The new Gatsby movie is my favorite movie of all time! And I haven’t even seen it yet

The big day is finally almost here!

You know, the one that every little girl spends her whole life dreaming about and planning.

No, the Boyfriend didn’t propose (much to my mother and his aunt’s dismay—both are starting to talk about retiring and I’m terrified that the combination of two out-of-work yentas will result in my being forced into a giant white puffy dress and hustled down the aisle. And that’s the BEST case scenario, in which there isn’t a Rosemary’s Baby-style, drugged up impregnation attempt to force me to bear them some grandchildren/great nieces and nephews before I’m ready).

I’m talking, of course, about the release of the new Great Gatsby movie!

Yes, I’m the girl who spends hours fantasizing about how amazing that will be. Who needs a wedding when you have Leo in an F. Scott Fitzgerald masterpiece?

 (Okay, okay, yes my new dream wedding is no longer Rabbi Elvis in Vegas.  Thank you, BuzzFeed. http://www.buzzfeed.com/peggy/how-to-throw-the-ultimate-great-gatsby-inspired-wedding )

Yes, I’m an English nerd. But that doesn’t change the fact that this is already my favorite movie and it isn’t even out yet.

Why?

Oh, if you have to ask that, you have no idea what you’re missing!

First of all, The Great Gatsby is easily one of the greatest novels ever written. It’s not my ALL-TIME favorite (nothing will ever quite displace Gone With the Wind. It was my first adult novel, my first love, and will always hold that special place in my heart. And yes, it was the theme of my bat mitzvah. English nerds for life, yo!), but it’s easily number two.

It’s just one of those perfect books. Perfect prose. A perfectly tragic story. Perfectly flawed characters. And the most perfect part of all is how well it captures the modern mentality of life today, nearly ninety years after it was written. I would argue that of all the English canon, it is the one that best transcends the gap between when it was written and life today.

 Yes, Romeo and Juliet captures the teenage angst of first love well (and the way too dramatic suicidal tendencies of bratty teenagers who are denied everything their little hearts desire), and Pride and Prejudice aptly portrays the desperation of my mother—I mean A mother—to marry off her aging daughters. (Don’t hurt me mommy, I love you!) But nothing, and I mean nothing, captures the desperate ennui of finding yourself a third of the way through your life with nothing to show for it but a hollow marriage and a desire to recapture the youth that seems to have vanished overnight the way that Gatsby does.

Not to call anybody out, but I look at some of my friends and see the marriage between Tom and Daisy. I see the Jordan Bakers, floating through life without bothering to worry about anyone else. I see the Myrtle Wilsons, thinking that an unavailable man can rescue them, not able to see that he wants nothing more than the physical. And I see the Gatsbys, wanting nothing more than to grasp that green light, only to find that it has no substance to it. And I’ve been those characters at different stages of my life as well. I may not live on Long Island or have money to burn (damn teacher’s salary!), and it may not be prohibition, but I still find myself, each time I reread Gatsby, nodding to myself and thinking, “That’s my life. Right there. That line.” And any novel that can accomplish that NEARLY A CENTURY after its publication amazes me.

But I’m not here to talk about the book.

I’m here to talk about how freaking unbelievably awesome this movie that I haven’t seen yet is.

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Because oh my God, is it going to be great!

First of all, we’ve got Baz Luhrmann. Okay, as a teenager, I thought that his version of Romeo and Juliet was the second coming (first coming? I’m Jewish after all…). There was nothing better until Leo boarded the Titanic. But that same insanely driven over-the-top energy that he poured into Romeo and Juliet and later Moulin Rouge is EXACTLY what the story of Gatsby needs. Gatsby isn’t the cool, filmed-through-gauze world of Robert Redford and Mia Farrow (god how I hate that movie!). No! It’s the lush, colorful flapper days of the Roaring ’20s, and Baz Luhrmann is the filmmaker best prepared to present that story.

Then, of course, there’s Leo. I won’t go into too much drool-inducing detail about why he’ll be so spectacular in the role (mostly because I still want the Boyfriend to take me to see the movie opening night and he already hates Leo because I expressed my belief that Leo and I would have beautiful babies), so I’ll just show you some stills from the movie instead.

I feel that proved my point adequately. Even in Nick Carraway’s initial description of him, he’s described as there being “something gorgeous about him.” Who better to play that part than Leo?

No one, that’s who!

But now, because I still have a week to kill before the movie comes out, it’s time to plan the premiere.

First of all, I need to dress the part. I wanted to go in full flapper regalia, but the Boyfriend refused to dress in a ’20s style suit to match, so I’d look silly. Instead, I’m planning to just wear the flapper style headband with an ostrich feather with my normal clothes. Don’t laugh, I already bought one! But I decided against the cigarette holder (which I already had, from my Holly Golightly Halloween costume. We brunettes need someone OTHER than Dorothy to go as for Halloween you know!) because I don’t smoke and it just looks stupid without a real cigarette in it.

Next, I need to find a really old yellow Rolls Royce to take me to the opening. Yes, I live a block away from the movie theater, but it’s still important to arrive in style!

And finally, it’s set in Prohibition! I need a flask and some hooch!

Just kidding, I’d never drink to watch Gatsby! I want to remember every breathtaking scene. And then I’m going to see it again. And again. Like a boat beating on against the current, borne ceaselessly into the past.

God I can’t wait to see this movie!

Thanksgiving may only be my 5th favorite holiday, but I’m still thankful for it

Ah, Thanksgiving. My fifth favorite holiday.

Mostly because it gets me out of school for four sweet, glorious, sleep-filled days.

Well not this year, because I’m going to LA at the crack of dawn tomorrow morning (literally. The VERY crack of dawn), and coming home on the red eye Saturday night because my dad is a complete and utter psychopath and the antithesis of sleep.

Why is it my fifth favorite holiday? Well Purim is the clear winner because you get to dress up in costumes and (they don’t tell you this part in Hebrew school!) you’re SUPPOSED to get so drunk that you can’t tell the difference between Haman and Mordechai. Jews know how to celebrate a holiday.

 Of course, all of our holidays are basically about the same thing. Someone or something tried to kill us. We won. Let’s eat.

Hanukkah is number two because I love presents. And the hot firemen who show up when I almost burn my house down every year. That alone makes it an awesome holiday, even though it’s a little weak on the religion side.

Thanksgiving probably used to be higher on the list, but the combination of crazy family drama (my desserts aren’t kosher enough for the very recently ultra-orthodox branch of my family. Hypocrisy at its finest considering how often I’ve seen them eat shellfish, but I digress.) and the major weight loss this year that makes me feel that food is my absolute arch enemy has lowered it in the ranking. Now it’s somewhere in between Rosh Hashanah (I like apples. I like honey. Win.) and Tu B’Shvat (which I think is the tree holiday. I’m not really sure what it is, but it doesn’t require that I do anything and I can claim it’s a holiday so I don’t have to do work).

I get to avoid the majority of the drama this year because we’ll be in LA, but that makes this year’s celebration a religious experience for my parents. Their religion? Adamism. They will be spending the long weekend worshipping at the altar of my brother’s feet, while I gag in the corner and try not to incur the wrath of Adam’s most fervent followers while looking at all the yummy food that I no longer eat.

Oh joy, rapture!

Sorry, do I sound bitter?

I’m really not.

And to prove it, here’s a list (in no particular order) of some of the things that I’m thankful for this year.

1) Bruce Springsteen is alive and well and touring. I know it’s an odd thing to be thankful for, but it’s been a hell of a year for me and Bruce! The future of the E Street Band looked uncertain at this time last year because of Clarence’s death, but I did four shows in the same week in the spring run, and then had my own personal Courtney Cox moment when I got pulled up on stage to dance with Jake Clemons, Clarence’s nephew. Seriously, one of the best nights of my life and I’m thankful that I got to experience that!

Hugging Bruce. Yeah.  It happened.
Dancing with Jake. Because he rules.
Campaigning with Bruce.  I still don’t know how this wasn’t the official Obama campaign ad.
Yup.  Just holding hands with Bruce Springsteen.  Typical day in the life of Sara Goodman.

2) My newspaper kids—I promised them a shout-out! It’s no secret that I was pretty miserable at my old school, and I still don’t want to be a teacher when I grow up. But my newspaper kids are the ones who get me out of bed in the morning. Okay, technically, my psychotic addiction to exercise gets me out of bed in the morning, but my newspaper kids are the ones who get me to school. Love you guys!

3) The new version of the Great Gatsby with Leonardo DiCaprio in it.  Leo + Gatsby? Oh, there aren’t words to describe the level of thankful that I am for this combination! If there was just a Bruce song in this movie, it would be the most perfect thing EVER in the history of mankind. Just saying.

4) Obama winning! Woohoo! I don’t have to get my ass back in the kitchen and make you a pie!

5) My super awesome boyfriend, who I am sending home for Thanksgiving with a pie that I made. Not because I had to because Romney won, but because I WANT to. See the difference? (But seriously, I’m thankful that this year, when I have to deal with my family, I’m no longer the sad, pathetic, schoolmarm-ish spinster. Not that I ever was, but I was treated that way, which was almost as bad. He seriously quoted Springsteen to me at 7am yesterday. Epic win.)

6) Rosie. That little furball ruined the carpet in my apartment, pretty much destroyed my leather sofas, and has basically destroyed everything else I love. But she’s my baby, and I’m grateful that the little demon is in my life every day.

7) My parents. They annoy the bejeesus out of me. They call me every three minutes with absolutely nothing to say, try to run my life, yell at me constantly, and are generally pretty mean to me. Because they love me very much. They won’t SAY that. But they show it through the constant need to talk to me and the presents they buy me instead of saying they’re sorry when they’re REALLY mean to me (or in my mom’s case, when she creeps me out by picking out baby clothes. STOP IT MOM!)  But my mom did FIND me number 5 on my list, so thanks for that too… JUST STOP BEING CREEPY!

8) That my best friend’s divorce is final. Seriously, I did a little happy dance when that came through. She’s the best and deserves the best and now she has a chance to find it, which I am VERY thankful for!

9) The people who buy and read my books! Someday, when I’m a famous author, you get to say you were reading me before everyone else. You’re my Obie (the Bruce fans get that one) and I appreciate and love you all!

10) Cake. Do I need to explain this one?  (The people who got the joke just died laughing, I promise.)

11) RGIII. Again, no explanation needed. He is the Luke Skywalker of the DC area. He is our hope. He is our future. He will hopefully not kiss his own sister like Luke Skywalker did. But if he does, it’s okay. Because the Redskins suck significantly LESS with him in town.

12) The block feature on Facebook and Twitter.  Some of you know why I’m so thankful for this one. And to Verizon, yes even Verizon, for allowing me to block phone numbers when stalking gets scary.  Thanks guys.

13) Apple products. They all just work, and they work together, and they can do anything and everything. (Hint hint Nick.)

14) Black Friday sales. Because losing weight was REALLY a ploy to get my mother to buy me new clothes. It’s working beautifully.

 

15) Sushi. I’m a newbie, but I’m obsessed. It rocks.

Obviously this isn’t an all-inclusive list, but it’s a start. And thinking about what we’re thankful for is really what this holiday is about.

That and carbo-loading for all the Black Friday shopping! Stock up on that stuffing and cornbread now! You’re gonna need it to keep your strength up for tomorrow!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Teaching teenagers what makes Gatsby so Great is a tough job. But it shouldn’t be.

There are days when being an English teacher feels like the worst fate known to mankind.

Yesterday was one of those days. I was literally jealous of the guy who wears a chicken suit on Rockville Pike to advertise for a tire store (still haven’t figured out the connection on that one. But I kind of want to go check out the tire store just to see why their mascot is a tuxedo-wearing chicken. So maybe their ad campaign works after all). And when you’d rather be standing on a corner in a chicken suit in 30-degree weather, you know you’ve hit a low point in your career.

The problem? I’m teaching The Great Gatsby. Which I love. A lot. My copy looks like it’s been through the wars because I’ve read it so many times. The margins are covered in notes and half the lines are underlined or highlighted. And this is only my second year teaching it.

I was actually very excited to teach eleventh grade because I love The Great Gatsby so much. And A Streetcar Named Desire, which is also in the eleventh grade curriculum. I’d taught ninth grade for years, and was ready to scream if I had to deal with Romeo’s whining again. Like I was getting WAY too excited when he kills himself by the end. I still love To Kill a Mockingbird, but I was kind of rooting for George to hurry up and kill Lennie so Of Mice and Men could be over. Which meant that it was time for a change.

So I was looking forward to the opportunity to share one of my all-time favorite books with kids and instill that same love of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece that I have in their young, impressionable minds.

Except they hate it. Like the way I hate the Cowboys, Delaware, and people who ride their bikes into oncoming traffic.

Okay, that’s misleading. The ones who are actually READING it hate it. But they’re in the minority. Because a huge percentage of them admitted yesterday to not even having read the SparkNotes, let alone the book itself. And I teach honors classes.

I don’t understand that. Granted, I’ve had my nose in a book for as long as I can remember. And I keep reminding myself of Nick’s father’s advice to remember that others haven’t had the same advantages that I’ve had (namely, in this case, parents who instilled a love of reading in me from early childhood). But to be honest, I prefer my favorite literary characters over most of the real people I know. No offense, but if I had to choose between Rhett Butler or Mr. Darcy and you, you’d probably lose.

Then again, I have a theory that the best men in all of history were written by women—I’m starting to feel like there’s no one out there who can live up to the men that Margaret Mitchell, Jane Austen, and Charlaine Harris have created. Yes, I’m lumping the author of the Sookie Stackhouse books along with those literary giants. Because I love Eric Northman. I’d marry that fictional vampire in a heartbeat. Sorry Edward Cullen—I don’t like my fictional vampires all emo and sparkly.

This might be why I’m still single.

But I digress.

Back to Gatsby.

I had a college professor who said you needed to read The Great Gatsby every five years. Okay, that professor was the biggest tree-hugging hippie I’d ever seen, and I’m pretty sure he came to class high every week. And he taught film studies. And I think he lived in his mom’s basement. And he used to go off on hour-long rants about how Walt Disney was just as bad as Hitler. Actually, I wasn’t a big fan of that professor.

But he was right about Gatsby.

I describe my first novel as being about the quarter-life crisis. When you’re in your mid-twenties and are suddenly one of the “adults,” but aren’t quite ready for all of the social responsibilities that that title entails.

And that’s what Gatsby is about. Nick basically, at thirty, leaves home to go live at the beach for a summer, rather than marry the girl his family and friends all expect him to marry. He’s jaded, and he feels a disconnect with most of the people he meets. And he gets wrapped up in a party culture, of people who drink illegally to avoid reality and who think they’re immortal because they’re young and they don’t understand that the choices they make now are going to affect them for the rest of their lives.

How could any teenager NOT love that book?

One of my favorite parts is when Jordan Baker describes to Nick why she doesn’t have to be a good driver. She shrugs when he tells her she’s an awful driver after almost hitting a pedestrian, and she tells him that she doesn’t have to pay attention, because other people are good drivers and they’ll stay out of her way. Nick asks what will happen when she meets another bad driver, and her answer is merely that she hopes that doesn’t happen.

That attitude is why teenagers get into so many accidents. It’s why they think it’s okay to text and drive (okay, I’ll admit it, it’s why I still text and drive more than I should). It’s why they think they’ll be okay when they drive too fast. And it’s why the final tragedy of the book is inevitable. How different is that from all the little celebutantes like Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan driving when they’re smacked out of their minds?

It amazes me every time I read Gatsby that Fitzgerald so perfectly captured the emotions and logical fallacies that define my generation in a novel that was written nearly ninety years ago. And every time I read it, I’m both inspired to write more, and I’m a little discouraged because I know that I will never be able to so beautifully define the fragility and mistaken bravado of the human condition.

Hopefully the new movie version will help. I think Baz Luhrmann (of Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge fame) will do an amazing job at capturing the wasteful opulence of the 1920s. And Leonardo DiCaprio will be great as Gatsby, not just because I love him (and I do. A lot), but because I think he’ll be able to portray that element of Gatsby’s character trying too hard to be someone that he’s not far better than Robert Redford did in the definitive movie version from 1974.

But a small part of me kind of hopes that the new movie isn’t THAT good. I mean, I want it to be great and do justice to this incredible book. But I don’t want teenagers to think that seeing the new movie is an acceptable substitute for reading the book.

Until it comes out, however, I’ll continue beating my head against the brick wall of teenagers who think they’ll live forever and who see reading as a waste of time. But I’ll keep trying because, as Fitzgerald put it, “we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald may have never been a teacher, but that line alone tells me that at least one other person out there understood the feeling of futility that I’m experiencing right now. And the reason why I’ll keep trying and vainly hoping to instill my students with an appreciation for this amazing novel, even when it feels like I’m accomplishing nothing more lasting than Nick does when he erases the obscenity from Gatsby’s steps.

People who know me well, can you spot my house in this picture? Look carefully!

If I am a monster, these books are my Dr. Frankenstein (which is pronounced Fronkensteen)

Anyone who knew me as a child is probably not remotely surprised that I turned out to be a writer because books have always played a huge role in my life. There are a handful of books, however, that have been more influential than others in making me into the person I am today. So if I am a monster, the following books are my Dr. Frankenstein (which happens to be nowhere near my list).  Except for the first one, they’re in no particular order.

Any list of books that have helped shaped me has to start with Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind.

I first read it at ten years old, and have read it over twenty times since then. It was even the theme of my bat mitzvah (which worked pretty well, as we had the party at an antebellum mansion). When I first read the book, I wanted to be Scarlett O’Hara.

She was so determined, some unabashedly unstoppable. And to a young girl whose mother once described her as possessing the “evil, going-to-take-over-the-world-someday gene” (yes, she meant me), Scarlett was the female role model who didn’t exist anywhere else.

As I’ve aged, I’ve gotten deeper shades of meaning out of the book. I get frustrated with anyone who spouts off the BS from James Loewen’s book, Lies My Teacher Told Me, because his argument against Gone With the Wind ignores the fact that a novel can be historically accurate in showing the racism of a time period without being a book that promotes racism. But the main thing that struck me as I got closer to the age that Scarlett is at the end of the book is that by the time I was old enough to understand that I did NOT want to be like her, it was too late for me in many ways.

Perhaps the most significant effect that Gone With the Wind has had on my life however, has nothing to do with Scarlett O’Hara. Because from the moment I started reading my mother’s old tattered copy from the 1960s (which didn’t even survive that first reading, let alone the subsequent readings), I knew that I had to be a writer. And one of the best compliments I have ever received came from the website IWriteLike.com, which compares samples of your writing to that of famous authors and tells you who your style is most similar to. And when I put the entire text of Beyond the Palace into the program, I was told my writing style was most like Margaret Mitchell’s.

My novel is less than a third of the length of hers, but despite its heft, Gone With the Wind is worth every single page.

The next book on my list is Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility.

I know, I know, Pride and Prejudice is every Austen lover’s favorite book. But Sense and Sensibility is darker, which I think lends so much more realism to the story. So many of the problems in Pride and Prejudice center around the class divide, which doesn’t really exist in the world I live in. But the problems in Sense and Sensibility can still keep people apart today. The characters, written over two hundred years ago, are multi-dimensional enough to ring true even now. We have all been Marianne Dashwood at times and followed our hearts, only to be emotionally ravaged when we learn that love isn’t always enough to make a relationship work when two people have different priorities.

And we’ve all been her sister, Elinor, in love with someone we can never have and kept forever from that person by the hateful Lucy Steeles of the world.

Before there was Regina George of Mean Girls, there was Lucy Steele, befriending Elinor with the sole intention of crushing her rival. If you’ve never read this gem, pick up a copy now. You’ll have to be able to get past the Victorian language, but if you do, you’ll find a surprisingly raw love story that resonates incredibly strongly despite being written by a long-dead British spinster.

Stephen King’s The Stand makes the cut next.

I know, that’s a huge jump from Jane Austen. But Stephen King creates a whole world in this novel (granted, he kills 99 percent of that world off within the first hundred pages, but that’s the basic plot of all Stephen King books–someone or something goes crazy and kills people), and the ability to do that, to breathe actual life into a set of characters is something that mortals are seldom able to accomplish. I also know that a lot of people label Stephen King as a hack because of the practically superhuman speed at which her churns out novels. But every time I pick this book up, I’m still amazed by the ease with which he can juggle so many people’s lives and make ALL of them three dimensional.

My books are far from the horror genre so far (although I probably WILL venture into Stephen King’s territory at some point in my career. I’m just waiting for the right story to hit me), but one element of his work has inspired everything that I’ve written, and that is that all of his characters who wrong others have a chance for redemption in the end. They all make a choice to do good or do evil, and the lesson I have taken from that for my writing is that there’s no such thing as a purely good or purely evil character. Everyone is the star of his or her own plotline, and they are all able to make redemptive choices. They don’t all choose to redeem themselves, in fact most of them don’t. But they have a reason for their behavior and the free will to choose their own path, and I have tried to give that same ability to my villains as well.

While there are a dozen books that people call “The Great American Novel,” I think that title belongs unarguably to Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.

This is the book I turn to when I lose faith in humanity. When I feel that everyone is ONLY ever looking out for him or herself, I read this book to humanize myself again. With the POSSIBLE exception of Jean Valjean from Les Miserables, I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a better character in all of literature than Atticus Finch.

He manages to be caring and strong at the same time, but most of all, he’s REAL. Most characters who care more for others than themselves are no more than weak foils to the protagonists. Amelia in William Makepeace Thackery’s Vanity Fair or Jane Bennet in Pride and Prejudice are shining examples of these morally righteous characters who are too weak to be that likeable. But Atticus, even as he cries over the injustice of Tom Robinson’s death, reminds me that there IS true, genuine goodness and strength in the world.

The end of the novel, no matter how many times I read it, leaves me surprised, touched, and less jaded with the world. If you haven’t read this one since you were in school, read it again. The first eight pages will bore you if you don’t remember enough of the story for it to make sense, but when you get past those eight pages, you’ll thank me. I promise.

And last, but by no means least, is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.

I’m ashamed to admit that when I read this in high school, I hated it. And to be honest, I still think that all of the female characters in it are horrible. But Fitzgerald was so far ahead of his time in so many ways. Nick’s one-third life crisis resonates so strongly with what my generation currently faces that I wonder how earlier generations could have identified with it as strongly as we do. I feel like the baby boom generation WANTED to get married and start having kids in their twenties, like Daisy and Tom do. But Nick flees to the east to escape from that world, and finally, after everything that he sees that summer finds that at 30 years old, he is “five years too old to lie to [himself] and call it honor.” And in the gap that I’m now seeing between myself now and the person I was merely a few years ago, I’ve come to realize just how talented Fitzgerald was at capturing the human condition as it is now, some eighty-five years after he wrote his greatest novel.

One of my college professors used to tell us that everyone should read The Great Gatsby every five years because as your situation in life changes, so will your take on the book. Bruce Springsteen described “Born to Run” as a song that has kept him company on his journey through life, and that it has grown with him as he has aged, and I think The Great Gatsby has that same quality to it. Which, coming from me, is some of the highest praise possible to give.

I’ll get into the books that shaped me the most as a writer another day, but if you like what you’ve seen on my blog or in my first novel, take another look at these five books while you’re waiting for my next book. Which is coming. Soon. I promise. All I need is a title. I was thinking along the lines of “No TV and no beer make Homer… something something.”