Monday, April 23, 2012

Stylish Covers and Admissions of Guilt

Leafing through a heavy volume of Complete Book Covers from "The New Yorker" 1925-1989, I was immediately fond of several of them.  The book weighs more than most, and like many worthwhile art books, it is large, awkward, and hard to shelve.  Nonetheless, here are some covers (all pre-1940) which caught my eye.

Pleasant Scandal.

Beautiful Evening.

Ugly seas.

The race committee starting gun.

The dweeb.

Veto power.


I can relate to this.

This one I like in particular.  I come from a long line of men who were lucky enough to marry VERY patient women.  

I have to come clean about something to you, my Readers, something which I have concealed for years.  I am now ready to admit it:  I hated the book The Great Gatsby.  I was never enormous on Fitzgerald to begin with, but this one is at the bottom.  The characters are unlikable and the story requires trudging to get through.  I can see why it resonates with many thematically (and I mean that in the rudest possible way), but I just don't get it.  It was required reading when I was young and in school, and when I reread it in college and then again a few months ago, my opinion has not changed.  The Men's Style blogosphere is still in love with it, but it's a terrible book.

While I'm on the subject, after endless prodding by friends, the Mrs. and I watched Downton Abbey (on a laptop).  Again, I didn't see the appeal.  It's a boring PBS soap opera with all the predictably of a children's book.  "But the scenery and costumes are soooo beautiful" they say.  Maybe true, but I needed more after the eight minute mark.  It never delivered.  My wife's review was more succinct:  "Ugh. This is why we don't watch television".


  1. I agree with you about the Gatsby, though I've found some of his short stories are really fascinating.

  2. I'm in love with Downton Abbey, but the only television I really watch is Chronicle, so I'm not a good judge. Plus one of my sisters works for GBH, so I feel like the iTunes purchase helps her keep her job.

  3. I also remember being confused about Gatsby back when we were in college-- until I read This Side of Paradise, which though rougher is for me a far more entertaining book. Clothes bloggers would do better to read that one anyway, as it's about college romps and postcollege trauma, something I hope easier to identify with than fairy-tale false-identity millionaires mooning over shallow society girls from a society that never existed. But I do stand with Fitzgerald generally.

    I too was surprised at the success of Downton Abbey and, before it, Gosford Park, which both seemed at first blush like revivals of already-tired genre stories that have already been done to death on the screen. However, since then I have happened to see bits of a a few of the stacks of costume dramas of the last twenty or so years, and was struck by how lamely, akwardly, and stupidly they were executed. The new stuff really is clearly better, except maybe for Scorsese's Age of Innocence, the Fry and Laurie Jeeves and Wooster, and I'm sure a few others.

    This isn't to say that I've been watching Downton Abbey, just not interested enough to keep in it.

  4. I am a big fan of some of those covers...and I adore many of the comics in the magazine.
    I tend to agree on Gatsby...but I did enjoy "This Side of Paradise."

  5. I like those magazine covers. Images of a different country.

    I completely agree with you about Fitzgerald and The Great Gatsby. Didn't get it. As a schoolboy I was much more interested in Hemingway, as far as American writers were concerned. More on that later.

    The first season of DA I found enjoyable, but for the second I simply couldn't summon the same enthusiasm. Can't explain why.

  6. Most people just like the idea that they have indeed read The Great Gatsby, and the same most likely holds true for the viewership of Downton Abbey.
    It is my contention that most people look to them more as an perverse type of instruction manual more than entertainment/fact gathering/cultural enlightenment...à la The Preppy Handbook.

  7. Fitzgerald is a highly over-rated author and "THE GREAT GATSBY" is a lousy book! Why that novel is/was required reading for high school and/or college kids is beyond me. Sinclair Lewis' novels ( yes, ALL of them, even the obscure ones, such as "ANN VICKERS" )give a far more interesting and truer picture of life in the early part of the 20th century up to WW II, than anything Fitzgerald ever wrote and are better written to boot.
    Downton Abbey is full of flaws, moves in a herky jerky fashion, and isn't a patch on the original "UPSTAIRS/DOWNSTAIRS" series. And what Fellows did to THE TITANIC show should be a felony crime....punishable by hard labor for life!

  8. I personally enjoy Fitzgerald, but I abhor the idea that some books have been declared 'masterpieces', without room for disagreement. Some of my favorite books will never gain any eminence, and cannot stand some esteemed writers, like Hemmingway. Reading is not supposed to be universal, but instead resonate with a reader's personal context.

  9. I'm indifferent to "The Great Gatsby"; but, "The Catcher in the Rye" is the one that I despise. I've tried reading it again and I just can't (won't is more correct). Funny thing is that I know a few others that feel the same way, but there are so many that praise it. Blah.

    Nice collection of New Yorker covers, thanks for posting.

  10. I was shocked that Downton Abbey was so unabashedly daytime-soap-ey when I first saw it, which was well after my upper-middlebrow/lower-highbrow friends started crowing about it. But being lowbrow in my television tastes, I enjoyed it all the same. I would think that people are so vocal about enjoying the show because it comes with the cred of being British and on PBS, and so those who are pretentious enough to be ashamed to watch TV can admit they do so without harming their self-image. But they all probably watch Biggest Loser and Law and Order in secret, too.

    As to Gatsby: I think it's probably safer to leave it at not liking the book than to go on to declare that it's terrible. I happen to like very much and identify with Nick as a character, and I feel sympathy for Jay. (Plus Jordan and is just too good a sketch of the jaded young rich bitch, and Tom is basically a LAX bro.) So I have to be contrarian to this contrarian sentiment and say I think it is beautifully written and a wonderful book. I don't really get why it's become such a menswear talisman, though.

  11. I did not know that The Great Gatsby had become a "menswear talisman," but I don't get out much.

    The novel is considered seminal because it still says most of what needs to be said about the 20th century in America. It's also one of the half dozen greatest prose poems ever written. Of course people can enjoy the novel or not, according to their own taste.

    To the commenter who says that Sinclair Lewis's novels "give a far more interesting and truer picture of life in the early part of the 20th century up to WW II, than anything Fitzgerald ever wrote" -- that would be a more convincing argument if fiction were the same as journalism. And "better written to boot"? C'mon.

    The idea that "some books have been declared 'masterpieces', without room for disagreement" is belied by the very comments on this blog.

    And the comment that "Most people just like the idea that they have indeed read The Great Gatsby" is anti-intellectual in the extreme. The notion that anything you can't buy in the magazine stand at the airport is just highfalutin' nonsense...

  12. @Sartre, I am not sure how you are finding my comments to be "anti-intellectual". This is merely my observation of what is typically a superficial understanding that most people seem to discuss in regards to the text. Conversations rarely delve into interpersonal relationships, socio-economic issues or political climate but tend towards styles of entertaining dressing.

    Also, I don't really understand the gibe about airport purchases, but perhaps that is because I am a pseudo-intellect sans philosophers handle.

  13. They are hard to shelve because they belong on coffee tables but I think I have a shelf that might hold that book nicely.
    As to Fitzgerald, I liked Gatsby. Still do. A nice description of a world that may or may not have existed but was surely fantasy to me. I am no intellectual but I know what I like and know that others disagree, and I like that too.
    I hear Mr. Fogey prefers Harper Lee over Fitzgerald. On this subject he and I agree wholeheartedly.

  14. Jean-Paul

    There's no doubt that gatsby has acquired talismanic status among menswear bloggers, though there may be some room for argument as to the reason why. I would suggest that the reason has more to do with Robert Redford's (who also seems to hold some sway in the menswear pantheon) portrayal in the movie than with Fitgerald's book, but I haven't read the book in more than 20 years.

    See also, Ernest Hemingway.

    Frankly I prefer Steinbeck to both of them, but that's just my socialistic leaning I suppose.

  15. I sat the 7 hour play "GATZ" at the A.R.T., and I must say that was thoroughly THAT in terms of my interest in the book. I did doze off once or twice, yes...


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