Ladies And Gentlemen, Books Are Good And Smart And Neat.

April 27, 2012


Each year the library here does one of those programs where they try to get the entire community reading the same novel, then have a series of discussions, and presentations and such, then bring the author to town.  This year, they’ve chosen Amor Towles’ Rules Of Civility.  They have also chosen to have me do one of the lecture series, giving a couple talks comparing it to The Great Gatsby.

It's a lot like this. But with more books.

I know what you’re thinking: a lecture series on modernist literature?  Slow down there, Byronic Man!  That party train could go off the rails!  But what can I say?  My life is a non-stop rave.  Okay, it’s clearly not, but hopefully the series is at least mildly fun for people.  Plus I get to act like I’m ever so smart.  And what have I taken away from the experience, so far?

It’s a really different conversation when you talk about Gatsby with adults who A) have had sizable life experience and B) have chosen to discuss the novel, as opposed to needing to or else I fail them. A lack of, oh, that potent mix of boredom and desperation.

What is it about libraries and weirdos?  I know it’s a place you can hang out without being forced to buy something or leave, but really – it almost seems like they’re part of the design.  “Gentlemen, we need a place with public access to books – information, fiction, et cetera.  A place dedicated to expanding knowledge.  That way, the drug addicts and the mentally ill can all meet and walk around staring at people and laughing randomly.  We shall call it: ‘Scary Crazy Walk Around Surrounded By Books Emporium.’  That or ‘Library.’  I haven’t decided.”

People’s joints may stiffen, their skin may wrinkle and their hair may thin. But people never get too old to say in a snotty voice, “Tch.  Did he really mean for all that symbolism to be in the book, or did he just write a story and we make all that other stuff up?”

Would you look at that? Fitzgerald completely butchered the name of Paul's blog.

I may be spending too much time in the blogosphere, because more than once I almost referred to Fitzgerald’s novel as The Good Greatsby.

For the first lecture I was absolutely sandbagged with a cold.  Just a super aggressive, mean-spirited bastard of a cold.  Never more than 2 minutes without blowing my nose, everything hurts, raw throat.  Awful.  I basically slouched in the back of the room snuffing and groaning, then I got introduced, went up front and did my talk while sipping “Throat Coat” tea and sweating through my shirt, then said “Thanks for coming!” and plopped down in a chair to resume groaning.

Acceptable: Me talking about Gatsby, and Modernism, and the foundations of American myth and the evolution of our culture.  Totally, Incredibly Unacceptable: An opinion on Rules of Civility that differs from audience members.  Now I know.

It’s surprisingly difficult to make Gatsby sound appealing. “Well, it’s all about how we try to be happy but it’s futile because our dreams are illusions and our lives have no meaning and if we cling to them we die! It’s sooooo good.”

The novel, Rules of Civility, makes a lot of pretty clear references and comparison with Gatsby.  I’m really curious to meet the author and ask why.  I would feel quite confident that drawing people’s attention to one of the defining works of American literature while reading something I wrote would not do me favors, comparison-wise.  My books are going to to draw people’s attention to bad books.  I’ll reference Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol and Twilight a lot.  That way people think I’m brilliant.

In this novel, Rules of Civility, there’s some question of whether how the narrator ends up is a triumph or a failure.  And wars have started over less intense differences of opinion.

By the way, apropos of nothing, if you decipher the hidden codes in this post, they’ll take you to the location where the Vatican conspired with Thomas Jefferson to hide the sparkly vampires from the Freemasons.

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About The Byronic Man

Recently voted "The Best Humor Site in America That I, Personally, Write," The Byronic Man is sometimes fiction, but sometimes autobiography. And sometimes cultural criticism. Oh, and occasionally reviews. Okay, it's all those different things, but always humorous. Except on the occasions that it's not. Ah, geez. Look, it's a lot of things, okay? You might like it, is the point.

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33 Comments on “Ladies And Gentlemen, Books Are Good And Smart And Neat.”

  1. sandylikeabeach Says:

    I often wonder if authors plot out the symbolism we later deduce from over analyzation or did the words and stories just pop in their heads, much the way I wonder if composers plan the mutations, modulations and suspensions that music theory majors must decipher or do they just hear this glorious sound in their heads and feel compelled to put it to paper. I supposed it is a little of both.


    • The Byronic Man Says:

      Naturally, it depends on the creator. Sometimes it’s very deliberate, others not. Usually, though, like you say – somewhere in between. Often, though, I think there’s an artistic “voice” that speaks for the author/composer/painter. When you’re in that creative space, focusing on a particular concept idea will emerge straight from your unconscious to the page. So it’s intentional, even though you didn’t know you did it.


    • Alison Armstrong Says:

      Definitely agree with that thought process. I had to read a critial analysis of Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony recently in order to create a simplified analysis for my grade 12 music student, it was so mathematical and well… dull, and the music is, well… sublime! I couldn’t help but think that there is no way that Mozart was conscious of all the details the author was pulling apart.


  2. Soma Mukherjee Says:

    Scary Crazy Walk Around Surrounded By Books Emporium… always come up with the best names….
    And I checked the link-The Good Greatsby…OMG you are right( as always) that Scott fella did take the name from a blog 😯
    And isnt he the one who said Cut out all these exclamation points. An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke….so here is my reply- !!!!!


  3. k8edid Says:

    I have worked in a library – and I learned 2 things (well, 3 if you count learning the lyrics to the song “What Do You Do With a Drunken Sailor?”). 1 – there are many creepy beings in libraries. 2 – librarians are really bawdy, funny, happy folks. and 3 – there are a lot of things you can do with a drunken sailor.

    I had that same cold. I consumed mass quantities of Nyquil. It didn’t help with the cold but provided a great many strange dreams. Hope you are feeling better now.

    And I’m with you, I have completely forgotten that Gatsby fellow, my fingers naturally type Greatsby.


    • The Byronic Man Says:

      I dated a librarian for some time many years ago. The main thing I learned about libraries is that Dewey was something of a douchebag. Making the Dewey Decimal System with the idea that it had to be so simple even a woman could understand it.


  4. freddyflow Says:

    Oh yeah, that’s one a them there business self-help books: “From Good to Greatsby.”


  5. sj Says:

    If you can also manage to include references to James Patterson and Nicholas Sparks, you’ll be richer than JK Rowling (who still needs to take your advice).


    • The Byronic Man Says:

      D’oh! I forgot about Sparks! Well, Thomas Jefferson was a rugged, yet sensitive, man who was driven to hide the sparkly vampires from the Masons in order to keep the woman he loves nearby, though she was committed to someone else.


  6. susielindau Says:

    Have you written any books? That is really cool that they asked you to host.
    Unless I am mistaken, you have last week’s finalists up when you click on your “vote for this weeks…”


    • The Byronic Man Says:

      I KNOW I KNOW I KNOW. I just discovered the poll mix-up this morning. I’m going to be fixing it in just a bit, along with an “I’m dumb” post.

      And the book question is an embarrassing one – I’ve had a couple plays done, but I’ve written 3 books that haven’t been published; it’s embarrassing, not because they’re unpublished, but because I gave the first one a decent go, but then sort of gave up. Two and three I basically shot myself down before even trying. Very “byronic” of me, but I hate hate hate the artistic self-sabotage cop-out – especially in myself. “Oooh, I can’t fail if I don’t try…”

      They asked me, I think, because I teach Gatsby and American Lit, as well as doing a lot of public speaking. That or because of my blogging skills.


  7. Howlin' Mad Heather Says:

    Hey, I work in a library, and I can personally vouch for the fact that we attract crazies the way fresh horse manure attracts flies. Dunno why. Oh, and I hate The Great Gatsby, so reading that other title is probably a no-go for me.


    • The Byronic Man Says:

      I really would suggest giving it another try at some point. I think a lot of us get exposed to it too soon, and it gets sort of poisoned. Even then re-reading it, it doesn’t click. Not trying to tell you your taste, but it’s a short book – if I’m wrong it’s not too much time wasted.


  8. pegoleg Says:

    Oh, jeez Louise, I hate how you hold up the Mirror of Mortified Self Discovery to my very face “…say in a snotty voice, “Tch. Did he really mean for all that symbolism to be in the book, or did he just write a story and we make all that other stuff up?”

    I ALWAYS say that about Hemingway. I’ve got to make more of an effort.

    Wish I could have been there for your lecture. I bet your snotty take on literature was (stuffed up) head and shoulders above what everyone else can do germ-free!


  9. mistyslaws Says:

    What is this “library” you speak of? Is it something I can find on YouTube? Or is it some new fancy Wii game?

    Actually, that is a very creative idea and I wish they would do it in our area. I would love to have a discussion with others who are reading the same book, and not continuously feel like the only dope in the room who hasn’t read Twilight. It’s not gonna happen, people!! ((Quickly runs away from the dreck)).


  10. thesinglecell Says:

    Little-known fact: Daisy of “Gatsby” was a sparkly vampiress. Truth. Team Nick or Team Jay?
    I love “Gatsby.” Every time I read it I see something new. I haven’t read “Rules of Civility,” though. At the risk of completely imploding your post: should I?


  11. tomwisk Says:

    Read Gatsby and loved it. Fitzgerald wrote about what he knew and saw. In the case of Gatsby, rich idle people screwing up the lives of working folks and not noticing the consequences.


  12. MJ, Nonstepmom Says:

    We live next to our town library, you would think thats a good thing but NO. & ours is special, it has a fabulous children’s wing – its like Romper Room on crack. Who knew all those crazies had small children…


  13. Angie Z. Says:

    How cool for you! My city does a similar one-book read with related community discussions. I haven’t read Rules of Civility but maybe I should? The Great Gatsby is one of my favorite books ever. I was such a geek about it that, after we read it in high school, I lobbied the teacher to let us then spend two days in class watching the movie version. And I had already watched it three times prior to seeing it in class (in addition to reading the book twice). So while you’re slipping and call him Greatsby (how could you not), I’m slipping and calling him Robert Redford.


    • The Byronic Man Says:

      Very soon you’ll be able to slip and call him “Leonardo DiCaprio in 3D”. No, I’m not kidding.

      And Civility is good – certainly not in the same league as Gatsby, of course, but then there are about 10 American novels that are. Starts off rather simplistically, but goes in some interesting directions. Certainly worth the time.


  14. Audrey Says:

    Everytime I see anything related to The Great Gatsby I tend to confuse it with The Good Greatsby… Sounds like aside from the horrible cold your lecture went off very well! Yes, reference Twilight and you’ll be named Poet Laureate in no time!!


    • The Byronic Man Says:

      Actually, it did. The last one was terrific. I was very pleased. I went to a play last night and someone actually stopped me afterwards to comment on it and continue the conversation, so that was cool.


  15. She's a Maineiac Says:

    (putting on my smart glasses and gazing wistfilly into the distance) Ah yes. The Good Greatsby. Good book. You could even say it’s the shizzle. Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love with girl. Boy amasses huge amount of wealth to impress girl. Boy gets shot in swimming pool. Narrated by the guy from Law and Order.


    • The Byronic Man Says:

      In the wealthy suburbs of Long Island, the people are split in to two separate neighborhoods: the poor, and the rich who lord over them. These are their stories. *Chung chung!*


  16. Elyse Says:

    It is important that libraries exist so that all the crazy people don’t end up at my house.

    Oh, and my sister-in-law is a librarian. I find it hilarious that she NEVER stops talking (she is quite interesting so don’t pity me too much!)


  17. Curly Carly Says:

    I can’t read the title without thinking of The Good Greatsby either. He’s ruined it for everyone.


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