One of the categories for the 2015 Reading Challenge was “a book you should have read in high school.” The one that immediately jumped to mind in this category was The Great Gatsby.
My junior American lit class had The Great Gatsby on the list of books to study, but for some reason the teacher never got around to it in the schedule. I’m not saying I was bitter. But I may have been (big nerd here). So I used this reading challenge as the perfect opportunity to rectify that gaping hole in my knowledge of great American classics and settled down with The Great Gatsby. And the verdict is: I understand why it’s a great American classic, I’m glad I read it, but I can’t say I loved it.
Now, This post isn’t a review. Everyone knows that The Great Gatsby is a good book. It is well written. It has well developed characters. It has important things to say. There’s a reason it’s a book that is studied in high schools and colleges across the country. Instead I’m going to give you more of what it made me think and feel.
The main reason I didn’t really enjoy it was that it’s just so sad. But not in the cathartic, heartache, makes you cry while reading it kind of way. More in the depressing, makes you think about how our world is so hopeless and lost and pointless kind of way. It’s a story of the American dream, and how pursuing it doesn’t really get you any closer to living the dream. You may get rich. You may get famous. You may have all the worldly possessions you could hope for. You may think that all these things will make people love you. But in the end you’ll never feel like it’s enough and you’ll die alone. See? Sad.
But that’s also why it’s a classic. Even though it was written about 1920’s America, the culture it’s addressing and the people it is about are living with us today in 2015. The messages saying that everyone should try to be rich and beautiful and popular are swirling around us everyday. But how many people that appear to be happy and successful are really just dead inside? Even though I don’t consider myself to be taken in by the trappings of money and power, this book did make me think about how I am affected by this culture as a whole. In what subtle ways is my view colored by what the world tells me is good? Are the things I am pursuing really worthwhile, or are they just things that I think will make me look better or more impressive to others? It’s a lot to think on, and something that has come up in a lot of my recent reading, not just in The Great Gatsby. But I think The Great Gatsby added a important layer to my personal reflections on this topic. And I’m kind of glad this is a book I read as an adult rather than just a teenager. So I guess I can forgive my junior English teacher for leaving this off the schedule now.
And with not much of a segue, I would also recommend watching the movie version of The Great Gatsby that came out a few years ago starring Leonardo DiCaprio. I had wanted to see it when it came out, but felt like I needed to read the book first, so once I finished we had a movie night at home and watched it. I thought it was very well done and true to the book. The director’s style is pretty over-the-top, but over-the-top works well with this story. I think a lot of his artistic choices really helped solidify the connections between Gatsby’s story and our world today.
So there you have it. Thoughts on The Great Gatsby, a book most of you have probably already read and don’t plan on reading again. But that’s ok. You can still just watch the movie and still have some food for thought now that you’re a grown up.