RSS Feed

Tag Archives: The Great Gatsby

Judging ’em by the covers

Posted on
Judging ’em by the covers

The cover of J. K Rowling’s highly anticipated novel for adults, The Casual Vacancy was released a couple of days ago as was Manu Joseph’s new book, The Illicit Happiness Of Other People. Both are bright yellow, eye-catching and you know they will command a place of prominence at all bookstores (Not accounting for the popularity of the writers, of course).

If you walk into a book store, with absolutely no reviews, tweets or marketing ploys hard-selling books swirling about in your head, what would make you pick a book? The unfortunate and inevitable answer is the cover. The second is the title and synopsis.

We can try to not judge a book by its cover, but judgment comes naturally to us. Book covers, like magazine covers are pretty important to make a sale.

This is why it is so surprising that so many writers have such terrible book covers. Almost the entire rack of books written by new Indian authors (The journalist-turned-author, the IIM graduate-turned author, The-nutritionist/fashionista/twitter account turned writer) have uninspiring, boring and corny covers that give you no indication of what the book contains. Hearts, coffee mugs, clip arts of women with shopping bags; they just blend into each other and you can’t tell them apart.

Having sat in on a few magazine cover ideations, I know that the writers and designers work together on a cover that will best represent the magazine (or at least the writers will agree with the designer’s point of view). Unfortunately in publishing, the writers have only so much control over the cover design. At a discussion panel on the rise of Indian chick-lit I attended, Kiran Manral, author of The Reluctant Detective pointed out that she has no idea why the publishers decided to put a high-heeled shoe on her cover. And, that as a first-time author, she had no choice but to agree. You’d think a writer who has finally got their work published would fight tooth and nail to have it look the way they want. But then again, you’d rather lose that battle than not have your book published at all.

Aesthetics are important in almost every field and while we want to be idealistic and say that if the writing is good, who cares what it looks like, for the average book readers and buyers, the cover is the first thing that attracts your attention. (Disclaimer: This is only applicable to retail items. You can look like Einstein or never comb your hair like APJ Abdul Kalam; if you’re a genius, it doesn’t matter. You don’t need to adhere to the society’s superficial standards of beauty.)

Think of the beautiful cover of The Great Gatsby or the iconic Lolita or the simplicity of the Godfather that manages to thrill you. Of course, book covers take on a different meaning once you’ve read the book. In my head, angst is the cover of J D Salinger’s Catcher in the rye, Harper Lee’s To kill a mockingbird will always make me feel homesick, DBC Peirce’s Vernon God Little always makes me feel wretched and Zen at the same time.

Colours, fonts (JK Rowling’s new book cover has two different fonts and it grates my eyes), images all contribute to the emotion they are trying to convey.

Here is some visual stimulation for you. Flavorwire has some great minimalistic book covers here, some book covers compared to their movie posters here and some book covers with exceptional design here.

This side of awesome: A tribute to F Scott Fitzgerald

This side of awesome: A tribute to F Scott Fitzgerald

These tributes we write week on week can be quite tiresome. Often, we aren’t saying anything that hasn’t already been said. As for the writing we have to find the right balance between admiration and restraint. This means we can never do the written word equivalent of taking our T-shirts off and throwing them onto a metaphorical stage. Okay, we’d never do that. But with heroes like Fitzgerald, it can get pretty touch and go.

If you haven’t read any Fitzgerald or worse, are undecided about his awesomeness, (All sorts to make this world, I tell you), read on. First order of the business of being a legend – the writing. Fitzgerald is the author you read if you want to fall in love with language. He uses words to make shapes and sounds and he paints scenes so vivid, you wonder whether you were actually there. His stories are so damn visual that the written word becomes a captivating technicolour action film. And that’s me speaking as a representative of my generation,with its short attention spans and impatience. Dialogue is never just dialogue – it’s sharp insight into a characters soul.

And the characters, they’re so terribly lovely. His protagonists shimmer. Wholesome people are staid and boring; for Fitzgerald, only the fabulous will do. There is only room for the deeply beautiful, the deeply damaged. A Fitzgerald’s character is the last glass of heady wine that you probably shouldn’t have had and which you will definitely regret in the morning. He’s the comely, flirtatious, too smooth-to-be-true guy at the bar. Larger than life. Fantastic. Adventurous.

Fitzgerald has been hailed for chronicling the jazz age.  I wasn’t alive then so I couldn’t say that he did or didn’t but if the jazz age was anything like the world he portrays in his books then gimme some of that. Pulsing hot music, massive lawn parties, swing dances, beaded fringed dresses, flappers, cigarette holders, women who throw their heads back when they laugh, suave men who light your cigarette, refill your martini glass and open the car door for you. Still, despite the thrill of the world he paints, he manages to show the hollowness of its core. As a writer, he skilfully builds us up, to dash us cruelly down. Just like his characters, we revel at the height of good fortune and then we cry when we fall from grace. If like me, you enjoy books and films that make you cry with their portrayal of poignancy, truth and beauty, then you’ll be a sucker for Fitzgerald.

You know how at some point all of us have said some version of, “Well, wait till I’m rich and famous. Then you guys can suck it.”? Fitzgerald actually accomplished this. Except, in his case he did it for a chick. That’s right. This side of paradise, happened because the beautiful Zelda Sayre turned him down. He wrote it in the three years he was enlisted, and surprise, surprise, it was genius. He shot to fame. Zelda agreed to get with him. Boom. And now that we’ve raked out the trivia, key plot points and some fantastic dialogue was taken word for word from the writers life, so much so that he said once, “Sometimes I don’t know whether Zelda and I are real or whether we’re characters from one of my books.” Which means, if we were ever to meet him in real life, he’d be every bit as awesome as his work.

Martin Amis said that when we say that we love a writer’s work, we are always stretching the truth: what we really mean is that we love about half of it. That much is true. I’ve read The great Gatsby, the Beautiful and the Damned and Tender is the night. I loved the first two enough to want to have their babies. Tender is the night, on the other hand, was a disappointment. Sure, there were a couple of classic moments, (A Fitzgerald bad is still pretty good,) but it sounded like he was trying too hard. The narrative tone is defeatist, tired before its characters tire, disillusioned, discontent, despairing. And if you think about it, he was all of these things when he was writing the book. Somehow, this makes me like him even more. He is his characters. He’s beautiful, he’s flawed. He’s Dick Diver, brilliant but tired of it all too soon, he’s the arrogant Gloria Patch and her cowardly husband Anthony. His life reflects itself vividly in his art. Beautiful and crushing. Grand but terribly sad and hopeless.

– Sheena

Who’s black, bald and does not look like a bitch?

Posted on
Who’s black, bald and does not look like a bitch?

If your answer is Marcellus Wallace, it’s because you heard these three attributes before you even saw him.

Last week, the trailer for Baz Luhrmann’s adaption of Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby hit the interweb. I am still skeptical of Luhrmann after Australia (Can you blame me?) but Sheena is outrageously excited. “The great Gatsby isn’t really big on plot or action, but it’s a very visual book. And if the wildly exhilarating Moulin Rouge is any indication, Luhrmann is pretty big on flamboyant visual imagery. And Leonardo DiCaprio is a good choice for Gatsby,” she says.

Last week, a friend of mine described what he imagined the characters of The Hunger Games were like and pretty much got everything wrong according to the movie. “Rue looks like that girl from Hugo or like Knives from Scott Pilgrim. Cinna looks like Stephen Fry.”

Most writers don’t describe too many physical attributes of a character. Vague descriptions like, tall, long fingers, round eyes or something. Never enough to visualize an entire person. For years, Hermoine Granger was just an unformed body of vapour with buckteeth and bushy hair. 

Sometimes the description doesn’t come with the introduction of the character. You’ve already followed John into depths of his adventure and now, 300 pages in, he is making love with soon-to-be Mrs Doe, you realize he has long arms, a dimple and is redheaded. And you were imagining a skinny midget with cankles.

Sometimes a name is enough to conjure up an image and no amount of detail will change it. Imagination is a wonderful thing. But everyone’s head works differently.

But then the movies happened. Making an absolute mess of your mind’s eye.

With adaptations, characters are in front of you, in the flesh. It sparks debate; “Will Andrew Garfield make a good spiderman?” “Sirius Black should have been like Morpheus big, bald and badass” and the usual, “I don’t care, the book is infinitely better.”

I have no problems with film adaptions. In fact, if it’s done well, it packs dense but good literature into a manageable matinee sized bite.  But when movies release while you are still reading a series, it will ruin the book and that’s the plain truth. The actors faces get jammed into your head, without your permission. I can’t read Sherlock Holmes any more without both Robert Downey Jr and Benedict Cumberbatch zooming in and out of my head. Strangely, Jude Law is never Watson. Never.

While this is part rant and part observation, Here’s what I want to know. What do you consider the worst casting in a movie? Which character complete baffled you? It’s a bit premature, but for me, it just might be Suraj Sharma from Life of  Pi.

%d bloggers like this: