"I cannot live without books." -- Thomas Jefferson

Saturday, May 19, 2012

F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Cruise of the Rolling Junk"

Such a small book one can fit it in their back pocket, yet, this small object had a profound affect on me. Written as a magazine piece for the upscale Saturday Evening Post, the article eventually found a home in a less prominent publication - a car magazine.

Originally written as a serial, "The Cruise of the Rolling Junk" is 'On the Road' for F. Scott Fitzgerald and his somewhat nutty but beautiful wife Zelda. One morning Zelda had a passion to have fresh biscuits and peaches from her natural home in Alabama. So taking off from Connecticut, in a very unreliable car - the re-named "Rolling Junk" they go on the road to pleasure. But alas, things don't work out.

For one they have consistent problems with their automobile on this trip, which often left them stranded in the back woods of even badder hotels and in the hands of a series of rotten car mechanics. But in reality they are sort of 'the truth' vs. the unreality of the Fitgerald's. In what seems like a nice weekend trip turns into an obsessive journey to the couple's inner world. The landscape of this piece is 'charming and funny but there are very dark overtones that takes over the reader in the 21st Century.

Written while he was working on The Great Gatsby, F. Scott's attenna was up and working. But sadly and quite disturbing is his attitude toward Black Americans. The cruel side of his observations comes to front, so that alone makes it difficult to 'like' him as a narrator. And Zelda's personality (via Scott) is sort of troublesome as well. She is sort of a combination of a nagging so-so and a spoiled child. What must have been read in the early 20th Century as funny becomes somewhat sad and disturbing in the 21st Century.

Which brings up to mind does Fitzgerald's writing has something to say to people now in 2012? Well, for one, this book is very close to the edition that was originally published in "Motor" in 1924. The book comes with photographs of Scott, Zelda, and the Rolling Junk as the adventure happens. So it is very much a period piece of its time - but what's contemporary is the mental attitude of Fitzgerald as he and Zelda wonder back into the Southern past, that for sure will bring failure.

Like the image of most male americans, Fitzgerald is not one with his car. A cowboy has his loyal horse, and the male has his relationship with their car. Here The Rolling Junk practically rebels against Scott's wishes for a solid car outing. The humor in this book is a good few chuckles but the real 'dark' humor is the failure of communication, the lack of understanding of machine, and the need to entertain a wife who is slowly going out of the picture.

The trip ends as a failure of sorts, and Fitzgerald for sure sees this as an aesthetic that things rot from the inside to the exterior. A throw-away literature but what I think is a masterpiece from F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald reading Shakespeare

Some film footage of the couple.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Book Soup: Summer Reading Lists (Dan Edition)

(The two rules of summer: always bring sunscreen and always bring a book.)

From Dan: 

There are six books that I must read before Labor Day.  I'm sure I'll find more but I will definitely finish the books on this list.  And I will be tanned too.  And well rested.

Eisenhower in War & Peace - Jean Smith.  I visited the Eisenhower Library in Kansas as a small boy and I'm pretty sure my parents "Liked Ike," but I must confess it's Mad Men that has really kick started my interest in the Eisenhower era.

Home - Toni Morrison.  Always a surprise, always moving.

Family Fang - Kevin Wilson. A weird family of performance artists - enthusiastic parents and mortified children.  Sounds like a hoot!

Thomas Hart Benton - Justin Wolff.  I'm really into the regional artists right now.  This biography of Benton looks promising.

Wonderland Avenue - Danny Sugarman.  I have started this book twice and it is amazing and scary. I know it is taking me to a dark place so I have to steel myself for the journey.

Then Again - Diane Keaton. An amazing woman and an endearing tribute to her mother.