July 2002

Jen Crispin

hundred books

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

When I started reading The Great Gatsby I believed two things: First, that Gatsby was on our 100 best books list, and second, that I had read it before in high school. I now know the first to be untrue and suspect the second. Although there are a great number of books I read in high school that I now only vaguely remember (Wuthering Heights being the other book that I can recall almost nothing of now), I really think I could not have read Gatsby before, as unfamiliar as it is to me now.

But really, more importantly, how in the world did The Great Gatsby not end up on our list of books? Jessa just happened to call me shortly after reading it, as I had a list of the 100 books in my hands and had just realized that not only was Gatsby not on *my* list of books to read, but it wasn't on the list at all! Jessa was also shamed by our oversight, but neither of us are at all interested in changing the list now. As much work as it took to make it, I don't want to have to decide which book comes off to make room for it!

So how about I just tell you what I thought of the book, as if I were reviewing it for the list anyway? By now, everyone should know the basic plot: Gatsby, a tremendously rich man, is terribly and secretly in love with Daisy, who is married and lives across the harbour on Long Island. The story is told from the point of view of Nick, Gatsby's neighbor and Daisy's distant cousin, who of course gets deeply enmeshed in the whole affair.

Now this is a book to read slowly, which is difficult to do as it is so short and the temptation to race through it is overwhelming. (Especially if you do most of your reading, as I do, sitting in a chair facing a wall of unread and accusatory books.) However if you don't read it slowly, you'll regret it, as it will all race by far too quickly, you'll be left wanting more, and the only thing to do for it will be to read it again. Which I would do, if I were not already knee-deep in The Plague, which actually is on the list even though it is not nearly as enjoyable as Gatsby.

The Great Gatsby is ultimately a tragedy, a beautifully wrought tragedy. It paints a not too flattering picture of the American Dream through a story as layered as it is simple, as off-putting as it is charming. It is one of those rare books that stays with you after you have put it down. I find that I am warming to it even now, becoming more fond of the characters, appreciating the storyline more.... Yes, I do think I will read this book again before
the summer is over.

The Great Gatsby is an American classic. If no one made you read it in high school (or if they did, and you can't remember it anyway), you should go read it now. If you do, look for the authorized text, which corrects some annoying mistakes in previous versions. And please, above all, read it slowly.