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05/28/2013

Book report: The Great Gatsby & the key ingredient of a great book

250px-Gatsby_1925_jacketIf you can remember a few sentences, a paragraph or perhaps a passage or scene from a book then you can classify it as good. Considering the amount of words you read in your life, anything that can stick for that long has made an impression is a job well done.

Dan Brown, John Grisham and others write page turners, which have value, yet you likely recall nothing. 
And then there are those you will carry forever. 

For instance ...
* The smell out of the old house that Scout visited to aid the elderly woman on her block in To Kill A Mockingbird.
* Watching Atticus Finch move his eye glasses to his forehead so he could get a clean shot at the rabid dog in the same book.
* Yossarin wandering around the sad streets of Rome near the end of Catch 22 is one of my all-time favorite passages of any book.
* Confederate General Longstreet looking into camp fire lost in thought in The Killer Angels.
* There are too many lines and scenes to repeat from A Confederacy of Dunces. 
* The opening scene of Barbara Tuchman's The Guns of August.
* That vast, empty farm from In Cold Blood.
* The sons planning their father's demise at the end of The Good Earth.
* Nat Turner in the prison cell baring his soul to the priest in The Confessions of Nat Turner.

Warning - the following will be considered heresy: There is not a single scene or passage I recalled from F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. 

So rather than race out to the theaters to catch Leonardo DiCaprio's turn as Jay Gatsby in The Great Gatsby, I returned to high school and read what many consider one of the great pieces of American literature. 

12978206_oriLike many of you, I was assigned to read Fitzgerald's classic novel as a high school student.
Like many of you, any time I was assigned to read a single word I automatically loathed it simply because reading the work was not a choice but rather a directive.

More is often gained when someone wants to do it rather than when someone must do it.

Having completed this work as an adult, I can appreciate the many nuances of the characters, and the worship of all things pretty and easy. Not that much different than today, actually.

Having re-read it now the portion of the book that figures to stick is the following: Jay's funeral was largely unattended by those who professed to love him the most. They loved his stuff more than they loved him. He was a reality TV star before the days of reality TV.

The beauty of the book remains the shallowness of the people, and how easily some of these fictitious characters are so relatable and believable. And how sad Jay's life ultimately was - he had everything, and nothing.

The beauty of the writing remains its simplicity.

Even today it is a beautifully sad book that features to this day at least one unforgettable scene.

 

@MacEngelProf
tengel@star-telegram.com
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Comments

Doug Olson

“And I like large parties. They’re so intimate. At small parties there isn’t any privacy.”
― F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

J. McLeod

"Reserving judgments is a matter of infinite hope."

- F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

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