10th grade honor's English, my English teacher Mrs. Allen assigned us to read The Great Gatsby. I fell in love. I loved everything that Fitzgerald wrote, from the way he developed his characters, to the way he used beautiful language to capture a time in history that I had never before studied. Because I loved Gatsby so much, I learned a little bit about Fitzgerald's life. So I had heard about his "crazy" wife Zelda who tried to bring about his literary downfall... and wasn't too pumped to read a novel in her defense.

When I'm wrong, I'll admit I'm wrong. I was wrong. I LOVED reading a novel in her defense. After reading Fowler's depiction of Zelda and of Scott, it's safe to assume that they brought about each other's downfall. They were two of a kind and wore each other out. Fowler does an excellent job of blending fact and fiction. The glimpses she gives us of other famous celebrities of the time are refreshing and... well, fun. She describes Hemingway's lady-killer attitude, but also hints at a homosexual interest in Scott. There are also delightful cameos by Cole Porter, Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso, etc.

Overall, I would have to say that I truly enjoyed reading this window (albeit fictitious) into the Fitzgeralds' lives. It definitely kicked my Fitzgerald juices into high gear and urged me to finally get around to reading Tender Is The Night, which has been on my reading list since I was 16. So thank you, Ms. Fowler.