Monday, February 18, 2008

Potpourri: Fitzgerald/Hem, Buh-Bye HD-DVD, NOLA Music at NBA All-Star Game (Slight Return)

It's always refreshing when major literary figures, particularly the dead but still deserving ones, pick up renewed national exposure.

How about attention via a front-page story in the New York Times? That's where F. Scott Fitzgerald landed on Sunday, in a piece about the continuing influence and impact of The Great Gatsby, still appreciated and studied for its commentary on the idea of the American Dream.

From the story, penned by Sara Rimer: "Some educators say the best way to engage racially and ethnically diverse students in reading is with books that mirror their lives and culture. But others say that while a variety of literary voices is important, "Gatsby" - still required reading at half the high schools in the country - resonates powerfully among urban adolescents, many of them first- and second-generation immigrants, who are striving to ascend in 21st-century America."

(Okay, students, compare Gatsby's vision of the American Dream with that of oil man Daniel Plainview's in Paul Thomas Anderson's film There Will Be Blood, and that of the titular characters in two other Oscar-nominated films - Michael Clayton and Juno; for a greater challenge, examine the splintered American dream as represented by the thief, the killer and the lawman in No Country for Old Men).

Some take-away factoids:
The novel still sells at the rate of 500,000 copies a year.
Gatsby had fallen out of fashion by the time its author died in 1940, and was revived in the '50s and '60s via paperback and student editions.

On the same day, in the New York Times Book Review, Fitzgerald's famous frenemy Ernest Hemingway was referenced no less than four times in Luc Sante's mixed review of The Reserve, the latest work from great contemporary American novelist Russell Banks (author of Affliction, The Sweet Hereafter and dozens of high-caliber short stories).

Writes Sante: "Banks uses elements of (artist Rockwell) Kent’s life and character, but makes his character, Jordan Groves, even more of a Hemingway hero — an impetuous womanizer drawn to contradictions: luxury and social justice, bright lights and wilderness.

Looks like the final - really, almost the very last -- death knell for HD-DVD has sounded, with Blu-Ray coming out the winner. Toshiba is about to pack it in, cutting its losses and losing major face by ceasing production of the HD-DVD player, according to a story in today's Wall Street Journal.

Here, from the WSJ, is the basic info about what happened: "After a years-long heated battle between HD DVD and Blu-ray, Blu-ray began rapidly pulling away in recent weeks. The biggest momentum switch came in early January, when Time Warner Inc.'s Warner Bros., which had been backing both formats, said that after May, it would publish high-definition titles only on Blu-ray. Since then, retailers from Best Buy Co. to Wal-Mart Stores Inc. have said they would throw their weight exclusively behind the Sony-backed technology."

Since I have a pile of yet-unwatched HD-DVDs, maybe it's time for me to find a cheap player (or two), or possibly a dual-format HD-DVD/Blu-Ray player. Here's a good bet: HD-DVDs will be available at blow-out prices from now on. Of course the down side is one familiar to old fans of laserdiscs: What are you gonna do with all those discs when your players eventually break down and can't be replaced?

As a follow-up to yesterday's post on NOLA music at the NBA All-Star Game, check Keith Spera's column in the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

BTW, Spera has really kept at this rock-critic game, and after a long period in the trenches he's developed into a reliable observer of the NOLA scene (and of the pop/rock world at large). There's much to be said about a newspaper nurturing the career of a local arts reporter, and Spera is a living example. No, I'm not saying all this because of any connection with Spera - the most communication we've had is a long-ago email exchange.

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