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Book 50: The Great Gatsby

This review seems pointless.

I think everything that can be said about The Great Gatsby has already been said. So I’m not reinventing the wheel here, not that I ever do during any of my reviews (I use the term “reviews” loosely).

Having read this novel many times, you’d think I could write pages and pages about The Great Gatsby—and I guess that’s what I’ve done over the last few weeks—but, still, trying to sum up the amazingness, fabulousness, splenderificness of this novel in a short review is difficult.

So I’ll start with this:

The 101 Books rankings has a new number one. That’s right. After more than two years in the top spot, and after having read 49 books that were unable to supplant it, To Kill A Mockingbird drops to #2 in my meaningless and highly subjective rankings.

I’m now halfway through with the list, and The Great Gatsby is in the top spot.

But this isn’t a surprise. The Great Gatsby has been my favorite novel for years. This read-through simply confirmed that it still is.

If you’ve avoided Gatsby because it was forced down your throat in high school, revisit it.

If you’ve avoided Gatsby because people like me go on and on and on about how good it is, stop worrying about what I say and just go read it.

And if you think Gatsby is overrated, well, that’s okay—as long as you’ve actually given it a chance—but I can’t disagree more.

You know the story, even if you haven’t read it, right?

Gatsby’s a rich guy who’s basically obsessed with Daisy Buchanan—an ex-girlfriend from his past. After acquiring his wealth through mysterious means, Gatsby buys a massive mansion with a view of Daisy’s dock on the other side of a lake.

He throws elaborate parties and lives this extravagant lifestyle all in the hopes of winning Daisy back. Eventually, she finds her way to his house and the drama really begins.

Nick Carraway, the narrator and Gatsby’s neighbor, is there to witness it all. He’s an excellent unassuming, laid-back character who is a perfect contrast to the over-the-topness of both Gatsby and Daisy.

The story is good, but it’s honestly not a story you haven’t heard before. To me, the beauty of The Great Gatsby is found in 1) Fitzgerald’s prose and 2) the layers and layers and layers of complexity of the novel.

In the realm of simple stories with all kinds of underlying complexity, The Great Gatsby is as good as they come. Every character is rich, and I don’t mean monetarily rich.

Even minor characters that come and go, like the owl-eyed man in Gatsby’s library, serve a purpose. In that case, the owl-eyed man—the “wise” one, if you will—is the only person who’s really on to Gatsby’s double life.

The list of symbols goes on and on: Dr. T.J. Eckleburg’s eyes. The green light on Daisy’s dock. The constant references to color in the book.

And EVERY SINGLE WORD is written with purpose. The book is so short and readable that it’s easy to just skip right past some of this stuff. And that’s okay, if you do. The Great Gatsby can be easily read as just a great story, but Fitzgerald did so much more with it.

548px-Francis_Scott_Fitzgerald_1937_June_4_(1)_(photo_by_Carl_van_Vechten)

F. Scott Fitzgerald (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

And Fitzgerald’s prose, which I’ve already talked about a lot on this blog, is just so buttery delicious that I want to eat every word. Even though our old friend Mike, a frequent commenter on the blog, told me that “buttery prose is boring,” I just couldn’t disagree more.

The counter to Fitzgerald’s buttery prose is something like Virginia Woolf, which—continuing with the food metaphor—might be like chewing on five Aspirin.

You can see more passages from Gatsby in this post and this post, but here’s one of my favorites:

“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.”

If you’ve ever dated someone and went through that honeymoon period, and then had your first argument where you realize this person is human after all, you might be able to relate to that passage a little bit.

But you multiply those feelings times 10—a feeling where the girl seems unattainable—then you’re probably getting close to what Gatsby was feeling.

I honestly wish this novel was 400 pages, not 200, but maybe that would be too much of a good thing.

As I’ve said, this wasn’t my first time reading The Great Gatsby, and it definitely won’t be my last. I love this book.

Am I off-base here? Am I overrating Gatbsy? Is this review full of ridiculous hyperbole?

Other Stuff

The Opening Line: “In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.”

The Meaning: Is it a statement on the emptiness of pursuing the “American Dream”? Is it a statement that love, more than money, is the only way to happiness? Is it a statement that people are flawed and, hence, can never live up to our expectations of them? Is it all the above?

Highlights: Every. Single. Word. Is. A. Highlight. And. I. Hate. Writing. Like. This. For. Emphasis. I’ve gone on and on about Fitzgerald’s writing, so I won’t rehash that here. But, in this case, the author makes the story.

Lowlights: There isn’t one. Really. Okay, the story itself isn’t life-changing, but I wouldn’t even call that a negative. It’s a great story, but the writing shines much brighter.

Memorable Line: “No amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man will store up in his ghostly heart.”

Final Thoughts: The last few weeks, I’ve written a lot about The Great Gatsby. I really have nothing else to say. It’s my favorite book ever, and it’s going to be hard for any book to top it. Read it.

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79 Comments Post a comment
  1. Josh Mahler #

    I’m with you. I love this book. I love it. I also love “This Side of Paradise.” And if you haven’t read the Basil and Josephine stories, I suggest you seek these out too. In truth, these stories equal some of Fitzgerald’s best work, including his novels.

    Like

    December 17, 2012
    • Yes, I read This Side of Paradise in college. Another great book and proof that Fitzgerald wasn’t a one hit wonder.

      Like

      December 17, 2012
    • …and the Pat Hobby stories set in Hollywood.

      Like

      August 17, 2014
  2. Dominick Sabalos #

    When I finally read Gatsby, after avoiding it for a while under the mistaken impression that it was a leviathan of a book, I told a friend that I had read it and it was pretty good.

    His reaction was “The Great Gatsby?” (pause for a quick reminder to him of what book that was) “Oh yeah, that is quite good. Someone gets run over.”

    Like

    December 17, 2012
  3. I vaguely remember reading The Great Gatsby during University and I guess I thought it was okay and happy that it was among the shorter books on our reading list. Much later, I had a friend who was obsessed by Gatsby so to please him,…I tried to read it again but kept forgeting the book somewhere. I bought it about a year ago because it seemed like I should read it and like it. About three months later, one of my students begged to borrow it. I hope he loved it and is doing well with his studies. English as a Foriegn Language. What can I say, between grading papers, creating amazing lesson plans and working my way through Crime and Punishment maybe it just wasn’t Gatsby’s time.???? :-/

    Like

    December 17, 2012
  4. Your “low light” is really what keeps me from thinking Gatsby is a great book. For art to be truly great, I believe it should be perception altering (life changing). With this as my litmus test, Gatsby did not reveal anything new or move my thoughts of the world in any significant way. Yes it is well written…big deal. Lot’s of books are well written. Yes, the character depth is excellent which is hard to concisely execute. However, the story is predictable and boring.

    You want perception altering story? Try Revolutionary Road…or Invisible Man…or Clockwork Orange. Boring and predictable story? Try The Corrections.

    In my estimation, story trumps everything. Neuromancer is an excellent example of story outshining everything else… including quality prose!

    Like

    December 17, 2012
    • Are you being facetious about Neuromancer? Horrible book!

      Every book is different. The beauty of this book is that Fitzgerald took a so-so story and made it brilliant through is writing and technique.

      Like

      December 17, 2012
      • Only partially as I know you hated Neuromancer. My point is that a great story, for me, is most important. Similarly, a great photograph does not need to be properly exposed if the capture is amazing.

        I like the idea of one person transmitting their thoughts to me. It’s their thought rather than their words that is most valuable to me. Or maybe I just think about books in the wrong way!

        Like

        December 18, 2012
  5. sammano #

    I read it. I liked it. But I don’t quite get the effusive level of fawning this book receives from…well…everybody. Better than Mockingbird?? No way.

    Like

    December 17, 2012
  6. Reblogged this on On My Stereo.

    Like

    December 17, 2012
  7. Congrats on reaching the halfway point!

    Like

    December 17, 2012
    • Thanks Neil! Congrats on all your recent success.

      Like

      December 17, 2012
  8. I am a high school student and I have just finished reading it. Honestly, I don’t find it easy to read and I have to spend at least 2 times reading a paragraph with complicated words. I finished it, studied it and found the novel pretty interesting. Nevertheless, I have no intention of reading it again until I read this post. Maybe I will try again.

    Like

    December 17, 2012
    • Same deal here though I think I have to disagree with you and say that The Great Gatsby has got to be one of the best books I’ve ever read in class. Normally after reading and over-analyzing a book for class I start to hate it, but with Gatsby the opposite occurred. I found it incredibly awesomeness and moving. I won’t be surprised if in the future I find myself picking up that thin book and falling back into the world of Nick Carraway.

      Like

      December 17, 2012
      • For me, the more I analyze a book, the more I love it. I would love to dig deep into a good novel, find meaningful quotations and ponder over it. That’s the reason why I find The great gatsby interesting and deep. Nevertheless, I think I haven’t grasped even half of this novel, though I have read a lot of analysis.

        I will try reading it again.

        Like

        December 17, 2012
  9. Rob #

    Read it in high school and liked it, but didn’t really get the fuss. Re-read it this year (about 15 years later) and loved it. I don’t think I’d call it my favourite book of all time, but it’s a joy to read. Looking forward to reading it again in years to come.

    “Neuromancer is an excellent example of story outshining everything else… including quality prose!” – Neuromancer is an example of the ‘idea’ as king in a book, rather than a well-told story or quality prose, both of which were lacking.

    People connect with books in different ways. That connection may be based on prose that speaks to you, stories that enthral you, or ideas that inspire you. I think greatness should be measured by the strength of that connection, not the method.

    Like

    December 17, 2012
  10. Gatsby was ‘forced on me’ last year at school, hated it right up until two weeks before the exam. So glad I was made to read it now

    Like

    December 17, 2012
    • That’s the problem with books. We don’t like them in high school because they are forced on us. But once you get older, you understand why their’s such a fuss about alot of these books.

      Like

      December 17, 2012
  11. tejlohitreddy #

    I’m not much of a reader but I have read both War and Peace and The Great Gatsby and I found War and Peace a much better one. I think great gatsby is overrated Does any body agree?

    Liked by 1 person

    December 19, 2012
    • I agree with you about Gatsby, but I didn’t enjoy War and Peace either. I love Middlemarch by George Eliot, All by Dostoyefski, Immortality by Milan Kundera, The Sound and The Fury and as I Lay Dying by William Faulkner, Brighton Rock by Green, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold and Tinker, Taylor, Soldier, Spy by La Carre, Invisable Man by Ralph Ellison. I could go on and on, but not now. Ciao.

      Like

      February 16, 2015
    • Stormy #

      I agree that “Gatsby” is overrated; I haven’t read “War and Peace”. I did read the former shortly after appreciating “Lord of the Flies”, though, which may have skewed my judgements.

      Like

      November 16, 2015
  12. I agree with your review. I had to read it in high school 20 years ago and back then I couldn’t understand nor appreciate the work. I re-read it a couple of weeks ago, and for the first time I was able to understand why this book is revered by so many people.

    Liked by 1 person

    January 16, 2013
  13. Deah #

    o god how I agree with your review. It’s the best, simply amazing, and Fitzgerald’s style is siply amazing, peculiar !

    Like

    February 11, 2013
  14. Sissy #

    I’m going to have to reread Gatsby. I read it earlier in my high school career and found it a bit…mundane.
    I shall certainly have to delve deeper on my second go.

    Like

    February 27, 2013
  15. Al #

    I need to get my hands on Gatsby soon. I don’t have the habit of buying books, but after reading many reviews on it, I think it might be a book to buy!

    May I ask though, how do you exactly interpret the line: “No amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man will store up in his ghostly heart.”? Now I wish I studied this book in Literature in secondary school! I did To Kill A Mockingbird which was a great lit book.

    Like

    April 12, 2013
  16. Well, I have to admit, I’ve only read The Great Gatspy a total of ONCE. And I wasn’t super impressed with it. However, I’ve been wondering the last year or so if I should give it a second chance. I wasn’t impressed because…. One: it was required reading in one of my college classes and therefore a HAVE TO read. And Two: I think I read it at a time in my life that I was a bit down and frankly, the book depressed me! With that said, your “review” of the book has me rethinking all this. Especially since I really can’t remember the story. And it would be like a new read. And….actually….you’ve done it! I’ve decided. I’m going to read it again. Thanks for the review!

    Like

    April 12, 2013
  17. As far as F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short stories, I highly recommend “Bernice Bobs Her Hair.” His inspiration for this story were letters Fitzgerald sent to his younger sister, Annabel. She was concerned about how to be more “fetching” to men. It is an excellent read!

    Like

    April 13, 2013
  18. james1213 #

    After reading high praise of it from both yourself and Hemingway (in his book ‘A Moveable Feast’), I decided to read Gatsby. I finished it in a single sitting. Fitzgerald’s prose is, as you say, delicious. And it’s smooth and accessible – like a fine scotch whisky. I’m glad I didn’t put off reading it any longer; it’s now one of my favourite novels. Thanks

    Liked by 1 person

    May 6, 2013
  19. The Great Gatsby hits that rare mark between over- and under-stating everything.

    And screw you guys, I liked Neuromancer’s style! It’s stripped down and fun. But I think you really got it right when you said each word was chosen with purpose. It’s like an English “Madame Bovary”!

    Like

    June 1, 2013
  20. For whatever reason, Robert, I had never read Gatsby but I have seen the movie version with Robert Redford. Based on your review I checked it out from my library and read the entire book yesterday. I liked the book much better than the movie; however I am not as enamored with it as you are. It is a good story and I understand why it is a classic. Fitzgerald’s writing style flowed well and added to my overall enjoyment. I found the story and characters to be more complex in the book than I remember them from the movie, which was a plus. I am glad I finally read Gatsby, however I don’t think I liked it enough to buy a copy. Maybe if I find it cheap at a library book sale I will pick it up.

    Last night I ordered Catch-22 from my library, and I am really looking forward to reading it!

    Like

    July 22, 2013
  21. I’m with you on this. I read this novel in High school and loved it but thought it was only because we had just finished reading Faulkner and, in comparison, Fitzgerald is a much more enjoyable writer. However, after regrading it again last year, I fell in love with it all over again. From color symbolism, mythology, and storyline .. . This novel remains one of my favorites

    Like

    November 11, 2013
  22. you with a} quick heads up! Apart from that, fantastic website!
    John Smith http://dumm1.co.uk

    Like

    November 30, 2013
  23. Delilah #

    I love this book. I will admit that I saw the movie first, but I found it just made me love the book more. I haven’t really been able to connect with This Side of Paradise, but I just love Gatsby!

    Like

    January 8, 2014
  24. I recently read ‘Tender is the Night’ by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Have you read this? I would highly recommend it, especially as you are such a Gatsby fan.
    You can see my review on my book blog: novelreading.wordpress.com

    Like

    April 2, 2014
  25. Hi Robert, I’m slowly chugging through commenting on where our reading lists have intersected. I don’t love this book. I can’t argue with Fitzgerald’s craft, I just don’t love the story, but then I’m not too fond of Holden Caulfield, and he loved the Great Gatsby, so I guess it makes sense.

    Like

    April 4, 2014
  26. You know that feeling where you read a line, your breath catches in your throat and you have to read it again, because it’s that beautiful. This book barely lets me breath.

    Liked by 1 person

    April 7, 2014
  27. You know, from what I’ve read here, if any book has a chance of upsetting Gatsby as #1, it’ll be Lord of the Rings. Epic storyline, great themes, deep meaning, and prose that’ll give you goosebumps… sometimes high, sometimes homely, always showing an astonishing depth of the story world.

    The last page of Book V, Ch. V. was Tolkien’s own favorite part. I can’t even quote a single line. Just the whole bit there swells and grows and has the surprise of sudden victory and a bright morning after a long dark. Just… read it soon. It is one that can change your life.

    Like

    June 3, 2014
  28. Bob Berry #

    This is really well written and I share your passion for this book. I consider it the only perfect novel I’ve ever read. In addition to the stunning last lines which still causes me teary eyes, I always remember the sadand telling line about Gatsby spending his time “glancing into rooms”. When I think of beauty in literature and a fictional character of charm and tragedy, I think of The Great Gatsby”.

    Like

    July 4, 2014
  29. Belgin #

    I didnt read this book before but i heard somethings. While i was reading your thinks, i said “maybe i can start this, before 18 age. This way i can feel gatsby’s world better.” Thank you for this review!

    Like

    July 29, 2014
  30. As much is this blog post is a couple years old, I stumbled upon it and loved everything you said. The Great Gatsby has always been a favorite of mine and I also believe that the greatness of the novel comes out in the little details. Every time I read this novel, I find something new to love about it or something else to think about. It is great to know that Fitzgerald is still being read by multiple people in different locations with different backgrounds.

    I truly feel that The Great Gatsby is a novel that should be cherished for decades to come and passed on between generations. Each person that reads this novel receives something different and reads it differently, that shows a true author.

    Fitzgerald was a man with so much potential and many believe he did not fully reach it. Whether or not you agree, we perhaps can all agree that this novel itself will always be an classic.

    My favourite quote happens to be

    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 then one fine morning—So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

    I think this is so moving.

    Like

    November 10, 2014
  31. This post may be old but I came across it when reviewing all your reviews so far on the top 100 books by time magazine. I agree with you on every point with The Great Gatsby. I have loved this novel since I first read it in high school. It was one of the few books that managed to keep my attention and that I didn’t end up hating by the time we were done analyzing and picking apart the novel. I was in the IB program and the English class ruined so many great books for me. I think now I may be able to re-read them now and actually enjoy them without having to pick apart every little thing.
    I have re-read this book many times and I still love it. I love how easy it is for me to read and how much I love it more and more. Also, I notice more in the writing each time I read it. The cover also gets me every time. I don’t know what it is but the eyes and the background of lights is just magical to me. Loved your review of The Great Gatsby! Although it’s made me want to read it again.

    Like

    April 8, 2015
  32. I read it after putting it aside many times (as it was not so easy for me to go on reading). Maybe what I found not so exciting was Fitzgerald’s prose as well as the symbolical context of the novel. I concluded this reading only to test if it would have met my expectations. One day I could take into consideration to read it again, but at the moment I will put it aside.

    Like

    June 19, 2015
  33. Gaini Zhulamanova #

    Reblogged this on Gaini's blog and commented:
    Definitely on my reading list – a very interesting book review.

    Like

    July 11, 2015
  34. Come up with your blog from recommended blog. Better begin from the fist post ^^. I have had a plan to read books this years. But in two months I have only finished one book. And then I do not know what book to read after that. Maybe your blog will be my guiding star from now on , haha

    Like

    July 20, 2015
  35. Peachy #

    “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.”

    I just watched the film adaptation of John Green’s Paper Towns today, then I came across your review of Gatsby and the quote you had above. I realized it had a similar theme as that of Paper Towns.
    A quote from the film: “What a treacherous thing to believe that a person is more than a person.”

    Like

    August 2, 2015
  36. ana2097 #

    This has truly been one of the most beautifully written books I’ve ever read. The complex meaning under the simple words are a story with such meaning.

    Like

    September 3, 2015
  37. anushanarasimhan #

    I read this book in my early teens and felt it was overrated. Maybe I just didn’t get it. After seeing your review, I’m definitely going to give it another read.

    Like

    October 27, 2015

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