The Week in Books #89

9/14 ✅

The week in books! This week I got through a classic as well as a Booker Prize winner, both by male authors. Both also not what I was expecting.

1. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Gatsby is one of those books that everyone seems to have read. It was published in 1925 and that much was obvious as I made my way through. I don’t know much about Fitzgerald as a person or what his ideologies were, but he did turn the character Tom Buchanan into a mouthpiece to espouse xenophobic and nationalist ideologies, which I obviously find gross. Here are just a few quotes that made my jaw drop, two from Tom and one from Lucy.

“‘Civilization’s going to pieces,’ broke out Tom violently. ‘I’ve gotten to be a terrible pessimist about things. Have you read ‘The Rise of the Colored Empires’ by this man Goddard?…Well, it’s a fine book, and everybody ought to read it. The idea is if we don’t look out the white race will be – will be utterly submerged. It’s all scientific stuff; it’s been proved…This fellow has worked out the whole thing. It’s up to us, who are the dominant race, to watch out or those other races will have control of things…The idea is that we’re Nordics. I am, and you are, and we’ve produced all the things that go to make civilization—oh, science and art, and all that. Do you see?’” – Tom

“I almost made a mistake too,” she declared vigorously. “I almost married a little kyke who’d been after me for years. I knew he was below me. Everybody kept saying to me, ‘Lucille, that man’s way below you!’ But if I hadn’t met Chester he’d of got me sure.” – Lucy

“Self control!” repeated Tom incredulously. “I suppose the latest thing is to sit back and let Mr. Nobody from Nowhere make love to your wife. Well, if that’s the idea you can count me out…. Nowadays people begin by sneering at family life and family institutions and next they’ll throw everything overboard and have intermarriage between black and white.” – Tom

This is another one of those books that was wildly popular but I really didn’t get why. I mean, it’s almost 100 years old so what did I expect, haha. While reading I also couldn’t help but notice that the Gatsby spoof they did on Family Guy really already told me everything I needed to know about the story.

The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s third book, stands as the supreme achievement of his career. First published in 1925, this quintessential novel of the Jazz Age has been acclaimed by generations of readers. The story of the mysteriously wealthy Jay Gatsby and his love for the beautiful Daisy Buchanan, of lavish parties on Long Island at a time when The New York Times noted “gin was the national drink and sex the national obsession,” it is an exquisitely crafted tale of America in the 1920s.


2. The Sellout by Paul Beatty. This is an interesting book. It was winner of the Man Booker Prize in 2016, making Paul the first American ever to win the prize (something that surprised me to learn). It is a satirical novel with not much happening in the way of plot but lots of really hilarious writing that kept me engaged to the end. The premise is that narrator Bonbon has grown up with a single father in the town of Dickens in southern Los Angeles, and following the shooting death of his Dad, Bonbon realizes that Dickens has been essentially removed from the map. He comes up with a nutty plan to get it back that involves painting a literal white line around the entire area and then segregating the high school, which lands him in court. The writing was very funny, and while I wished it was a bit more plot driven I did appreciate all the ideas Beatty managed to get in there.

A biting satire about a young man’s isolated upbringing and the race trial that sends him to the Supreme Court, Paul Beatty’s The Selloutshowcases a comic genius at the top of his game. It challenges the sacred tenets of the United States Constitution, urban life, the civil rights movement, the father-son relationship, and the holy grail of racial equality: the black Chinese restaurant.

Born in the “agrarian ghetto” of Dickens—on the southern outskirts of Los Angeles—the narrator of The Sellout resigns himself to the fate of lower-middle-class Californians: “I’d die in the same bedroom I’d grown up in, looking up at the cracks in the stucco ceiling that’ve been there since the ’68 quake.”

Raised by a single father, a controversial sociologist, he spent his childhood as the subject in racially charged psychological studies. He is led to believe that his father’s pioneering work will result in a memoir that will solve his family’s financial woes. But when his father is killed in a police shoot-out, he realizes there never was a memoir. All that’s left is the bill for a drive-thru funeral.

Fuelled by this deceit and the general disrepair of his hometown, the narrator sets out to right another wrong: Dickens has literally been removed from the map to save California from further embarrassment. Enlisting the help of the town’s most famous resident—the last surviving Little Rascal, Hominy Jenkins—he initiates the most outrageous action conceivable: reinstating slavery and segregating the local high school, which lands him in the Supreme Court.


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