Thursday, April 19, 2012

Three on Thursday: The Jazz Age

I touched on Langston Hughes' work in my last post about poetry; did you know that April is also Jazz Appreciation Month?  While I do love some modern jazz (Zero 7, Norah Jones), I also love books about jazz, and thought I'd take the opportunity to share a few of those titles with you.  If you're not familiar with jazz music, I would recommend doing a bit of reading about the subject, too.  Gary Giddins and Scott DeVeaux's 2009 history, Jazz, is a great place to start.  Of course, if you prefer a more condensed version, you could always wiki it, or there's a great Ken Burns documentary series made for PBS called Jazz: the story of America's music

The Jazz Age was a movement of the 1920s, when jazz music and dance became popular with the introduction of mainstream radio at the end of WWI.  To me, there are three writers who are icons of the era: Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.  Jazz Age fiction is typified by writers who fought the pre-war societal norms, bucked the censors, and sought to write with realism and freedom.  Here are a few of my personal favorites:

If you've been reading this blog for awhile, you may have noticed I have a bit of a soft spot for F. Scott Fitzgerald (who also coined the term Jazz Age), in particular, The Great Gatsby.  Narrator Nick Carraway, back from WWI and restless, moves to New York to learn the bond business.  The home Nick rents is in the shadow of a mansion owned by Jay Gatsby, mysteriously wealthy and host of elaborate, extravagant parties.  Gatsby is also haunted by his first love, Daisy Buchanan, who lives across the water with husband Tom in fashionable East Egg.  This love triangle among the upper class, bored with what they have and finding the exotic in the ordinary, is a fast read whose narrative holds up well for the modern reader.

While Fitzgerald tended to write about the rich, William Faulkner's writings were set in fictitious and somewhat rural Yoknapatawpha County, based on Lafayette County, Mississippi where he spent much of his childhood.  I'm hard pressed to pick a favorite, so I'll let this be the reader's choice.  I'm fond of both The Sound and the Fury, and As I Lay Dying.  The first is about the dissolution of a family of former Southern aristocracy, and the second is the story of a family's motivations to honor the dying family matriarch's wish to be buried in the town of Jefferson.  Both employ stream-of-consciousness narratives, at least partially, and multiple narrators in an effort to show varying motivations and perceptions surrounding common events.

Finally, Ernest Hemingway's economical prose tended to center on Americans abroad, such as A Farewell to Arms's Frederic Henry, an American serving in the Italian ambulance corps during WWI, and American expat and journalist Jake Barnes in The Sun Also Rises who travels from Paris to Pamplona to see the running of the bulls.  For their time, both novels were edgy, with plenty of alcohol and affairs peppered along their plotlines. 

Not what you were expecting during Jazz Appreciation Month?  What jazz-related books would you recommend?

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