Saturday Morning

Desk View: Coffee, Printer, Keyboard, and Mithrangorfaniel

It’s Saturday morning and I’m drinking instant coffee. Maccona Classic Dark Roast with milk and one sugar, for those who might be interested, although I have no earthly idea why you would be. In an hour or so I’m going to ignore the rest of the internet and start talking to the scattered members of my online crit group, who conveniently double as a group of good and articulate friends, so there’s still good reason to skype on the dates when we’re meant to be critting and no-one actually submitted things.

This, I suspect, is as close to being one of the hidden secrets of writing as I can think of – find people you enjoy talking too who happen to be writers, then talk to them as often as you can. Ideas will form, ambitions will solidify, and the day-to-day despair of being underpaid and frustrated by the blank page will gradually fall by the wayside. I remember this far less often than I should.

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The Friday issue of Daily Science Fiction containing my story appeared in my inbox overnight, delayed until Saturday morning by the magic of time zones. The online version isn’t up yet, but I’ll post a link when it is (I think the delay is about a week, but I subscribed to get the stories via email, so I’m not entirely sure).

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I’ve been up since five AM for reasons unfathomable to me, and spent most of that time re-reading parts of books I adore, because five AM on a Saturday is a good time to re-read and adore things all over again. The world wants you to sleep in on weekends, so the five AM start is like stealing time that doesn’t belong to you, and re-reading parts of books is the kind of sacrilegious activity that divorces language from the context of narrative and gives you the opportunity to appreciate things anew. Language as an art gallery, where you’re encouraged to examine the individual pieces of the whole.

It reminds you of things that have dropped from view.

I’d forgotten, for example, much of the raw power in Fitzgerald’s introduction of Tom Buchanan. I remember the tag-line – the final image of the body capable of great leverage – because it’s one of the great character descriptions that appear in modern literature. It’s the thing that sticks in my memory because that’s what it’s meant to do, but the set-up that makes that one line it’s impact? Forgotten. Lost. Until I sit down and re-read, and am reminded of how carefully that line is built up.

He had changed since his New Haven years. Now he was a sturdy straw-haired man of thirty with a rather hard mouth and a supercilious manner. Two shining arrogant eyes had established dominance over his face and give him the appearance of always leaning aggressively forward. Not even the effeminate swank of his riding clothes could hide the enormous power of that body – he seemed to fill those glistening boots until he strained the top lacing, and you could see the great pack of muscle shifting when his shoulder moved under his thin coat. It was a body capable of enormous leverage – a cruel body. (The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald)

Too many people hate the Great Gatsby because it’s one of the books they were forced to read at school, because they were told to ask more of their fiction. I don’t begrudge them that, asking more of your fiction is a choice every reader should make on their own and there’s nothing wrong with saying ‘entertain me’ if it’s that’s the choice they’re making.

But Fitzgerald’s book deserves so much better. It deserves to be read by people who will love it.

Preferably in parts, on Saturday mornings, long after they’ve read the whole

  1 comment for “Saturday Morning

  1. 13/02/2011 at 1:15 AM

    Against all odds, I loved The Great Gatsby the first time I read it and still do. I'd avoided it during my high school days because of the hype around the Robert Redford film, but had to read it for a lit course at uni.

    If I had to say what makes it great, it'd be: the imagery and descriptive writing; a beautifully constructed tragedy, a plot worthy of Shakespeare; a textbook example of both a hero in a tragedy striving and dying (Gatsby), and a protagonist in a novel learning something important (Nick); a snapshot of the Prohibition decade, so recent yet so difficult to imagine; and lastly, that it is all these things and yet so wonderfully concise.

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