April 19, 2012

Welcome to the World of Wealth & Excess

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Release Date: April 1925
Pages: 180 pages
Source & Format: Purchased; Paperback

Sum It Up
A bunch of rich people during the Jazz Age. In a sentence, that's probably all you need to know about this book. But because I won't leave you hanging like that, I'll give you a little more scoop. Narrator Nick Carraway introduces us to quite a few characters - his wealth neighbor Jay Gatsby, his cousin Daisy and her husband Tom, and Daisy's friend Jordan. This is novel about some of the most enduring obsessions: money, beauty, greed and glory. And it strikes a cautionary note as you read about Gatsby's rise and eventual fall from grace.

Five years before novel opens, Gatsby meets Daisy and falls in love. She's a legendary beauty, and he's just a poor officer. When Gatsby is sent overseas, Daisy marries the rich but cruel Tom Buchanan. Following her marriage, Gatsby devotes himself to pursuing wealth - and ultimately the pursuit of Daisy. But chasing an ideal has its consequences, as Gatsby soon learns.

By Its Cover: Hey There Flapper Girl!
I hated the cover of the edition I read, but I got it for $2 in the bargain bin so I guess I can't complain too much. However, if I had paid full price for it, I would totally have picked this gorgeous cover. First, I'm in love with the vintage black and white photo. You immediately know you're headed to the roaring twenties. I also love the typography - it's bold and perfectly fits that twenties feel. 

Amen, Sister Friend: I'd Rather Admire You From Afar
I'm going to be honest, I would not want to be friends with Nick. He seemed like a total bore. But, I have no complaints about him as a narrator. I thought it was interesting to hear things from his perspective, as opposed to Gatsby or Daisy. That certainly would have given the book a completely different feel! Nick comes across as a bit of an outsider, but I think there's supposed to be an element of disconnect to this novel. In a way, you're viewing the wealth and ostentation as a third party. You're experiencing things as Nick does, which gives you the perfect view of events as they unfold. There's a slight element of mystery because you connect the dots as he does, but it makes for a really good read.

Would I want to be friends with Daisy? Honestly, she would totally be the most beautiful and popular girl in school. And even if I wanted to be her friend, I know that I wouldn't stand a chance. I don't think she'd be likely to give me the time of day. If she did, she'd probably act a little condescending about it anyway. I think she means well though. The self-absorbed attitude is probably the result of a life where everything came easy for her. Sure, she isn't actually married to the ideal husband. But for some reason I didn't feel super sympathetic towards her. I'm not sure she's really got the gumption or wherewithal to stand on her own two feet, which makes her the kind of person I'd love to watch from afar but not necessarily befriend.

As for Gatsby, I'd just want to be invited to his parties. I know he's only got eyes for Daisy, so I'd be content to shimmy to fabulous band and sip on his expensive drinks... possibly trying to catch the eye of some handsome partygoer. Gatsby would be elusive, an enigma, and I'm just fine with that.

Literary Love: I Don't Know That I'd Call It Love
Gatsby has been pining for Daisy for five years, which I suppose is meant to be romantic and swoony. I mean, he did push himself so hard and earn his riches to prove himself to her. However, it felt a little like obsession. And I wondered perhaps if he'd lost sight of Daisy and replaced her with an ideal. I think she became like an object in his mind, and he might have forgotten that she was still just flesh and blood at the end of the day. I don't know, maybe there was more romance than I recognized. I just felt like I was reading about the pursuit of something that doesn't quite live up to what you imagine it to be.

I know that it's somewhat of a tragic love story, but I don't know that I really believed in the authenticity of the love. I think it probably started off as love and became more of an obsession at some point along the way.

Word Nerd: Spare & Elegant 
I don't know what I could say about Fitzgerald's writing that hasn't already been said ten times over. It is, of course, a work of art. It's a slim book, but Fitzgerald manages to pack an entire plot and some incredibly developed characters into it. I mean, he wasn't wasting any words.

I'm actually reading something by Charles Dickens right now, and it's interesting how different the two writers are. They've both mastered the creation of intricate and intriguing characters, but Fitzgerald definitely gets right to the heart of things. Dickens, on the other hand, takes ten pages to say what Fitzgerald says in two sentences.

It's actually a pretty quick read, and so worth it. There's definitely a reason this one is a classic!

Extra, Extra: Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous
I love reading about rich people. All that decadence and excess makes for a very escapist read.... except Fitzgerald's characters are very human. The aren't necessarily stereotypical wealthy people. Gatsby is driven and haunted by his past. Daisy is chained to a cheating husband. With all that wealth, you know there's bound to be loose morals. Crime, adultery, greed and murder are pretty much required when you're reading about this era. And Fitzgerald doesn't disappoint!

So Quotable
"There must have been moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams - not through her own fault, but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion. It had gone beyond her, beyond everything. He had thrown himself into it with a creative passion, adding to it all the time, decking it out with every bright feather that drifted his way. No amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man will store up in his ghostly heart."

"So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."

Bottom Line: There's a Reason it's a Classic
I am glad I finally read The Great Gatsby, and I can't believe I hadn't read it before! It's definitely a classic for a reason. However, I can't say this is one of my favorite books. I enjoyed it and appreciated it for its beauty, but it wouldn't be the book I'd turn to any time soon for a re-read. It's a book I think everyone should read at least once in there lifetime, and I can see why so many people adore it. I'm probably more on the fence in terms of my ultimate feelings about it. I think people should read it, but I don't know that everyone will love it. I loved the escape of it, as well as its tragic conclusion, so I'm happy I put it on my list!

7 comments:

  1. I had forgotten how much I adored this book until you reminded me. THANK YOU.

    I adore his writing style and the narrator was such an interesting perspective to take. I need to reread this soon! It WAS one of the few books I read in it's entirely in HS. :)

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    1. I love that this was one of the only books you read in its entirety in HS! We actually never read this one in high school, so I'm trying to fix that hole in my education :) I want to re-read it again in a few years because I feel like it's a book that gets even better with time.

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  2. I read this a long time ago and over the past couple of months I've found myself wanting to re-read it. I just haven't found the time. This would be a good one for a read-along with friends because isn't very contemporary and, well, truthfully - not many people read classics like this anymore. But still I want to read it again one of these days. Of the books I had to read while I was in school, this was one of the ones I liked the most.

    Love your thoughts!

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    1. You should definitely re-read it! I think it's probably a book that gets better every time you read it again. This would be great for a read-along! I wish more people read classics for pleasure, although I understand why they don't. I think it's MUCH easier to read certain classics with other people because the discussion can really help your understanding of the themes and significance of the work. I actually didn't have to read this one in high school, but I think I'm one of the few. I'm surprised we didn't because it would be a great book to talk about in school!

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  3. I really love this book. It is so fill of meaning on so many different levels. In addition to the great points that you make, as someone who reads a fair amount of American history, I see many allusions to America’s past Colonial and Revolutionary Days in the narrative. I get the feeling that Fitzgerald is bemoaning America’s fall from grace from a heroic origin to the decadence and greed of the early twentieth century.

    If you have not yet read Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night I highly recommend it too. In my opinion, it is also a great and poignant novel.

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    1. I could definitely see Fitzgerald making a point about America's fall from grace! What a great point to make. While I studied history in school and love some good historical fiction, I'm definitely not an expert on American history.

      I have not read Tender is the Night, but it's on my list! It sounds really good! Thanks for the recommendation.

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  4. Such a good read to revisit with all the hype around the movie. I don't mind this cover, either.
    For me, this book is proof that you don't have to like any of the characters to like a book! Really nice review here.

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