april 2017

The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald


The plot in the Great Gatsby is set in the fictional town of West Egg on Long Island, New York during the summer of 1922. The narrator is Nick Carraway, a young guy who at the start of the summer just moved to the area to work as a bonds salesman. His closest neighbor is the enigmatic and super rich Mr. Jay Gatsby, who throws wild parties all the time, but his guests doesn't seem to know him. Nick meets with his cousin Daisy and her husband Tom Buchannan. Tom and Gatsby turns out to be rivals and they in turn drive the story forward, ultimately towards its tragic end. 

The bookstore chains had a book sale a while ago, and as I am a sucker for books I went to at least five of the stores. Needless to say I bought more than a few books. If this pace continues I must get more book shelves. Anyway... I digress. One of the books I picked up was The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I didn't know much about it other than it is considered a classic of American literature. And since it was fairly short and cheap I bought it together with a pile of other books. 

The narrator takes the reader on a tour of the 1920s, the roaring 20s. We are shown massive parties and the new society that has emerged after WWI. There are lots of brand new inventions that are coming to full use such as the radio, electricity, cars, photography, and the telephone.

"I began to like New York, the racy, adventurous feel of it at night, and the satisfaction that the constant flicker of men and women and machines gives to the restless eye." 

Nick is clearly impressed with all the technology and he even compares Mr. Gatsby to a seismograph right at the beginning. ".. some heightened sensitivity to the promises of life, as if he were related to one of those intricate machines that register earthquakes ten thousand miles away." 

Gradually we learn that few if any really knows Mr. Gatsby and there are numerous rumors about him. He might be a murderer, an ex-soldier, the lost relative of Kaiser Wilhelm, and several other rumors. Gatsby observes his parties but doesn't really participates. Nick Carraway becomes his only friend, and he has an ability of gaining the trust of many. So he learns the secrets of the different characters in the book. He learns about Tom Buccannans mistress for one thing, not to mention the true story of how Jay Gatsby got his money.

<Spoiler alert>

It turns out that Daisy and Gatsby are old lovers from five years ago. But because of the war and mostly because Gatsby still was poor at the time, their relationship couldn't get started. So Daisy married Tom, an already famous sports celebrity from a rich family. Gatsby was unhappily in love with Daisy and the only reason he bought the mansion in the first place was to impress Daisy. He threw the parties so she would see how successful he had become. Which explains why he didn't really pay them much attention. After he did get her attention he canceled all further parties, and even changed his staff. So they could be left alone. Eventually Tom finds out that his wife is having an affair, which leads to a very awkward dinner and a trip into town with all involved characters. Even Jordan and Nick are a part of this. On the way back ​Daisy and Gatsby runs over and kills Tom's mistress, and they make the grave mistake of not stopping.  The dead woman's husband is overcome with grief and after Tom tells him who's responsible he goes to Gatsby's residence. Where he promptly kills both Gatsby and himself with a revolver. In the aftermath Nick discovers that he truly was Gatsby's only friend when almost no one attends the funeral.

I found this book to be a bit of a challenge to be honest. Even though it is a short one. I think this was mainly because I interrupted myself throughout the reading. I only read a little here and there which made the whole story a bit hard to follow. But after I listened to the audio book and watched the film with Leo Decaprio from 2013 I got a lot more out of it. I must say that I did like the language in the book. There are lots of beautiful descriptions, and the language in general is very well thought out. And it shows. The rivalry between Tom and Gatsby is not only between competing men, but also between established wealth and self made wealth, between the upper class of society and the ones who desperately wants to be a part of it. It is also about the superficial consumerism that grew in that decade.  

"Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that's no matter?tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And then one fine morning? So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."

All in all I liked the book.
Rating of 4 out of 6. 
494 books left!

#bookreview #TheGreatGatsby #FScottFitzgerald #bokanmeldelse

The Voyage of the Beagle - Charles Darwin

This is the personal journal of Charles Darwins from his five years onboard the surveying ship HMS Beagle. This trip ultimately led him to formulate the theory of evolution. Which in turn was published many years later in 1859 in the well known book Origin of species(1). I have wanted to read these two books for years. 

The trip was made between 1831 and 1836 and the journal was first published in 1839 as the third account of this trip. The other accounts were written by the officers on board. Charles Darwin was a young(2) collector and naturalist. But that was not his task while on board this ship. The ship already had a naturalist. His role was much more modest. He was actually only the captains conversation companion. Captain Robert FitzRoy wanted a gentleman to accompany him during the long voyage. It might have something to do with the previous captain's demise(3).

Today we would probably called Darwin a biologist but he might have known just as much about geology at the start of the journey. The journal shows what an amazing and keen observer Darwin was. Through out his journey he consistently describes he localities starting with the geology and what the minerals and types of rock mean. How do they influence the soil and what does that in turn mean for the plants in the region. He goes on in describing the climate, common wind direction, precipitation and last but certainly not least the lists the types of fish, birds, reptiles, amphibia and animals he can find. He also discusses the different people he meets along the way, both the "modern" people of South America and Australia, but he also describes the natives. Wherever he meets them. 

The listing of all the organisms found can be a bit tedious and boring at times. But the book also has some very exiting parts such as his time among the gauchos in Argentina, where they were in constant threat of local native americans. Or the time on the Falkland islands when they had to cross a river mouth during very bad weather. 
"To complete our discomforts we were obliged to cross the head of a creek of the sea, in which the water was as high as our horses backs; and the little waves, owing to the violence of the wind, broke over us, and made us very wet and cold. Even the iron-framed gauchos professed themselves glad when they reached the settlement, after our little excursion."

They lost a whale boat (small rowing boat) in a storm, they rescued sailors who had been shipwrecked for 15 months, and they met with General Rosas, who was on a punitive war against the natives. In Chile they experiences a major earthquake, which helped Darwin understand that the crust of the earth moves. It seems like he came very close to realizing how the land rises and subsides according to plate tectonics. Especially when he talks about the formation of coral reefs. He describes how a tsunami works and many other interesting natural phenomenon. So there are without a doubt some very exiting parts. 

He is sometimes funny like when he describes the effects on high altitude on the body. He completely forgets about his fatigue when finding fossils. 
"There was some imagination even in this; for upon finding fossil shells on the highest ridge, I entirely forgot the puna(4) in my delight."

Throughout the book I get the image of an upper class victorian gentleman who, no matter how stressful or dangerous a situation is, always keeps his calm. He is a master of the english language, and it is a delight to read some of the passages. Like this one where he compares the pyramids to coral islands.
"We feel surprise when travelers tell us of the vast dimensions of the Pyramids and other great ruins, but utterly insignificant are the greatest of these, when compared to these mountains of stone accumulated by the agency of various minute and tender animals! This is a wonder which does not at first strike the eye of the body, but, after reflection, the eye of reason."

He also offers some comments on the different people he encounters throughout his journey. He describes the clothes, customs and traditions of different native populations. And he seems to be amused when he encounters superstitions. Darwin is also totally disgusted and appalled by slavery in Brazil and other places. In all his descriptions of other people offer an insight into his own mind and also I guess other Englishmen of his time.  

BBC made an excellent tv-series based on the book in the late seventies. I can recommend that as well, If you have almost 8 hours to spare.
Darwin Online(5) is a treasure if you like to explore the works of Charles Darwin. 

I really liked this book, and I recommend it to anyone who is interested in the development of the framework of natural selection. It is not, however, an easy read. I actually listened to the audio book twice before reading the book. Which was actually an alright way of approaching it. So I have without a doubt struggled with this book. The book was written almost 180 years ago and the english of the 1830s is sometimes difficult and it takes some time getting used to. 

It is almost as if our language has evolved.

Rating: 6/6
495 books left!

1. Full title - On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life
2. Charles Darwin was 22 at the start of the journey and 28 years old when he came home. What had you accomplished at that age?
3. Captain Pringle Stokes killed himself during the first voyage of the HMS Beagle.  It is believed that Captain FitzRoy might have wanted to avoid a similar fate by bringing a companion along. 
4. Puna - local name for altitude fatigue
5.Charles Darwin complete publications, letters, notes, diaries and so on has been made available online for free on the website Darwin Online.  


#bokanmeldelse #bookreview #charlesdarwin #naturalselection #evolution #thevoyageofthebeagle

, Notodden

Im interested in the natural world and normally read books about science such as biology, our evolutionary history, astronomy, and general popscience. I occasionally dabble in archeology, philosophy, ancient history, and world religions too. To mention a few interests. Ive also been interested in diving, kayaking, and triathlon for years. Have also done all kinds of martial arts for more than 10 years. Ive now been working for the Norwegian Humanist Association (Human-Etisk Forbund) since 2012.