Friday, January 22, 2010

My Favorite Reads: The Great Gatsby

Hosted by Alyce at At Home With Books, this is a weekly meme in which bloggers tell about their favorite reads from the past.


 Title: The Great Gatsby
Author: F. Scott Fitzgerald
Pages: 180

First Sentence: "In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since."


Nick Carraway is a Midwesterner who moves out to New York looking for a change in life. He moves to West Egg, a stylish portion of the island of Long Island, where he rents a small house situated between two mansions.

One of those mansions belongs to Jay Gatsby, a mysteriously wealthy, charismatic man with a hidden past.

Across the harbor, on East Egg, the portion of Long Island belonging to the "old money," lives Nick's cousin, Daisy Buchanan.

After attending a lavish party thrown by Gatsby, Nick befriends the lonely millionaire, who draws the narrator into his life of constant parties. Later, Nick learns that Gatsby once loved Daisy, and amassed his fortune in an attempt to woo her away from her violent, philandering husband, Tom.

When something happens to Tom's mistress and Gatsby is made the fall-guy, the reader watches as the American Dream comes crashing down around his ears.

Note: I hate writing my own summaries because I'm always afraid I'll reveal too much of the plot, but I wasn't fond of any of the other summaries I've found online.

Why I Chose It:
Gatsby is my all-time favorite book. I don't know if there's a book out there that can replace this one in my eyes as the best. Of course, revealing Gatsby as my favorite book of all time always came as a surprise to my college professors and fellow classmates, as I was widely known as a staunch Anglophile who believed that American literature was not a bit original.

Part of what makes this book my favorite is its brilliant portrayal of the 1920s in all its brightly hued glory as well as its gritty reality. There's a deep sense of desperation underlying the entire novel, portrayed most vividly in the wasteland surrounding the garage and the billboard advertising an optometrist's office. People turned to wild parties and short dresses and lots and lots of liquor in the 1920s as a means of escaping the horrors that World War I brought. Thousands of young men died fighting a war halfway across the world, and people needed to forget that. The vibrant haze that was the 1920s, a time when many people enjoyed a new prosperity, offered that escape.

I first read this book my sophomore year in high school, and remember being enchanted. I always had a soft spot for the 1920s, but this was the 1920s unlike I had ever seen it before. Fitzgerald's language did something to me that I've never been able to turn away from. Sure, I read a lot before I read Gatsby, but I had never engaged so much with the poetry of the language until then.

For example:

The lights grow brighter as the earth lurches away from the sun and now the orchestra is playing yellow cocktail music and the opera of voices pitches a key higher. Laughter is easier, minute by minute, spilled with prodigality, tipped out at a cheerful word. The groups change more swiftly, swell with new arrivals, dissolve and form in the same breath -- already there are wanderers, confident girls who weave here and there among the stouter and more stable, become for a sharp, joyous moment the center of a group and then excited with triumph glide on through the sea-change of faces and voices and color under the constantly changing light. 
It's because of passages such as these that I return to this book at least once every couple of years, always discovering something new. The first couple of times I read this book, I strongly disliked Daisy. I thought she was nothing more than a vapid, shallow shell of a woman who flitted from one pleasure-filled adventure to the next. While this is true, I later discovered that she's also somewhat sympathetic. She's never been taught to be anything other than a poor little rich girl, and she doesn't possess the capacity to decide, for herself, what she really wants in life.

As always, though, Gatsby is my favorite character. He's so much like so many of us, it almost hurts to examine him closely. He found what he wanted -- Daisy -- at a point in his life when he couldn't have her, so he did everything he could to find a way to win her back. Gatsby comes so close to attaining his desire, his own personal American Dream, but it just slips right through his fingers. He's the person that has many, many secret troubles and struggles who puts on a brave face for the rest of the world. He's the man who's been kicked down many times, but keeps fighting. There's a little bit of Gatsby in everyone.

With that, I leave you with what is, in my opinion, the best closing of a book, ever:

And as I sat there, brooding on the old unknown world, I thought of Gatsby's wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy's dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.
Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that's no matter -- tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. ... And one fine morning--
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.



~PakKaramu~ said...

Pak Karamu visiting your blog

Dr. Bill (William L.) Smith said...

A classic, for sure!

Bill ;-)

Hope you'll check out my book giveaway:

Alyce said...

The Great Gatsby is one of my favorite American classics! I haven't read it since high school though. I'm thinking I should read it again sometime soon - I'm sure I would get more out of it now.

Michelle said...

You should give it another go, Alyce. It's amazing what else will pop out at you!

This is one of those books I always wonder about on high school syllabi. Do teenagers REALLY have enough life experience to really get these types of books?

Later in the same year I read Gatsby in school, we read The Sound and the Fury. I know we were supposed to be "honors" students, but why would you make a bunch of 15- and 16-year-olds read that book? It's not something too many people understood at the time.

Tricia said...

I love this book too. Definitely due for a re-read though!

Jenners said...

Great job!! I haven't read this in ages and should probably read it again as a grown-up ... I'm sure I would get more out of it than I did in high school ... even though I liked it then. And I love love love the cover that you had on your Amazon link. To me, that is the proper cover (i.e., the one I had). It is so stunning and mysterious and amazing.

bermudaonion said...

I read this in high school and had the same reaction as you did. I should probably re-read it to see how I'd react now.

Lisa said...

I have never read this. I ordered a copy from paperbackswap last year and it still sits and taunts me. I really need to read it this year.

Sandra said...

Lovely review, you make me want to read it again. I liked it very much.

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