This Week's Topic
Back to school time! What's your favorite book that you had to read for a class?
Considering I graduated high school and college too many years ago, the choice should probably not be easy, but I do remember a lot of what I read and quite a bit about those books. I had a lot I enjoyed (Death of a Salesman, Ethan Frome, Of Mice and Men), several I didn’t like (Beowulf, The Iceman Cometh, The Stranger—in FRENCH), and I had a few that I loved, loved, loved (King Lear, Waiting for Godot, The Bell Jar), but my favorite?
That one’s EASY
A portrait of the Jazz Age in all of its decadence and excess, Gatsby captured the spirit of the author's generation and earned itself a permanent place in American mythology. Self-made, self-invented millionaire Jay Gatsby embodies some of Fitzgerald's--and his country's--most abiding obsessions: money, ambition, greed, and the promise of new beginnings. "Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic 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--" Gatsby's rise to glory and eventual fall from grace becomes a kind of cautionary tale about the American Dream.
It's also a love story, of sorts, the narrative of Gatsby's quixotic passion for Daisy Buchanan. The pair meet five years before the novel begins, when Daisy is a legendary young Louisville beauty and Gatsby an impoverished officer. They fall in love, but while Gatsby serves overseas, Daisy marries the brutal, bullying, but extremely rich Tom Buchanan. After the war, Gatsby devotes himself blindly to the pursuit of wealth by whatever means--and to the pursuit of Daisy, which amounts to the same thing. "Her voice is full of money," Gatsby says admiringly, in one of the novel's more famous descriptions. His millions made, Gatsby buys a mansion across Long Island Sound from Daisy's patrician East Egg address, throws lavish parties, and waits for her to appear. When she does, events unfold with all the tragic inevitability of a Greek drama, with detached, cynical neighbor Nick Carraway acting as chorus throughout. Spare, elegantly plotted, and written in crystalline prose, The Great Gatsby is as perfectly satisfying as the best kind of poem.
WHY is it my favorite? Well, it just IS. I know…hardly an explanation. But as I thought about it, I had a really hard time deciding why I choose to reread this book when my juniors study Gatsby every year, why my heart tingles when I read an update about the movie. Why I just love the story even though the ending breaks my heart every time I read it. But I’ll try to offer up a few reasons. J
1) The color schema: my English teacher made a big ado about it, and I’m so glad she did. WHITE = purity(Daisy’s face); yellow = greed (Gatsby’s necktie); green = hope (light at end of Gatsby’s dock)… I just thought the color symbolisms were so cool.
2) The time period. Alison is not a huge historical fiction fan, but put me in the twenties with the clothes and cars and the music (JAZZ!) and the architecture and…*swoon* I could take up permanent residence in West Egg, thank you.
Also: when my juniors read this, their English teachers usually celebrate the end of the unit with a Gatsby Day and give extra credit for dressing up twenties style. Man, do I want to be a flapper for a day, but haha—I don’t think that would go over to well.
3) The parties. The lavish, fast-paced lifestyle of the way too rich and famous. Yeah, again. Wouldn’t’ mind spending a summer or two (or five) in West Egg.
4) The movie: the 1974 Robert Redford version I watched spring of 1986? I remember LOVING it. So, I was a little nervous but a whole lot excited for the Leo DiCaprio version that was SUPPOSED to debut at Christmas and now I just feel ANNOYED that I have to wait until the summer of 2013. GRRR.
5) The characters. Characters I love and hate at the same time (DAISY). Characters I hurt for (GATSBY). I even love the characters I hate (TOM). Gatsby contains a beautifully rounded COLORFUL cast. And my favorite? The narrator: NICK CARRAWAY. Won’t even try to explain why. He just IS.
6) Um...that COVER. Enough said.
7) The prose. Concise. Poignant. Breath-takingly beautiful.
I am slow-thinking and full of interior rules that act as brakes on my desires.
His heart beat faster and faster as Daisy’s white face came up to his own. He knew that when he kissed this girl, and forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath, his mind would never romp again like the mind of God. So he waited, listening for a moment longer to the tuning fork that had been struck upon a star. Then he kissed her. At his lips’ touch she blossomed like a flower and the incarnation was complete.
So we drove on toward death through the cooling twilight.
If personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures, then there was something gorgeous about him, some heightened sensitivity to the promise of life, as if he related to one of those intricate machines that register earthquakes ten thousand miles away.
For a moment the last sunshine fell with romantic affection upon her glowing face; her voice compelled me forward breathlessly as I listened - then the glow faded, each light deserting her with lingering regret, like children leaving a pleasant street at dusk.
SEE! Also, I refall in love with the word supercilious every time I read it. (Yes—Alison IS a word nerd)
So, what’s YOUR favorite book you had to read for a class? Did YOU read The Great Gatsby? Love it? Hate it? Tell me in the comments!