The Great Gatsby
by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925)
Scribner (2003)
180 pp

the-great-gatsby

About a year ago there was an article in the New York Times that made me laugh and cringe and that ultimately baffled me.

She [Jinzhao, a Chinese student who immigrated to the United States two years earlier] is inspired by the green light at the end of the dock, which for Jay Gatsby, the self-made millionaire from North Dakota, symbolizes the upper-class woman he longs for. “Green color always represents hope,” Jinzhao said.

“My green light?” said Jinzhao, who has been studying “Gatsby” in her sophomore English class at the Boston Latin School. “My green light is Harvard.”

I thought, is the Times playing around here? Where is this article going to take me? They couldn’t possibly be mocking this poor girl. But then, here is a quote from one of the teachers:

“They all understand what it is to strive for something,” said Susan Moran, who is the director of the English program at Boston Latin and who has been teaching “Gatsby” for 32 years, starting at South Boston High School, “to want to be someone you’re not, to want to achieve something that’s just beyond reach, whether it’s professional success or wealth or idealized love — or a 4.0 or admission to Harvard.”

Though nothing in this quote indicates that Moran thinks the students are wise in their dreams — that the dreams, whether or not attainable, are good dreams — the article itself is apparently unaware of the irony (or sheer honesty) of comparing one’s hope with Gatsby’s greenly lit spurious aspiration. Not once does it bring up the tragedy that is The Great Gatsby.

Many of you know my passion for Joseph O’Neill’s novel Netherland. Well, I have to admit, much of that passion arises from the fact that O’Neill latched on to The Great Gatsby, one of my favorite books (perhaps my favorite book (but I can never be too sure about that statement)), and did it proud. It was more than a decade between the first time I read The Great Gatsby and the second. When I began it the second time, I remembered almost nothing of the story. But the images . . . as I read it again I could remember the vivid images and how they made me feel when I was young (it was a great trip into my memories, like hearing a forgotten song). Here’s a particular fresh and refreshing image from the first chapter:

The windows were ajar and gleaming white against the fresh grass outside that seemed to grow a little way into the house. A breeze blew through the room, blew curtains in at one end and out the other like pale flags, twisting them up toward the frosted wedding-cake of the ceiling, and then rippled over the wine-colored rug, making a shadow on it as wind does on the sea.

The only completely stationary object in the room was an enormous couch on which two young women were buoyed up as though upon an anchored balloon. They were both in white, and their dresses were rippling and fluttering as if they had just been blown back in after a short flight around the house. I must have stood for a few moments listening to the whip and snap of the curtains and the groan of a picture on the wall.

The novel is narrated by Nick Carraway, a young man from Minnesota who has just moved to Long Island to work in bonds in New York. New to the city, a bit unsure whether it’s really the right place for him, he accepts an invitation to visit his cousin, Daisy Buchanan, with whom he grew up and who now lives in a neighboring town on Long Island with her husband and young daughter. It is on this excursion that he meets his cousin and her friend Jordan Baker lying on that couch in the image above, seeming to float in the room. But the buoyancy and dreamlike feel are somewhat subverted when we get a sense of the somber tone of the novel. Daisy tells Nick a bit about her life since she married and moved to New York, and a bit about the birth of her daughter:

I’m glad it’s a girl. And I hope she’ll be a fool — that’s the best thing a girl can be in the world, a beautiful little fool.

Upon returning to his own home, Nick looks next door and sees his neighbor, the eponymous Jay Gatsby, standing on the dock behind his home, looking out across the sea.

But I didn’t call to him, for he gave a sudden intimation that he was content to be alone — he stretched out his arms toward the dark water in a curious way, and, far as I was from him, I could have sworn he was trembling.  Involuntarily I glanced seaward — and distinguished nothing except a single green light, minute and far away, that might have been the end of a dock. When I looked once more for Gatsby he had vanished, and I was alone again in the unquiet darkness.

There we meet the dreamer. Gatsby has fixated his life and all he does on attaining something potentially unattainable: his lost love, Daisy. Learning that his new neighbor is Daisy’s cousin, Gatsby enlists Nick’s help in securing Daisy from her waspish husband. Gatsby is not the only one who uses Nick or who abuses Nick’s good-natured neutrality. Daisy’s husband, for example, thinks nothing of taking Nick along as he meets up with his mistress. Slowly Nick comes to realize that he despises everything about all of these people, their social games, their wasteful lives — that is, he despises everyone except for the myopic Gatsby, who has done all he could to achieve the kind of life he thinks will help him win Daisy back.

The Great Gatsby is a quick read, surprisingly accessible given the depth of the subject. The American Dream seems alive and well in Gatsby. Sure, being newly rich we get a sense that he is more veneer than substance, but he’s filthy rich. And his true dream is in sight. There are few works so meaningful and few that can convey that meaning so simply.

I put the last chapter as one of the greatest conclusions in literature, alongside James Joyce’s “The Dead” or Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude or Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. A book I think about often and try to read annually, The Great Gatsby stuns me every time. But how could it not with a passage such as this:

And as the moon rose higher the inessential houses began to melt away until gradually I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors’ eyes — a fresh, green breast of the new world. Its vanished trees, the trees that had made way for Gatsby’s house, had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.

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By |2017-11-03T15:27:37+00:00February 8th, 2009|Categories: Book Reviews, F. Scott Fitzgerald|Tags: , |51 Comments

51 Comments

  1. LizzySiddal February 8, 2009 at 9:06 am

    I have to agree. The Great Gatsby is a stunning book. A lesson in economy and an even bigger lesson in allegory. Every word applying both to the story and the allegorical meaning. One of my alltime top 10.

  2. Trevor February 8, 2009 at 1:51 pm

    I’m glad to hear that, Lizzy. I’ve wondered how well this book is received across the sea. It is considered a quintessential American book because of its indictment of America and the American Dream, but I think it is much more universal than that. And you also bring up a great point that aesthetically it should appeal broadly.

  3. Isabel February 8, 2009 at 6:08 pm

    I need to re-read this book. I read it when I was 15 years old. It’s been a few decades.

    The Great Gatsby is one of the NEH Big Read books.
    http://www.arts.gov/bigreadblog/

  4. Trevor February 8, 2009 at 8:46 pm

    Thanks for the link, Isabel. I’ve never been to that site before and it looks like there’s quite a bit of interesting material there.

  5. Max Cairnduff February 9, 2009 at 6:36 am

    It is a remarkable work, beautiful writing too, I’d forgotten quite how good until I saw your quotes.

    I think by the way it is quintessentially American, but I think it’s also to an extent universal. Great literature may contain the particular, but it surpasses that and I think Gatsby is both specific and as you say more than that. I see that to be honest as one of its many strengths.

    Have you read much else by Fitzgerald? I’m not sure I’ve read beyond Gatsby, anything else you’d recommend?

  6. Trevor February 9, 2009 at 7:20 am

    Max, I suppose it is one of the strange things about my reading: I have been reading Gatsby and have considered it a favorite for years, but I haven’t read anything else by Fitzgerald other than a few short stories here and there, none of which I remember today. I think some of this has to do with the fact that I’m afraid the rest won’t live up to Gatsby, but I know that is not the way to go about things.

    I have friends who say their favorite is Tender Is the Night and others who really liked The Beautiful and the Damned. And, to make it even more difficult to know what to read next, one friend even says This Side of Paradise is her favorite book of all time.

    One unforeseen benefit of doing this blog is that it has made me more aware of gaps in my reading and given me an extra reason to fill those gaps.

  7. Rob February 9, 2009 at 9:39 am

    Gatsby is a wonderful book. I think his others are good, and certainly all worth reading, but none quite matches Gatsby for its sheer perfection—it’s rare that all of the elements of a novel fall together so well, and I think Fitzgerald’s life got in the way of his work, and made it difficult for that to happen again.

  8. KevinfromCanada February 9, 2009 at 11:00 am

    Just to put a fox in the hen house, I find Gatsby to be Fitzgerald’s weakest work and much prefer the other three that Trevor mentions. I’ll admit that does put me out of step with almost all learned critical judgment, but does help cement my reputation as a contrarian. I will observe that Fitzgerald is ill-served when people only read gatsby and ignore the other works. I may just have to weigh in with a review or two in an attempt to introduce some balance in critical opinion.

  9. Max Cairnduff February 9, 2009 at 12:38 pm

    Certainly I’d be grateful if you did Kevin, an introduction to those other works would be a useful guide as to which to approach next.

  10. Mrs. Berrett February 9, 2009 at 2:23 pm

    Kevin-
    I’m glad you are a contrarian, it makes less work for me. I’ve often considered Canada might be the smartest country in America due to the easy access they give to Crunchie bars, but your comments give me reason to believe the people might give more clout to the argument.
    Now to Gatsby. I love the book. Daisy is absolutely fascinating to me. Sometimes I wonder if Fitzgerald intentionally introduces her in the floating white at the beginning to give you an idea that she’s airy. And as the book goes on he really furthers this idea. There really isn’t a lot of substance to Daisy. More than any other element in the book, I felt Daisy was the real clencher of the elusiveness of the American dream. She’s something to be obtained, but what is she really? She wouldn’t have really done anything for Gatsby’s life and eventually leaves him more empty.
    The American dream seems to be much more about the journey toward a goal than actually obtaining it. Often we respect the person who is working to get to the top, but in many cases we seem to resent those who have reached the top.

  11. KevinfromCanada February 9, 2009 at 3:20 pm

    Oh gosh, now that Mrs. Berrett has commented, I am going to have to reread Gatsby, which I will do, and then offer an opinion on another Fitzgerald work — I’m thinking I will revisit The Beautiful and The Damned but that may change. The good thing about Fitzgerald (F Scott as opposed to Zelda) is that all books are worth reading. Stay tuned.

  12. Trevor February 9, 2009 at 4:01 pm

    I look forward to your comments, Kevin, and I think my wife has read only The Great Gatsby so we will stay tuned!

    I’m going to have to go find some copies of whatever Fitzgerald book comes my way next.

  13. Nathan February 9, 2009 at 5:45 pm

    I’d vote for reading This Side of Paradise–it’s overflowing with youth, like Fitzgerald can’t get it out fast enough.
    Mrs. Berret–I kind of think of Daisy as quite the player. She knows what she wants and gets it, every single time. But she is elusive–Gatsby had a picture of who he wanted to be before he ever met her. It’s really Dan Cody and his wealth that shapes Gatsby’s dream as much as love for Daisy. It’s the “foul dust” Nick talks about.
    My other two cents: I think chapter 7 is brilliant–full of action, moral tension, and so concrete. The novel builds and builds and then Fitzgerald delivers.

  14. Trevor February 9, 2009 at 7:00 pm

    Interesting perspective, Nathan. I never have thought of Daisy that way before, though I see what you mean.

    While I don’t think she’s the fool she hopes her daughter will be, I have always kind of seen her as a bit worthless. That’s why that NY Times article was so shocking to me. It’s not that that green light brought about Gatsby’s downfall (though it is strange to say that the light is still something hopeful), it’s that the green light was not worth his downfall. He spent himself trying to attain Daisy when she no longer was grounded in the things she had once valued. She’s a part of the high society, and though we can assume her husband has treated her the same way he treated Myrtle, she still vacilates at the end. And still Gatsby thinks he should hold on to the dream.

    Which brings up an interesting question I always try to answer but never have been able to to my satisfaction: Why does Nick not fault Gatsby? By the end, Jordan, Daisy, et al., disgust Nick. He recognizes that their floating existence is not exalted but vacuous. But Nick admits he is wilfully blind to Gatsby’s own faults. I have my thoughts, but like I said, they are not satisfactory to me. Anyone?

  15. Nathan February 9, 2009 at 7:58 pm

    Good question…maybe he sees the way that Gatsby pursues Daisy is more pure than the way the Tom’s of the world pursue more selfish pleasures. Maybe it’s just that Gatsby never gives up, still leaves the phone line open for Daisy at the end that proves his character (the endless string of gestures Nick talks about in ch. 1). Maybe it’s his willingness to take the rap for Daisy and lay down his life. One other thing is that he could be glad to see Tom given a run for his money. Or maybe it was just Gatsby’s kindness to Nick.

    As for Daisy, I think she only ever valued getting ahead and getting attention. That’s why she took all the suitors in Louisville. She stays pretty true to that to the end, going with Tom to save herself and never showing at Gatsby’s funeral.

  16. Stewart February 9, 2009 at 8:24 pm

    I think I’m going to have to reread this. I only read it last year, never wrote about it, and now can’t remember a thing about it. I think my reaction may have been so-so.

  17. Nathan February 9, 2009 at 8:54 pm

    Sorry for so many thoughts. But I was hoping to hear more about the connections between Gatsby and Netherland. Sounds really interesting.

  18. tuesday February 9, 2009 at 9:06 pm

    I love Gatsby, and all those passages you outlined are favourites of mine.
    As an Australian, I can’t say I appreciate this book as the ‘quintissential American novel’ – what attracts me to it time and time again is that poignant portrayal of loss and disillusionment.

    Now I just need to read Tender is the Night. It’s been sitting on my shelf for a while now; I’m just afraid that I’ll find myself comparing it to Gatsby.

    p.s. I think the reason why Nick doesn’t find fault in Gatsby is because this:

    “They were careless people, Tom and Daisy – they smashed up things and creatures and retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made…”

    doesn’t apply to him, as it does to Jordan and the others. So yes, basically what Nathan said.

  19. Mrs. Berrett February 9, 2009 at 9:27 pm

    I like your points Nathan, I underestimated Daisy. And Trev, don’t you think part of the reason Nick remains faithful to Gatsby is his single-mindedness to Daisy. As crooked as he may be, Gatsby wasn’t openly using people as the others were. He’s almost pathetic as he works toward one woman. Maybe Nick is just a hopeless romantic.
    But I do wonder how much of the Daisy attraction was that she wasn’t really attainable to Gatsby and winning Daisy would have shown that he really had made it. Did he love Daisy or what that would show the world? His lavish parties were as much for the society as for her and it’s hard to imagine she wouldn’t be used in the same way.

  20. Trevor February 9, 2009 at 10:08 pm

    Nathan, I’m not sure if you’ve read my review of Netherland or not, but I mention a few of the connections there. Basically, I found Netherland to be a fascinating revisioning of the American Dream post-9/11. We have a Nick Carraway-like narrator in Hans van den Broek, a Gatsby-like doomed-dreamer in Chuck Ramkissoon, and a Daisy-like dream: a cricket stadium in New York City. While the connections there might seem tenuous, it’s actually fairly straight-forward in the book. And as in Gatsby, in Netherland the narrator admires the Gatsby character to a fault it seems to me. Further, there are connections in the prose. In my review I mention the Dutch sailors, and there are parts in Netherland where Hans looks at the countryside as it would have appeared when it was New Amsterdam and Dutch. And he himself is Dutch.

    Tuesday: I’m anxious to hear what you have to say about Tender Is the Night. I think I saw on your site the other day that you were considering reading it. By the way, I agree that Nick was disgusted with the way the rest of the characters let others clean up the mess. But I guess that’s one reason I’m surprised he could admire Gatsby when Gatsby pined for Daisy seemingly with no notice of her faults. And I can also accept that he admired Gatsby for his efforts and for how he himself did not fall into those same trappings of society (though his life of crime might suggest otherwise), but the way Nick feels toward Gatsby goes beyond admiration to full loyalty. It’s that loyalty that I cannot grasp. Admire the man, sure, but refuse to see his faults? Think that he was above the situation? I don’t quite get it, though I think it’s out there.

    And dear Mrs. Berrett: I don’t think I agree about Gatsby’s motives. I really do think he cared about Daisy and not about wealth and society. I think he viewed those as a means to get her, since that is what she wanted, the main reason she wasn’t faithful to him in the first place. He threw his parties hoping she would show up (and she did), but he himself did not really care to attend or make a spectacle of himself. He remained distant from the guests, none of whom knew who he was, all of whom had their rumors about where Gatsby came from. And I don’t think he cared. So I guess I think he loved Daisy and didn’t care about what it would show the world. It just turned out that she was too much a part of that world to go with him still, despite who he’d become. I think he thought he’d arrived and that she could no longer have any reason to deny him herself. He had absolute faith in their young love, but to her it was just a part of the past.

  21. Mrs. Berrett February 10, 2009 at 12:31 pm

    Dear Mr. Berrett-
    I don’t buy it. There wasn’t enough substance to Daisy to really love her. Gatsby didn’t really know her. If he did he would have seen how shallow she was and realigned his dreams.
    She was a pretty dream from his past that he wanted. He had created what Daisy was and loved that, but not the real person.

  22. Trevor February 10, 2009 at 12:44 pm

    I agree with you there, Mrs. Berrett, but I still think he loved what he thought to be her and cared little for the rest of society.

    Now, now, don’t go threatening me with “the couch”!

  23. KevinfromCanada February 10, 2009 at 12:53 pm

    I don’t find it surprising that people of different gender would have different impressions of how Gatsby regards Daisy (and vice versa for that matter). The trick is to reread the book from the other point of view and see where that leaves you.

  24. Max Cairnduff February 10, 2009 at 1:32 pm

    I’m not sure I’m seeing a real difference between Trevor and Mrs Berret’s take actually. Mrs Berret argues that that Gatsby couldn’t love Daisy as he didn’t really know her, but rather “had created what Daisy was and loved that, but not the real person.” Trevor goes on to say that he loved “what he thought to be her”.

    That seems two ways of saying the same thing, that Gatsby loved an idea of Daisy, an idea of a woman, rather than the woman herself. As I recall, Gatsby is a man much seised of the pursuit of visions, is his Daisy just another vision and the “real Daisy” something that is closed to us as readers?

  25. Trevor February 10, 2009 at 1:47 pm

    I think you’re right, Max. Mrs. Berrett and I don’t differ in that respect. I do, however, differ with her view that Daisy was a means to some other social goal. I think she (whatever “she” is) was his goal all along. I can see that “Daisy” and “society” could be somewhat conflated in Gatsby’s mind (is that why he was attracted to her so stongly when they were young?), though I’m not sure I fully agree; it seems that one of the potential reasons Nick admires Gatsby so much is because Gatsby doesn’t care about that vacuous society.

    Kevin, that is great advice. From other comments you’ve left here and elsewhere, I’ve seen how successfully you’ve changed your mind or at least opened your mind to many interpretations and perspectives from your multiple readings of one book. In fact, I think today on John Self’s blog you exemplified this point in a comment you left about The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao.

  26. Mrs. Berrett February 10, 2009 at 2:03 pm

    Trevor, Trevor, Trevor. I don’t think Daisy was a means to another social goal, I think she was the representation of the goal. Gatsby realized when he was younger that Daisy was unobtainable because of his station in life. He didn’t really want Daisy, he just wanted the proof he could have her, that he was of equal station.
    And I wouldn’t threaten you with the couch. With these new pillows I think the bed is a worse punishment.

  27. Trevor February 10, 2009 at 2:08 pm

    Gatsby realized when he was younger that Daisy was unobtainable because of his station in life. He didn’t really want Daisy, he just wanted the proof he could have her, that he was of equal station.

    That is a fair and good point. And I think I need to take Kevin’s advice and reread the book – again – to see if I agree or disagree. Right now I cannot say.

    If you’re correct (and it is a great point), why does Nick admire Gatsby? It would seem Gatsby’s goal is to become exactly what Nick detests. I think my hangup to your idea returns me to that original question I have about the novel.

  28. KevinfromCanada February 10, 2009 at 3:25 pm

    Why are new pillows always worse than those they replace? And why did Fitzgerald never address this important issue?

    One of the beauties of great books is to be able to appreciate that a number of interpretations are possible and even plausible — the trick is to be able to hold all of them in your mind instead of just one.

    Hope you like the couch, Trevor.

  29. Trevor February 10, 2009 at 3:41 pm

    My wife keeps coming up with reasons Gatsby is enamored with society, and I can’t refute them. Kevin is right: such is the beauty of a great book.

    Hopefully that’ll allow me back into the bedroom :) .

  30. KevinfromCanada February 11, 2009 at 9:02 pm

    It’s been more than a day — I hope you aren’t on the couch. Daisy is one thing, the couch is quite another.
    Zelda, on the other hand, was even worse but we won’t go there.

  31. Trevor February 11, 2009 at 9:26 pm

    Well, to be honest Kevin, I did spend quite a bit of time on the couch last night, but it wasn’t my wife’s fault. The oldest son uncharacteristically threw a movie marathon of Thomas the Tank Engine from 1 a.m. to about 4:30. The other son, who is usually the cause of the sleep deprivation, was sleeping so lightly that I couldn’t disturb him by putting his loud brother back in the room. To make matters worse, I was so hazy (or found Thomas so compelling) that I didn’t read a word during that time.

    Or did my wife have something to do with all of that afterall? Hmmm . . .

  32. John Self February 15, 2009 at 5:44 pm

    I am going to have to sit on the fence with Stewart on this one (budge up, Stewart). I acknowledge Gatsby’s status as one of the Great American Novels, and I have enjoyed it very much the couple of times I’ve read it (both several years ago), but I can’t help feeling that at least part of my appreciation is connected to being swept up in the sense that I am reading an acknowledged masterpiece … rather than my sensing those qualities for myself. Which is not to say that certain passages, such as the ending, are not justly famous, nor that I wouldn’t come to the same conclusion myself anyway.

    Fortunately, I have a great excuse to revisit the book in the extraordinary Bill Amberg-designed leather-bound Penguin Classics edition which I picked up last year. Curiously, five of the six titles in the series seem connected to the kind of world of privilege or even decadence where such leather-bound editions might be commonplace – Gatsby, Dorian Gray, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Brideshead Revisited and A Room with a View. A curious exception is The Big Sleep. I am sure they could have found a more appropriate title in keeping with the others (something by Nabokov perhaps, his ornate prose complemented by the ostentatious format?) – or indeed, highly inappropriate – Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London perhaps, or Tressell’s The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists.

  33. Trevor February 15, 2009 at 8:52 pm

    I had not seen those leather-bound Penguin Classics, John. Thanks for sharing the images! And I agree that including The Big Sleep is strange. And now I have to look up just what this The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists is all about.

  34. John Self February 16, 2009 at 2:56 am

    It’s a classic text of socialist/working class literature. I haven’t read it, as I’ve always suspected that it’s more a cultural icon than a literary one. I could be wrong.

  35. Trevor February 16, 2009 at 8:44 am

    It’s a sad truth, John, that I typed the name in Amazon and didn’t like any of the book covers that popped up, so I didn’t even wait around to find out what it was about. I wonder how many would-be-favorite books I’ve ignored because of dumb covers? Not that this one sounds like a would-be favorite.

  36. KevinfromCanada February 16, 2009 at 11:11 am

    I don’t find the inclusion of The Big Sleep strange. While it is true that Chandler’s style of story-telling is very different from the others, “the world of privilege or even decadence” that John references is very much present. It also adds a geographical dimension to the six novel collection by including a West Coast novel of that decadent world (having recently reviewed Fante, I must admit he just wouldn’t do) to the other locations.

    John’s post may end up costing me a lot of money. I haven’t treated myself to an outrageous book expenditure recently and the link provided to this collection indicates the six volumes would be an excellent addition to the display shelves. All six books are likely to be reread in tne next few years and certainly again after that. I wouldn’t have thought of the “decadence” theme by myself but on first blush it does hang together well. Does all that read like I am convincing myself?

  37. Max Cairnduff February 16, 2009 at 12:56 pm

    My distinct impression is that The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists is more a work of social history and a passionate Socialist call to arms than it is a great work of literature.

    I could be wrong, I’ve not read it, but that’s definitely my impression.

    Regarding the leather bound books, I’ve seen those myself, but I tend to value books as physical objects for portability and accessibility and I’m not sure going back to leather is a technological leap forward, that and it seems a tad decadent as noted by others. What can I say? I’m in some respects positively Calvinist, I’m always more attracted to the simple and austere.

  38. John Self February 16, 2009 at 3:48 pm

    Well all I can say about the leather-bound editions is that I am deeply in love with them but have yet to resolve my uncertainty as to whether I would rather have the volumes themselves on the shelves (with no printing on the spine other than a discreet debossed Penguin logo) or the boxes they come in, which are exceptionally handsome in themselves.

    I agree Max that leather binding seems retrograde, and indeed part of my reason (OK, excuse) for buying them was to see if they were more appealing than I expected them to be. At the same time, they are simple (if not austere), plain and unadorned with no title or author on the cover. The binding overlaps the edges of the pages on all sides – like a Bible – which I believe is termed a Yapp binding. The idea, I think, is that they as they are read, the leather will fold over to enclose and protect the pages. Of course that creates a dilemma, as part of me wants to keep them pristine.

  39. KevinfromCanada February 16, 2009 at 5:32 pm

    So I checked out those leather-bound editions at Penguin Canada — what with copyright only two available in this country at $99 Cdn each plus shipping. Turns out, however, the wonderful link you provided to Penguin UK shows they are onsale at 20 pounds (down from a list of 50) and overseas shipping adds only 5.5 pounds a book — at current exchange rates that works out to about $45 Cdn a book. Since normal new hardbacks here creep close to $40 for a decent-size book, this is a bargain. Order has been placed and I will begin contemplating whether to have them binding out or title out (so far binding is winning — but I love the dilemma). Thanks for putting me on to them, John, and now I definitely have a reason to reread The Great Gatsby. Oh, I forgot to mention that Mrs. KFC not only has approved the venture, but salutes it wholeheartedly as all six books are ones she loves and will be reading again herself. This is the best thing that has happened so far this month.

  40. Trevor February 16, 2009 at 6:44 pm

    Mrs. Berrett and I are laughing heartily: Mrs. KFC. If only we could have found something as original! My best to your wife, Kevin, for putting up with your purchases and her psuedonym. Also, her comments on your blog are some of my all-time favorites.

  41. John Self February 17, 2009 at 10:24 am

    A fine choice, Colonel. You will not be disappointed.

  42. KevinfromCanada February 17, 2009 at 3:00 pm

    Penguin UK advises that the volumes have shipped already — nothing quite like a great seller.

    On another matter, I can’t help but say that one of the by-products of the young Self gravatar is that it has started me thinking about novels that are told in reverse time. Dorian Grey counts in at least one aspect; Nancy Huston’s Fault Lines certainly does. I know there are others but they have not come to mind yet.

  43. Trevor February 17, 2009 at 3:24 pm

    I know there are others but they have not come to mind yet.

    I have to say that your posting this on Fitzgerald’s post makes me wonder if you’re being plaful, Kevin, but . . . there is The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

    There’s also the famous segment of Slaughterhouse Five and Time’s Arrow. It’s not a convention that I think should be used frequently, but it sure has been put to good use in these books.

  44. KevinfromCanada February 17, 2009 at 3:31 pm

    Benjamin Button must have been in my sub-conscious because it was not front of my mind — it certainly is appropriate and I do wish it had been deliberate. As for the other references, they are flashbacks and that was not what I was really looking for, although again it may be appropriate. What we don’t know from the gravatar is whether this is a temporary thing or the start of some irreversible voyage into John’s past. I have no experience at parenting and you do, so I will cede to your view.

  45. Trevor February 17, 2009 at 4:30 pm

    My view is that John’s voyage is irreversible. Today I got home and my wife had made some forts out of blankets for the boys. When I looked for her, I couldn’t find her. I called for her for a bit, and then she popped out from under the fort.

    I guess I’m not sure what you mean by the other references being flashbacks. Both I referred to are pure backwards narratives, told in reverse chronological order. Did I mistake your sentence?

  46. John Self February 17, 2009 at 5:35 pm

    I think the backwardness of Time’s Arrow is about as backward as a narrative could get, but nonetheless Amis does require some tricksiness to make it work, or at least to achieve his effects. The central character Tod is living his life forward – he does everything normally – and the bouleversé effect comes from the fact that his ‘soul’ (for want of a better word) is narrating the story, and seeing it happening backwards. So he sees Tod bringing food out of his mouth on a fork and rearranging it on his plate, for example. The central conceit is that the Holocaust is an experience so inhuman that it can only make sense by viewing it backwards (“Creation is easy”), by reversing its effect. So I suppose in that sense, Time’s Arrow is not a backwards novel at all. How curious.

  47. KevinfromCanada February 17, 2009 at 5:42 pm

    I withdraw my comment about Time’s Arrow in light of John’s explanation. Sorry about the confusion. I agree that it does fit my original premise, or reverse premise if you will.

  48. Nicola February 26, 2009 at 7:42 pm

    Oh, I love Gatsby. I went through such a Fitzgerald obsession in my youth that I just stopped short of calling everyone ‘old sport’! So many images in the book resonate with me; Jordan’s tilting chin, Nick sitting on the old grass roller in the garden looking out over the Sound, Gatsby catching the clock when it falls and the rain pouring down at Gatsby’s lonely funeral.

    Nice to see lively debate on the comments thread.

  49. Trevor February 26, 2009 at 10:07 pm

    Thanks for stopping by, Nicola. You’re welcome to join in the debate anytime, but of course I also much appreciate the images you listed above.

    I’m thinking of reading Tender Is the Night next and have it on order. To any, does that sound wise?

  50. Trevor June 21, 2010 at 1:31 pm

    I just came across this wonderful post detailing the valley of ashes (complete with overhead photos) in 1924 and today. Very cool!

  51. Nicole Michelle Koliopoulos October 2, 2010 at 11:05 am

    What happens in Chapter 1 in Great Gatsby? Who are the key characters in chapter 1 in Great Gatsby and how are they related to each other?

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