Monthly Book Review

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald 

Those BuzzFeed quizzes that tell you what decade you belong in? For me, it's always the '20s. The Roaring Twenties. The Jazz Age. It's unsurprising, really; I've always had a fascination with that time period. Ernest Hemingway's A Moveable Feast is one of my favorite books, and Midnight in Paris is one of my favorite movies. But Fitzgerald's masterpiece? The Great Gatsby? I'd never read it. (Shameful, I know.) The copy I borrowed topped off at just over one hundred and fifty pages, so the book was an incredibly fast read. That said, it took me a couple of chapters to adjust to the language; it felt elevated after my previous reads. That said, I was still enraptured by it. It didn't take long for my heart to race with decadence and nostalgia. To anyone who doesn't know, The Great Gatsby is, as a summary states, "the story of the fabulously wealthy Jay Gatsby and his love for the beautiful Daisy Buchanan, of lavish parties on Long Island at a time when The New York Times noted 'gin was the national drink and sex the national obsession.'" On the surface, and maybe to younger readers, the book can seem romantic. However, the main themes are really much darker; they address shallowness, vapid idealism, social class, and resistance to change. In the sixth chapter, for instance, narrator Nick Carraway tells Gatsby that he can't repeat the past. "'Can't repeat the past?' [Gatsby] cried incredulously. 'Why, of course you can!' He looked around him wildly, as if the past were lucking here in the shadow of his house, just out of reach of his hand. 'I'm going to fix everything just the way it was before,' he said, nodding determinedly." The Great Gatsby is chock-full of other quotable passages, and it's a book I plan to read again in the future. In the meantime, I'll be day-dreaming about the Jazz Age, about shiny cars, about lavish parties and Lana Del Rey's "Young and Beautiful."

Had my book club not chosen Notorious 92 as this month's selection, I might never have tackled it. It was a book I had never heard of, but the subtitle, "the most infamous murder from each of Indiana's 92 counties," sounded morbidly intriguing. I recently had read Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, so I wasn't opposed to continuing my true crime trend. When it comes to Notorious 92, though, the book's writing is more academic than literary. The book is organized into chapters, with each of Indiana's ninety-two counties getting its own chapter. It starts with Adams County and ends with Whitley County, with nearly five hundred pages of betrayal, lies, death, and human darkness between. As the summary states, "this book delves into Indiana's dark side, illustrating that the murderous venom of today has been present in the state for a long time." True enough, I had heard of some of the crimes before even turning the pages of Notorious 92. Martin Scorsese's film Casino, for instance, portrays the double murder of two brothers beaten to death and buried in northwest Indiana. The book also includes the brutal killing of twelve-year-old Shanda Sharer, who died in 1992 at the hands of four teenage girls. (Her death attracted national attention, and also was used as a base for both Cold Case and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit episodes.) Most of the crimes included in the book occurred in the 1900s, but there are a few from the mid-1800s as well (those are the most fascinating, to me). I wish there had been more creative non-fiction (think In Cold Blood), but I understand that the author's approach was more academic. That said, Notorious 92 started to feel a little formulated at about the halfway point, as each chapter included a small bit of background info, followed by an explanation of the crime and a summary of the trial. Given the book's layout and content, it makes for better "bathroom reading" than, for obvious reasons, "bedtime reading."

This book's style was strikingly similar to that of another book I read earlier in the year—The Murder of the Century: The Gilded Age Crime That Scandalized a City & Sparked the Tabloid Wars. It wasn't until after I finished this book, though, that I realized Paul Collins was the author of both. (Collins focuses on history, memoirs, and "unusual antiquarian literature." And lengthy subtitles, too, evidently.) Duel with the Devil recreates the murder of a young woman in New York City in 1800. Following the discovery of her body in a well, a trial was held for carpenter Levi Weeks. His lawyers? Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton--bitter rivals who were two of the city's finest lawyers. The book is developed from what Collins says is one of the first "trial transcripts" in American legal history. (Much of the dialogue that appears in the book was taken from the transcripts—or from the journals of those involved with the trial—and repeated, word for word.) As stated on Amazon, Duel with the Devil is "an absorbing legal thriller and an expertly crafted portrait of the United States in the time of the Founding Fathers." Since the United States was still a young republic, many of New York City's residents were associated with one another in some way. I learned, for instance, that the brother of Levi Weeks was an architect who had constructed a home for Alexander Hamilton. Furthermore, the well in which the young woman's body was discovered was owned by a company controlled by Aaron Burr. (Conflict of interest, anyone?) After Collins finishes writing about the murder and subsequent trial, he updates the reader about each of the book's "characters." It's unsurprising that Hamilton and Burr have a chapter devoted to their continued rivalry, one that led to a duel in 1804. It was a good read, really, one that left me wanting to read more about America's historical characters. And it also made me want to visit the location of the well (which exists, today, in the basement of a Manhattan restaurant).

Cat Calls Aren't Compliments

Two nights ago, I attended an Indian cooking class. The class was held in Fall Creek Place, a neighborhood four miles north of my own. I choose to bike to the class's location, and even rode with a Twitter friend who also had signed up for the class. After we learned how to make fish curry--and after we ate our share of it, too--we made our way back south. We pedaled down Alabama Street, pointing out and commenting on the color of particular homes. And as we biked--her in front, me behind and inside--we asked questions, half-shouting the answers over our shoulders. 

"Which do you like better?” she asked. “Your old neighborhood, or the one you're in now?" 

"The one I'm in now," I said, without skipping a beat. I thought about my apartment's proximity to restaurants, pubs, and coffee shops. I thought about how Fountain Square was, by foot, just ten minutes away, and how downtown was, by bike, fifteen. "Plus," I continued, "it feels ... 'neighborhoody.' I feel safer there." 

Little did I know that, an hour and a half later, my sense of security would vanish with a three-word slur. 

Wednesday afternoon was oppressive; a hazy veil had made the streets humid and gritty. By evening, though, the air was cooler and there existed, for once, a light breeze. From inside my apartment, I could hear the deafening hums of the cicadas, and, in a fit of nostalgia, I went for a walk. 

On my way back from Fountain Square, I stopped to take a photo of the skyline. I positioned myself against a railing, slightly bent over in hopes of setting up a better angle. I quickly glanced over my shoulder and noticed that a group of four male cyclists were closing in. As they pedaled past me, each of the cyclists proceeded to yell some sort of obscenity, slur, or sexist remark. The final and least offensive remark I heard was, "Mmm. Nice ass!" 

At the time, I did nothing but sigh. Cat calls and whistles and verbal harassment were things I had been hearing since I was thirteen. But as the sun lowered, and as the cicadas' hums gave way to the crickets', I became angry. 

Two weeks ago, while out on a run, I was cat called by three separate men. Each man was of a different race, and each slur had its own bite. I remember jogging down East Street, my breath heavy and footsteps hard. It was the end of my run, and I was nearing the three-mile mark. I was sweaty. I was tired. And I was lost in thought until a man stuck his head out the back window of an extended cab pick-up and yelled, "Run faster so I can see your jiggles!" 

He laughed. The truck sped on. And I dissolved into the pavement. 

I had started that evening's run on Monument Circle, where I had attended a rally in response to Ferguson. I and one hundred others had stood on the steps of the Monument, our heads bowed in a moment of silence, our hands raised in support. We had listened to writer and performer Januarie York recite a poem she had written after the shooting of Trayvon Martin. By the end of York's performance, cheeks were tear-streaked. She--and the rally as a whole--had given me something to both feel and think about. There was police brutality. There was race.

There were some things that I understood. 

And, then again, there were a lot of things that I didn't.

There are moments in life when you can't catch your breath. When there are no words. When all you have are weighted emotions burning inside your chest, waiting to boil over. The pressure just builds and builds and builds until your emotions bubble over the sides--messy, wet, honest. And, damn it, you have to cry in the gray glove of morning, when you're on vacation and the sun's first rays break over the mountains and you remember, just as you were about to forget, that beauty still exists. You have to. You have to hold yourself, hug yourself, rock yourself and let the hot tears of injustice bathe your cheeks because there's been another mass shooting and this, this, really, is the only way you know how to respond. You have to. You have to. You have to embrace a stranger--someone you've never known, and may never know again--for her bravery. She has a different skin color than you, but you don't care; you don't give a damn because all you know is that she came to a rally in Indianapolis with her eight-year-old autistic son, telling you that she lives in a constant state of worry for her child. "He could just be walking down the street in ten years, minding his own business, matching the description of someone who did do something wrong, and all of a sudden it's 'Stop! Put your hands in the air!'" the woman said in an Indy Star article. "And with his autism, he might get scared and run." 

A friend with whom I attended the rally was also interviewed by The Star. Her statements did not appear in the published article, but, as she herself said, "I'm not sure they actually want to use the opinions of a white, suburban housewife." She knew--and I knew, too--that the lives of many of those at the rally, and of those in Ferguson, were very different from our own daily experiences. 

Elizabeth from the blog Delightfully Tacky had similar thoughts, which she expressed in a post titled "Thoughts on Ferguson as a White Woman"

"I can't tell [people of color] that racism doesn't exist because I walk through the world as a white person who doesn't have to experience it. Of course I don't see racism; why would I? It's not happening to me. But as a woman, I know that living in the same place doesn't mean experiencing the same reality. Where I see a dangerous street with potential for a harassment or rape situation, men see a quiet sidewalk. Where I see a cop pulling me over for  a broken taillight, people of color may see a potentially vastly different scenario."

Or, as a male friend of mine said, "I don't think any of us white folks can ever understand what it is like to be feared ... by merely existing. I don't think we'll ever understand how that can affect a person, and their decision making." 

That friend, a journalist, had sent me a lengthy email with his thoughts on Ferguson. He told me that the story had been weighing heavily on his soul. A letter from my cousin said the same. My Twitter and Facebook feeds, for several days, were laden with posts, stories, comments, opinions, and articles. Many of my friends are journalists, or are former journalists, so the presence of such commentary is not unusual. We were all angry. We were all frustrated. We were all tired of asking questions. Why does this still exist? Why must we live in fear? In her blog post, Elizabeth said that when she sees her black Facebook friends who are mothers "share their despair over teaching their sons to never walk in a store with their hands in their pockets for fear of being accused of stealing, or to avoid wearing hoodies, or to never argue with a police officer for fear of the situation escalating to the point of something fatal, [she hears] the same despair of mothers with daughters sharing the heartbreak of having to teach their girls how to avoid getting raped, how to diffuse situations with harassers, how to give fake numbers instead of just turning a man down for fear of it ending in violence." She adds that, "We're fighting for equality ... for the opportunity to walk through the world without fear. For our stories to be legitimized and not discounted. For our lives to matter." 

Individuals are not disposable. 

The frailty of our existence is what occupied most of my thoughts on my run after the rally. Individuals are not disposable

I acknowledged that I didn't know what it was like to be feared. I acknowledged that I didn't know what it was like to be thought of as suspicious.  My fears, I thought, seem situational. My mother has always told me to be cautious. But she never had to teach me to be wary of what others thought of me. It just ... well, admit it, Dawn ... it wasn't necessary. For people of color, it is. I was halfway through my run, threading my sweaty body through the business suits chatting away in front of the Conrad. Exhaust from cars idling in front of the hotel overwhelmed my throat and lungs, choking me. And that's when I heard a voice. Over the traffic, and over the rambling chatter, I heard it. A grungy tenor.

"You dirty girl. Run over here and I'll make you pant!" 

The slur was gritty, as if I had heard it from a cigarette-wielding heroin addict whose clothes were rumpled from sitting on the back staircase of a dingy apartment that smelled of mold and piss. 

I kept my pace. 

His was the first of the three sexist statements I heard that evening. The second was on Washington, where a taxi driver honked his horn. He brought his vehicle to a crawl, matched my pace, and continued to honk and whistle until I waved, in his direction, that god damned Barbie-pink canister of pepper spray that I carry with me just in case. Not five minutes later, I was instructed, by a strange man in a pick-up truck, to run faster so that he could "see my jiggles." The fact that I spent half an hour running and was the recipient of three sexist remarks is disturbing. Evidently, it's impossible to go ten minutes without being reminded that I always have to be on guard.

After the incident with the four bicyclists, I shared my experience on social media. I was stunned--and humbled--by the number of comments I received. So many others shared their experiences. Their concerns. Their disgust. One friend even sent me a link to the following graphic, which was designed by Shea Strauss and appeared in Playboy

Cat calls don't make me feel beautiful. Men whistling and winking at me from their cars don't make me feel validated. They don't make me feel confident. No, they make me feel vulnerable and dirty. They rape of me of my self-worth. They make me feel worthless. 

As I mentioned before, the thought that most occupied my mind on that run was that individuals are not worthless. It doesn't matter what you are, who you are, what color you are, what gender you are, what your sexual orientation is, what you gender you identify with, or if you're tall, short, disabled or even unemployed. Individuals are not disposable.

Contemporary Design at Indianapolis Museum of Art

A couple weekends ago, Zoë, Ty, and I went to the Indianapolis Museum of Art (IMA). We'd been to IMA several times in the past, as it's easy to get to, and offers free admission. The first time we went as a threesome, Zoë and I dragged Ty up to the top floor, where Ty's least favorite type of artcontemporary artis housed. His contempt for some of the pieces made us shake with silent laughter.

Our main reason for trekking up to IMA this time, however, was to see its exhibit on Modernism, a collection that Zoë had described as "assaulting to the senses." There were stools you couldn't sit on, chairs that were without a seat, and crooked bookcases made of scrapped furniture. There was even a tea kettle whose design, according to the caption, "overpowered its function." An Italian manufacturer described the kettle as a "beautiful fiasco," and the artist himself said it was "aerodynamic and useless." Though I found the exhibit interesting, it was clear that most of the pieces embodied "form over function."

"You know," Zoë said, "I typically like my stools to be of the You-can-sit-on-them variety." She shook her hands in the direction of a stool, which resembled the three-pronged "claws" that never properly grip that stuffed animal you so desperately, desperately want to snag because you just paid three dollars to try and win something and damn it, just grab something already. "This is not a stool," Zoë hissed. "It is a sculpture." 

"With that you on that one, Hayes," I said. "You know why? You know why, Hayes? Because I am never sitting in that." I pointed at a chair made entirely of glass. "Not only is it a chair you can't sit in, but it is also a chair you have to clean. Tell me, Hayes, who cleans chairs? Do you clean chairs? I don't clean chairs." 

We continued our antics and our rants, both real and exaggerated. When Ty pointed out a lamp that had been painted white and had had bird wings glued to the top of it, Zoë turned, gestured toward a knife rack shaped like a human head, and said, "That's what this exhibit makes me feel like."

After worming our way around the exhibitwhich did have several Macintosh computers on display, as well as a few sleek, minimalist pieces by designer Naoto Fukasawa--we wandered around the rest of IMA.  It is a solid museum, truly. I particularly enjoy looking at the American art, especially the O'Keeffes and the Hoppers. Other collections include African art, Asian art, Native American art, European painting and sculpture, Oceanic art, and textile and fashion art. Given that it costs nothing to explore IMA, it's an excellent place to spend an afternoon. Furthermore, IMA's grounds are beautiful; it's one of the best places in the city to have a picnic, and if certain blogging friends were ever to visit*cough* Ayla *cough* Mary *cough cough*I'd definitely take them here. 

Sunrise at the Indiana State Fair

On Friday morning, my alarm clock jarred me from sleep, the angry, green numbers blinking 5:07, 5:07, 5:07. It's still the middle of the night in California, I thought. I groaned. I sighed. I stretched. As long as the "a.m." is as dark as night, it's too early to be roused from my cotton camaraderie. Had my alarm not blared a second warning nine minutes later, sleep would've taken me once more. Reluctantly, I pulled myself from my sheets and clothed myself in jeans and a black cardigan. I ran brushes through my hair and over my teeth, respectively. And, by 5:50, I was driving to the state fairgrounds, with Lord Huron in the CD player. Traffic was sparse at that hour, and it was still dark when I turned onto 38th Street. I was not alone in going to the fairgrounds, however; there were a few dozen of us who shuffled through the admission gates. The fair, like the rest of the world, was silent. The midway was unlit, the food tents shrouded. It was opening day, sure, but it was early. Still too early. And so, with shoulder bags and coffee mugs and drowsy dispositions, we fair-goers made our way toward the infield.

I found Brandon first, dressed for work and toting a tripod. Together, he and I walked to the heart of the fairgrounds, where we quickly found the rest of our comrades: adventurous Ian, with his backpack and baseball cap; Steven, playful even at 6:15 in the morning; and Troy, whose three little ones fluttered about his legs. Our small group grew, however, with the arrival of Shawn, an explorer who was five weeks into a year-long trip around the United States. Shawn had been staying in Indianapolis for a few days, and already had met up with several local Instagrammers. But, on Friday morning, he met us for a sunrise hot air balloon launch in the mostly-shuttered fairgrounds.

... Which, by the way, was utterly, totally, and irrevocably worth waking up for. 

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