The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

4672That blasted green light! Gatsby clinging to it for dear life. Reading The Great Gatsby feels so awfully bittersweet. Fitzgerald’s talent as a writer is beyond words in my opinion and he’s quickly climbing the list of my most beloved authors. I’m shocked at how long it took me to reread Gatsby’s story since my introduction as a high school junior. I suppose I feared being disappointed. That somehow the past 11 or so years had jaded me too much to find Jay Gatsby a remarkable character. Thank the literary gods my fears have been put to rest and I can honestly say Fitzgerald’s crowing achievement will always hold a special place on my shelves. With the movie looming on the the not-so-distant horizon, I knew now would be the perfect time to revisit my old friend Nick as he told this short little tale of the slippery American Dream.

I’m fairly certain no one needs a serious synopsis. Jay Gatsby is a self-made man from humble origins who becomes this larger than life personification of the American Dream. Unfortunately, his own ideas of success and happiness are never obtained because the woman he loves – the incredibly vapid Daisy Buchanan – will never be his. No matter how shiny his house, how green his grass, or how deep his pockets.

My favorite writers all tend to have one thing in common – the ability to write something, even the ridiculously mundane, and make me drool while reading it. My heart pitter-patters at long, luscious prose far faster than a deftly plotted masterpiece. And while I can definitely appreciate both, beautiful words will always win. The Great Gatsby is just that – freakin’ beautiful words and full-bodied sentences. This very book and all of Fitzgerald’s other work demonstrates while I’ll never actually write anything myself. I could never even come close to his genius.

I’m swooning all over this blog post! So sorry, y’all. Let’s get back to business. What surprised me this time through was how short the novel is – how succinct. I remember agonizing over this narrative in high school only to fly through it as an adult. The novel suffers not at all from its brevity, but rather benefits from the swift pacing and nearly overnight downfall of this colossal man-giant. The book is one huge symbol and filled with literary technique. Quite literally, literary terminology leaks across the pages. I can understand why this would turn away some readers who prefer a more abstract rendering on existentialism, but I love this no-nonsense approach. It’s definitely a wonderful teaching tool and I easily grasp why The Great Gatsby is read so often in school. It’s also, hands-down, Fitzgerald’s most accessible story and the one I recommend unfamiliar readers begin with.

As far as the characters are concerned, they, admittedly, are mostly detestable. Daisy and Tom especially. But as John Green says in his crash course youtube video (I’ll link it below), the characters don’t have to be likeable to be interesting. What’s fascinating about Daisy is how a man like Gatsby could become so enraptured by her as to ruin his entire life. These people existed and still exist. We read about them in magazines and hold them high on gilded pedestals. Reading The Great Gatsby gives us a lens not just to view the 1920s Long Island elite, but to help us understand hero worship, idolatry, and celebrity which we all fall victim to at some point. Do the things to which we aspire, our own American Dreams, actually have any valuable substance or will we all end up face-down in a pool when our dreams come crashing (pun intended!) down around us?

I’m excited to see the film in May. While the casting has me scratching my head a bit, I do think Leonardo DiCaprio will be a great Gatsby. The vibrant cinematography will add an interesting juxtaposition to the somber realities of the movie’s end. I’ll be there opening night and hope you other bloggers will be as well so we can all share our experiences. The more the merrier, and this is one story that deserves all the attention!

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Persuasion by Jane Austen

11758566I only read Persuasion for the first time a couple of years ago and it has always been an Austen novel not very familiar to me. So many readers adore her final work, so I’m not sure why I haven’t caught on quicker. January felt like a good time to rectify that situation so I picked up a new edition – the Penguin clothbound – and dove in. And now I’m a huge Anne Elliot fan and adoringly Team Wentworth!

Persuasion follows Anne Elliot, Austen’s oldest heroine (correct me if I’m wrong) who many years ago was persuaded to call off her relationship with Wentworth due to his inferior place in society. He had no family connections and was a simple navy man. Heartbroken by Anne, he goes off to pursue his naval career, becomes extremely successful, and finds himself back in Anne’s neighborhood and with loads of money and prominence. Meanwhile, Anne’s silly father and older sister have allowed their estate to fall to near ruins. Can Anne and Captain Wentworth find their way back to each other?

Jane Austen’s last complete novel is definitely one of her better works and filled with her trademark wit. Persuasion doesn’t dawdle nearly as much as some of her earlier and much more verbose stories. You can really see Austen’s craft sharpening – not just in her characterizations and storytelling, but in her editing abilities as well. Anne is such a strong protagonist in a very quiet way. She’s a normal girl surrounded by a ridiculous family doing her best to stay sane and happy. She’s highly personable and easy to relate to even 200 years later. You root for her on every page. I also particularly enjoyed seeing her growth from a child easily swayed to abandon her own happiness to keep her station in life and family’s reputation in tact into a woman fully capable of satisfying her family without sacrificing her own well-being. Anne Elliot, you are one classy lady.

Captain Wentworth’s letter and his pencil dropping incident at the end of the novel will have you swooning right along with Anne. He’s a great male lead – a very solid, constant presence, a compliment I’m sure he’d be quite thrilled with! He’s gentle with Anne even after she’s hurt him so deeply. I love that Austen is able to write such layered men – men who are both strong and unashamedly sensitive. Gallant, noble heroes can be just as satisfying as the bad boys we tend to love so much.

I highly recommend Persuasion, not that that should surprise anyone. I believe that Anne and Captain Wentworth are perhaps Austen’s strongest couple. I think they are true equals and can see them having the happiest of long-lived marriages. Again, I’m saddened at how early we lost Jane Austen and can only imagine the amazing novels she never got the chance to write.

Join me again Wednesday when I review For Darkness Shows the Stars which is a Persuasion retelling!

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

What can I possibly say about The Hobbit that hasn’t already been said a thousand times before?  Literally, nothing except that this little ditty gets my full praise and highest recommendation.  If you’ve been on the fence, hop off onto the side of reading Tolkien’s classic adventure before the movie hits theaters December 14!  Hobbits will be your new best friends.

I’m fairly certain this book needs no synopsis or introduction.  Pretty much a rather ordinary hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, gets sucked into helping some dwarfs steal back their treasure from a dragon named Smaug.  On the way to face the deadly fire breather, many adventures, fantastical creatures, and unexpected heroes are met and made.

Forced to read The Hobbit in high school, I never really fancied re-reading until recently.  While I didn’t hate Bilbo and his hero’s journey, neither was I enamored.  Only recently have I found myself really craving well written high fantasy and The Hobbit began to seem like an obvious choice.  I ordered the Annotated edition which I can’t recommend strongly enough and thoroughly enjoyed learning about Tolkien and his writing process.  Understanding how many literary sources he drew from and where his ideas and inspirations originated was like being at school but way more fun.  I was shocked to learn Tolkien’s first vision of Gandalf came from seeing a postcard depiction of an old man in a red cape.

The Hobbit’s story unfolds at a very naturally swift pace.  You never feel like you can’t keep up or that you might fall asleep – hidden dangers lurk around every tree.  Bilbo can be frustrating at times with his sour attitude and his wishes of being back at home, but wouldn’t we all be a bit reluctant to fight trolls on the first night of a road trip?  Watching his character grow from uncertain follower to unexpected hero is delightful and could be the literary definition of character growth.  You’ll also find yourself absolutely in love with the dwarfs – they kick the Snow White dwarfs’ asses!

Tolkien’s novel is also perfect to share with your children or as a family.  Especially during this holiday season, just cuddle up together around the fireplace and take turns reading aloud.  I know kids can be squirmy, but the trolls, goblins, giant spiders, and elves should have them mesmerized!  Plus, there are pictures.

I’m awaiting the film release with barely bated breath.  Martin Freeman promises to be the best Bilbo and my lovely dwarfs look perfectly cast and costumed.  For further immersion into Middle Earth, I bought the Lord of the Rings films during the Black Friday sales and watched them back-to-back-to-back this weekend.  I’d NEVER seen them before and still haven’t read the books, but wanted to get an idea of Tolkien’s bigger picture before seeing The Hobbit in theaters.  Loved the movies and thought they were properly made epics showcasing so much talent from all the creators involved.

Off to the Shire you go!

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Another book knocked off my Classics Club list!

The Classics Club: Wherein I Cave and Join…

Earlier this year, Jillian from A Room of One’s Own created The Classics Club where bloggers could pledge to read a certain amount of classics over the next 5 years.  It’s a superb idea and a great way to build community among the bookish interwebs.  That being said, I initially hesitated.  Not because I don’t love classics – I do, probably my favorite ‘genre’, but rather I was worried about over-extending myself or forcing myself to read from a list (even if it were of my own creation).  But I’ve caved in and I’m not ashamed to admit it!

Why now, you ask?  Because my fears were recently rendered silly when I realized that in the next four weeks I will be completing 4 books I consider classics – for fun!  And this classics reading pace is the norm for me – not the exception.  As long as my list does in fact have an end and isn’t overly long, I’ll reach this goal naturally.  So, I made my list and had a blast.  I mean, who doesn’t love a great list of books?   Plus, Jillian and several other amazing bloggers just launched The Classics Club’s own internet home this week!  Check it out here.

My list consists of books off the top of my head (mostly!) and off my shelves that I am excited about reading.  There are quite a few re-reads, but more than enough new-to-me titles.  My list is 75 books long and I am vowing to finish the list by July 31, 2017 – roughly 5 years from now.  Fifteen books a year is nothing and leaves me plenty of time to read my Litwits books and other pure pleasure reads.  WIN.

Without further ado, please see my lovely list below.  The re-reads are in bold!

And Then There Were None Agatha Christie (10/10/12)
The Stranger Albert Camus
The Color Purple Alice Walker
Black Beauty Anna Sewell (January 2013)
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall Anne Bronte
Agnes Grey Anne Bronte (January 2013)
Revolutionary Road Richard Yates
The Hound of the Baskervilles Arthur Conan Doyle (11/12/12)
A Tale of Two Cities Charles Dickens
David Copperfield Charles Dickens
The Professor Charlotte Bronte
Jane Eyre Charlotte Bronte
Moll Flanders Daniel Defoe
Rebecca Daphne du Maurier
I Capture the Castle Dodie Smith (10/16/12)
Ethan Frome Edith Wharton (April 2013)
North and South Elizabeth Gaskell (8/23/12)
Cranford Elizabeth Gaskell (April 2013)
The Robber Bridegroom Eudora Welty
Brideshead Revisited Evelyn Waugh
The Great Gatsby F. Scott Fitzgerald (February 2013)
The Secret Garden Frances Hodgson Burnett (November 2012)
Love in the Time of Cholera Gabriel Garcia Marquez
One Hundred Years of Solitude Gabriel Garcia Marquez
To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee
Norwegian Wood Haruki Murakami
The Ambassadors Henry James
Daisy Miller Henry James
Washington Square Henry James
Call It Sleep Henry Roth
The Hobbit J.R.R. Tolkien (11/22/12)
Mansfield Park Jane Austen (August 2013)
Sense and Sensibility Jane Austen
The French Lieutenant’s Woman John Fowles
The Grapes of Wrath John Steinbeck
East of Eden John Steinbeck
Never Let Me Go Kazuo Ishiguro
Slaughterhouse Five Kurt Vonnegut
Anne of Green Gables L.M. Montgomery
Anna Karenina Leo Tolstoy
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland Lewis Carroll
Little Women Louisa May Alcott(March 2013)
Gone With the Wind Margaret Mitchell (8/6/2012)
The Woman Warrior Maxine Hong Kingston(June 2013)
The Hours Michael Cunningham
The Scarlet Letter Nathaniel Hawthorne  (8/6/2012)
The Picture of Dorian Gray Oscar Wilde
The Good Earth Pearl. S. Buck
Invisible Man Ralph Ellison
The Big Sleep Raymond Chandler (May 2013)
Native Son Richard Wright
I, Claudius Robert Graves
Stranger in a Strange Land Robert Heinlein
All the King’s Men Robert Penn Warren
A Fine Balance Rohinton Mistry
Henderson the Rain King Saul Bellow
King Lear Shakespeare
Twelfth Night Shakespeare
The Tempest Shakespeare
The Haunting of Hill House Shirley Jackson
The Stand Stephen King
American Tragedy Theodore Dreiser
Sister Carrie Theodore Dreiser
Jude the Obsure Thomas Hardy
Tess of the D’Ubervilles Thomas Hardy
Our Town Thornton Wilder
Breakfast at Tiffany’s Truman Capote
Les Miserables Victor Hugo
Lolita Vladimir Nobokov(July 2013)
O Pioneers! Willa Cather
The Sound and the Fury William Faulkner
Neuromancer William Gibson
The Princess Bride William Goldman
Vanity Fair William Makepeace Thackeray (March 2013)
Their Eyes Were Watching God Zora Neale Hurston (9/23/12)