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Not-So-Great Gatsby

July 7, 2011
The cover of the first edition of The Great Ga...

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Roger Ebert wrote a rambling piece about The Great Gatsby.  Sort of.

It’s really about The Great Gatsby For Dummies.

the Macmillan Reader edition of the novel, as “retold by Margaret Tarner.”

This retelling is apparently done in 67 pages and uses an intermediate level vocabulary of around 1,600 words.

Looking at the edition online, we see that “Information, structure and vocabulary are controlled to suit the students’ ability at each level.”

I am all for giving students material that, while challenging, is not beyond their grasp.  I would not give a four-year-old a copy of Gatsby to supplement her summer reading list.

If I were to give someone a copy of the novel to read, I would give them a copy of the actual novel.  Not some trepanned version cooked up by supposedly well-meaning people.

An author’s words are what make a written story what it is.  Sure, we can play telephone with Gatsby’s tale and  hope that it doesn’t radically alter the tone and intent of the author.  After just one person’s retelling, the Macmillan Reader version of Gatsby seems to suffer the fate one would expect in a game of telephone.

I glanced through this version.  People would be better served to read the Wikipedia entry on the author and his novel.  Wiki readers would then know what the novel is all about, but would not be tricked into saying they had actually read The Great Gatsby nor would they have been thrilled (or bored, as some of us were…yes, I fucking said that) by Fitzgerald’s prose.

The very first sentence of this Gatsby For Learners of the English Language reads thusly:

My name is Nick Carraway.  I live in a big city in the Middle West (1).

When we go to Footnote 1, we are informed:

The Middle West

the northern, central part of America.  Chicago is one of the big industrial cities in the Middle West.  People in the Middle West worked hard and did not like modern ideas.

We are off to a great start.  This Gatsby book is going to deliver!

And deliver it does.  What exactly it delivers is up to you to decide.

Now, this edition appears to be a novel for students of the English language.  That really doesn’t change my opinion of what is happening here.  It still seems unnecessary.  Non-native English speakers are not mentally challenged just because they have not learned English.

Probably a good business model, though.  I’m going to quit writing my shit and start rewriting other authors’ works.  Target Market – people who prefer more cursing in their fiction.

I read El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha when I was well into my Spanish language studies.  Someone could have saved me some time and written it in the style of my first-year textbook, Churros y Chocolate.  CyC had super swell cartoons and tremendous accompanying audio exercises.  Escucha y repite…

I don’t think I would have enjoyed it or gotten much out of it, but at least everyone in class could have kept up without having to challenge themselves.  Who cares if the titular character ends up seeming like a fat, brutish lout instead of an affable, crazy dreamer.

Perhaps the ESL classes could just choose a level-appropriate novel to read.  A nice novel that fits exactly the purpose for which it will be used.

Many classic tales have been given the rewrite treatment.  Movie versions.  Modernized, reworked versions.  One thing that we know when we watch O is that we aren’t getting exactly the story that Shakespeare put quill to parchment to produce.  We know that O is not Othello, even if it is.

Just put it in the damn title, so the readers know.  This is not The Great Gatsby, it is The Not So Great Gatsby.

A carob-covered peanut is NOT a chocolate-covered peanut.  It is an approximation for people who, for whatever reason, do not want the actual, wonderful chocolate-covered nut.  Wouldn’t it be sad if they went on living life thinking that the approximation that Granny had fed them was actually what chocolate tasted like?  They may never be tempted into trying another piece of chocolate in their lives.

Do we really need people walking around thinking they have experienced greatness and it tasted a bit off to them?

Anyone that has ever written a sentence with the intention to convey a meaning in a particular way, and with particular words, should feel like vomiting.

Everywhere you turn, someone is short-changing you because They think you are too stupid to handle big boy things.  Eventually They will be correct.

And there was a time in this country, a long time ago, when reading wasn’t just for fags and neither was writing. People wrote books and movies, movies that had stories so you cared whose ass it was and why it was farting, and I believe that time can come again!

Joe Bauers

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Necromanticore permalink
    July 10, 2011 12:03 PM

    can’t wait to see what they do to Pride and Prejudice.

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