A Girl and Her Gatsby: A Love Story

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The Great Gatsby is my favorite book.

I don’t have a lot of definitive favorites. I have a favorite movie for every genre, time period, and situation. I have a different favorite song every year. I don’t even have one favorite color. (For the record: hot pink and black.) But I have a favorite book. Only one. Only Gatsby.

Today, Baz Luhrmann’s film version of The Great Gatsby opens in theaters. Today, the world is introduced to Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jay Gatsby. I actually have no doubt that DiCaprio will make a compelling Gatsby, but he won’t be my Gatsby.

No, my Gatsby lives only in the pages of my dog-eared paperback copy of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece. I met my Gatsby during a rainy Easter vacation week when I was 13, and it was love at first read. Gatsby turned out all right in the end, and I turned out all right because of the myriad of things he taught me and continues to teach me 11 years after I first discovered his story.

My Gatsby taught a 13-year-old little girl about the importance of dreaming and doing everything you can to achieve that dream. My Gatsby taught a 17-year-old high school senior to remember to pick a goal worthy of being chased with your whole heart. My Gatsby and his fate taught a 21-year-old college student to balance romanticism with pragmatism. My Gatsby continues to teach me today, at 24 years old, about the true meaning of greatness and the way one life can significantly alter the course of another.

As I grew up, I realized that The Great Gatsby isn’t really Gatsby’s story at all. It’s Nick Carraway’s. And, in being Nick’s story, it’s our story. We’re all Nicks each time we encounter Gatsby on the page, trying to figure out what to make of this mysterious man, judging his actions against our own values, and ultimately being changed in whatever small way we allow ourselves to be changed by having encountered his innocence and fervent belief in a singular dream.

That’s the true greatness of Gatsby—he’s whoever you want him to be. For some, he’s an empty, naive fraud chasing after a horrible woman who deserves the fate he gets. For others, Gatsby is a dreamer whose ability to dream in a world that has no place for such innocent belief any longer makes him a hero. For me, my Gatsby is a tragic hero—a man whose spirit couldn’t survive in such a careless world but was strong enough to change at least one person for the better.

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A Thousand Lives (or Why Reading is Awesome)

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies…The man who never reads lives only one.” – George R.R. Martin (A Dance with Dragons)

I’m a reader.

I’ve never been a particularly adventurous woman. But I’ve gone on a thousand lifetimes’ worth of adventures within the pages of my favorite books. I’ve traveled across dangerous landscapes, fought terrifying foes, cried tears of mourning over things lost and tears of joy over things gained, and learned enough to fill a book of my own about myself in the process.

I’ve danced with Angelina Ballerina, solved mysteries with Nancy Drew, and reached for the green light with Jay Gatsby. I’ve taken the road less traveled with Robert Frost, I’ve seen the Eden in America with Walt Whitman, and I’ve broken all the rules with e.e. cummings.

Atticus Finch taught me about human decency, and Daisy Buchanan taught me about human carelessness. The March sisters taught me about the bonds of family, and Ron Weasley taught me about the importance of a best friend. Romeo and Juliet taught me that love can sometimes burn too hot too fast, and Darcy and Elizabeth taught me that love can sometimes be a slow-burning flame that eventually warms your soul. Huck Finn taught me to stand up for what I believe is right, and Jane Eyre taught me to stand up for myself.

I’ve traveled to the Island of the Blue Dolphins, the Shire, and Hogwarts. I’ve grown up on Mango Street, in District 12, and along a post-apocalyptic road with a nameless father and son. I’ve journeyed through Westeros, lived at Thornfield Hall, and even spent a little time in Forks, Washington.

I’ve been to heaven and back with Susie Salmon. I’ve been inspired by Dr. Seuss. I’ve been scared by Stephen King. I’ve been on a lonely raft with a boy named Pi. I’ve been up way past my bedtime with Harry Potter. I’ve been onstage with the words of William Shakespeare, Tennessee Williams, and Arthur Miller.

I’ve fallen in love with Jaime Lannister and Peeta Mellark and a hundred others. I’ve admired Jo March and Janie Crawford and a thousand more. I’ve had nightmares about Professor Umbridge, and I’ve dreamt of becoming as strong as Professor McGonagall. I’ve played and learned and grown with Molly, Samantha, and so many other American Girls.

Hermione Granger showed me that it’s okay to smarter than the boys. Katniss Everdeen showed me that we all have power, strength, and fire inside us. Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist showed me that all people deserve the right to love who they love.

I’ve laughed over the misadventures of Bridget Jones. I’ve cried over the love story of Hazel Grace and Augustus. I’ve gone mad with Ophelia, too.

I learned about stories and authors from Tim O’Brien and Ian McEwan. I learned about the strength of the human spirit from a young girl named Anne Frank.

When I read, I’m brave and beautiful and bold; I’m free and fearless and formidable. When I read, I get to be things I don’t always feel I am in reality, but sometimes—on very rare and wonderful occasions—I take a little bit of those characters, those lives, and those adventures with me after I close the book. When I read, I learn, I laugh, I cry, and I grow. When I read, I live a new and different life with each crack of a book’s spine, with each turn of the page.

I’m a reader. My story is intertwined with a thousand other stories. I’ve lived a thousand lives already, and I’m excited to live a thousand more. I wouldn’t want it any other way.

NGN’s Best of 2012: Everything Else

Earlier today, I posted my favorites from the world of TV in 2012, and now it’s time for me to take a look at the best of the rest: the music, movies, books, and pop culture phenomena that made this year so memorable.

Favorite Song: “Call Me Maybe” (Carly Rae Jepsen)
I know it’s a cheesy pop song, but it is one great cheesy pop song. When I think back on 2012 years from now, this will undoubtedly be the song I remember. It was fun, it made me want to dance, and it was the kind of song that never got out of your head until you found yourself no longer minding that it was stuck in there.

Runner-Up: “Some Nights” (FUN.)

Favorite Movie: Silver Linings Playbook
Anchored by career performances from Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper, this film was a surprisingly uplifting and yet realistic look at mental illness and the many different ways we can cope and heal. It made me laugh, it made me cry, and it made me feel hopeful. It was the most fascinating love story I’ve seen in a movie theater in ages because it was grounded in both humor and a whole lot of heart.

Runner-Up: The Avengers

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Nerdy Girl Reads: Frozen Heat

Title: Frozen Heat

Author: Richard Castle (Heat Wave, Naked Heat, Heat Rises)

Genre: Mystery/crime

Page Count: 313

The Basics: New York City homicide detective Nikki Heat has been haunted for years by the one case she could never solve—her mother’s murder. When an old friend of her mother is found stabbed in the same brutal way, Detective Heat finds herself in the middle of an intricate web of secrets, betrayals, and international espionage. Along with investigative journalist Jameson Rook (her professional and romantic partner), she travels from the bright lights of Paris to the dark alleys of New York City, seeking the answers that have eluded her for over 10 years.

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Nerdy Girl Reads: Every Day

Title: Every Day

Author: David Levithan (Boy Meets Boy, How They Met and Other Stories, The Lover’s Dictionary)

Genre: Young adult/romance

Page Count: 322

The Basics: Every Day is told from the point of view of A, a 16-year-old who wakes up in the body of a different 16-year-old every day. Some days, A is a girl; some days A is a boy. Some days A lives a happy life; some days A inhabits a body that is depressed, addicted to drugs, or suicidal. A has learned to live with this existence, trying to refrain from interfering with any aspect of the lives he inhabits, until the day he wakes up in the body of a boy named Justin and falls in love with Justin’s girlfriend, Rhiannon. From that day on, A is determined to find Rhiannon again, with far-reaching consequences. And once A does find her again, can she truly love a person whose appearance, whose life, changes every day?

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Why We Need Katniss

Before I started this blog, I made a list of possible topics that I wanted to write about. Near the top of the list was “Why We Need Katniss.” As I sat down to watch my new copy of The Hunger Games on DVD Saturday night, I realized that the reason I hadn’t written this post yet was because the question it poses is one I had yet to answer.

Why do we need Katniss Everdeen?

As a writer, I see the world in terms of the stories we all have to tell. And it worries me to see the many ways that we – especially we as women – hand over our stories to other people, other forces. Our sense of personal authorship becomes diminished whenever we let other people tell us how to feel about ourselves; whenever we judge our actions, our appearance, our worth, and our value as human beings by society’s ever-changing and arbitrary standards.

So what does this have to do with Katniss?

Even when it seems like the Capitol has total control over her, Katniss fights for her right to live her own life on her terms. To make her own decisions. To tell her own story.

And what is Katniss’s story? Her story is the journey from isolation to community, from suspicion to trust, from detachment to love.

Katniss’s story is the story of how one young woman can inspire change simply by striving to be, as Peeta says, “more than just a piece in their games.”

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Beach Reading Cheat Sheet

August is right around the corner, and that means it’s time to enjoy these last few weeks of summer with some sunshine and a good book. Summer reading has been an essential part of my life since I was a kid, and the urge to pick up a good book by the pool, on the beach, or on a road trip didn’t go away after the high school reading assignments ended.

There’s a great summer book out there for everyone—from those who love romance to sci-fi and fantasy fans. And I’m happy to take some of the guesswork out of it for you. So before you drive to the library or visit the bookstore, take a look at this list. These selections are all Nerdy Girl-approved for an enjoyable end-of-summer reading binge.

For the Nonfiction Fan: Summer can be a great time to learn about different people, places, and historical events. It’s also a fantastic time to sit in the sun with a fascinating memoir or a collection of comedic essays.

My Recommendations:

  • Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (Mindy Kaling) – No book has made me laugh harder than this one.
  • The Game (Ken Dryden) – If you’re a sports fan (especially a hockey fan), this is a must-read.
  • Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M. (Sam Wasson) – This behind-the-scenes look at the making of Breakfast at Tiffany’s is a compelling book for anyone interested in feminism, 1960s culture, or film history.

For the Series Addict: There’s no time like the summer to start (and probably finish) a great book series. From mystery to fantasy, there are plenty of captivating series to get hooked on before the summer is done.

My Recommendations:

  • A Song of Ice and Fire (George R. R. Martin) – The books may be long, but the detail and depth behind each of the characters and their interactions makes this a series that transcends the fantasy genre to appeal to a broad range of readers.
  • The Nikki Heat series (Richard Castle) – I’ll admit it; the first two books in this three (soon to be four) book series were not exactly great pieces of literature, but they’re fun and fast reads (which is exactly what most people look for in a beach book). And for fans of the TV show Castle, these books (meant to be the ones written by the show’s titular character) are not to be missed.
  • The Hunger Games series (Suzanne Collins) and the Harry Potter series (J.K. Rowling) – If you haven’t read either one of these series, you’re missing out on two massive cultural phenomena and some great literature as well. If you’ve already read them, I highly recommend a summer reread; it’ll open your eyes to new things to love and appreciate in these books.

For the Classics Lover: Summertime is a great time to visit the “Reading List” section of your local library or bookstore and pick up one of the classics that you always meant to read but never did in high school or college.

My Recommendations:

  • The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald) – What it lacks in length (which makes it a great plane or road-trip book) it more than makes up for in depth. This is the ultimate American classic that truly stands the test of time. Read it before the movie comes out this winter.
  • Leaves of Grass (Walt Whitman) – Summer is the perfect time to find a shady spot under a tree and truly understand the beauty and freedom that Whitman’s poems are about.
  • To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee) – This novel should be required reading for all members of the human race, and I don’t say that lightly.

For the Literature Snob: For some people, the summer affords enough time to explore depths one can only find in great literature. The long days of summer are the perfect backdrop for hours spent analyzing the language and meaning behind contemporary masterpieces by world-renowned writers.

My Recommendations:

  • Atonement (Ian McEwan) – With its sweeping love story, lush language, and intricate plotting, this gorgeous novel is one to dive headfirst into and get lost in for hours.
  • The Road (Cormac McCarthy) – A post-apocalyptic novel that is more drama than action, this novel touches on topics as deep as parent-child relationships, innocence in the face of pure evil, and the value of hope in situations that define hopelessness. In other words, it’s not your average beach read.
  • Brokeback Mountain (E. Annie Proulx) – A novella that can be read in the span of one lazy summer afternoon, this is a truly breathtaking piece of writing. Its style, its themes, and its content manage to be both timeless and groundbreaking, grandiose and intimate.

For the Hopeless Romantic: For many (including myself on many occasions), a summer book is only as good as its love story. But before you pick up Fifty Shades of Grey, give these a try.

My Recommendations:

  • The Fault in Our Stars (John Green) – This love story features some of the most exquisite prose I’ve ever read. Have your tissues ready because there will be tears, caused by the novel’s beauty as well as its heartbreaking subject matter.
  • Dedication (Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus) – This novel about first love and the struggle to move beyond it is creative in its plot and captivating in its execution. It’s sweet, it’s surprisingly sexy, and it’s ultimately a very empowering story.
  • Bridget Jones’s Diary (Helen Fielding) – One of the original “chick lit” classics, this novel is one that most single girls can relate to…whether we want to admit to it or not. Its quick pacing and sharp sense of humor make it a great beach read.

Summertime is the perfect time to give literature a chance, even if you’re not usually a voracious reader. Take some time to peruse the aisles of a bookstore or the pages of Amazon.com and see what stands out to you.

What will I be reading for the rest of this summer? In my beach bag, I’ve packed The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Stephen Chbosky), Fight Club (Chuck Palahniuk), and Beautiful Ruins (Jess Walter). I’ve also got the last two-thirds of Anna Karenina (Leo Tolstoy) waiting in the wings.

What’s on your ultimate summer reading list?

A True American Horror Story: Violence, Childhood, and The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games can be described in many ways. It’s captivating. It’s haunting. It’s affecting. It’s terrifying.

It’s also unquestionably American.

According to Entertainment Weekly, “Internationally, The Hunger Games isn’t yet the franchise-launching blockbuster that it is Stateside.” As of last weekend (April 15), the film had grossed $337.1 million domestically but had yet to pass the $200 million mark internationally.

This disparity can be attributed to many causes, but I think it all boils down to one point: The Hunger Games is a distinctly American story. It reflects the uniquely American mythology of Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, and Lucas’s Star Wars. While Suzanne Collins surely meant for her novel to be enjoyed and analyzed by an international audience, she speaks directly to Americans with every turn of the page.

The basic premise of The Hunger Games points directly to two American obsessions: violence and youth. Never before have these two quintessentially American fascinations been linked in such a brutally direct way.

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