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ALARMS AND DIVERSIONS THE THE THINKING PERSON

Forum File

Saturday, May 11, 2013 - 12:01 am

The reading list

“I have read The Great Gatsby five times. The first was in high school; the second, in college. The third was in my mid-twenties, stuck in a remote bus depot in Peru with someone's left-behind copy. The fourth was last month, in advance of seeing the new film adaptation; the fifth, last week. There are a small number of novels I return to again and again: Middlemarch, The Portrait of a Lady, Pride and Prejudice, maybe a half-dozen others. But Gatsby is in a class by itself. It is the only book I have read so often despite failing – in the face of real effort and sincere intentions – to derive almost any pleasure at all from the experience.

“I know how I'm supposed to feel about Gatsby: In the words of the critic Jonathan Yardley, 'that it is the American masterwork.' Malcolm Cowley admired its 'moral permanence.' T. S. Eliot called it 'the first step that American fiction has taken since Henry James.' Lionel Trilling thought Fitzgerald had achieved in it 'the ideal voice of the novelist.' That's the received Gatsby: a linguistically elegant, intellectually bold, morally acute parable of our nation.

“I am in thoroughgoing disagreement with all of this. I find Gatsby aesthetically overrated, psychologically vacant, and morally complacent; I think we kid ourselves about the lessons it contains. None of this would matter much to me if Gatsby were not also sacrosanct.”

– From “Why I despise 'The Great Gatsby'” at vulture.com

A quiz

Here's an easy one: Who was the only person to be both vice president and president without being elected to either?

Wisdom of the ages

“Life is an adventure in forgiveness.” – Norman Cousins

Current wisdom

“She said, 'No jury would convict me. Mark my words.' This jury convicted her. Luckily we had 12 smart jurors. They nailed it.” – Chris Hughes, a friend of Travis Alexander, after ex-girlfriend Jodi Arias was convicted of first-degree murder in his death.

Quiz answer

Gerald Ford.

Snob words

ratiocination (rash-ee-os-uh-NEY-shuhn). N. – the process of logical reasoning, as in: “The editorial writer gave up on understanding the council's deliberations when he realized he was trying to apply ratiocination where none was called for.” From the Latin ratiocinari, “to reckon, calculate, conclude,” which in turn comes from the root ratio, “reason.”

Today in history

On this date in 1812, the waltz was introduced into English ballrooms; most observers called it “disgusting and “immoral.” Sound familiar? In 1904, Andrew Carnegie donated $1.5 million to build a peace palace; that didn't quite work out, did it?

Now you know

Japan’s magnitude 9.0 earthquake in 2011 not only moved the island chain closer to the United States, it also shifted the planet’s axis by 6.5 inches.