Monday, August 22, 2011

F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Great Gatsby (1925)

Aviator Books, in the International Wing of the San Francisco Airport, is the best bookstore I've ever encountered in an airport.  I can't sleep on airplanes, and I've stopped listening to any music I care about because the noise of the engines gets in the way, so I get a lot of reading done.  I read the Ishiguro book I just blogged about on a flight to Tokyo last week, and during my layover in SFO I could tell I was going to finish it before hitting Setagaya-ku, so I went hunting for a bookstore.  Aviator had more attractive things for the literary-minded than I had hoped for, and I settled on The Great Gatsby.  Had about twenty pages left in it when I got to my in-laws' house, so:  that worked out well.

And now I'm sitting in our hotel in Kyoto trying to think of something intelligent to say about it.  I've got nothing. It's one of those books that everybody loves, and so do I, and I'm sure I love it for the same reasons everybody else does.  The way it mingles wisdom about material wealth and worldly glamor with an honest human love of same;  the way it lays bare American obsessions with origins, with self-reinvention, with status and place;  the way it does all this in some of the most glorious English ever written.

I guess it's something, though, if I can say I love it now.  I don't think I've read it since high school (required reading, sophomore year), and I didn't have much patience with it then.  A) I didn't appreciate language for its own sake then (despite pretensions to poetry), and B) I was in my full-on anti-materialist hippie phase, and didn't have any patience for the narrator's patience with Gatsby and Daisy.

Like, these are shallow people, and Nick Carraway knows that, but he's attracted by their glamor anyway.  By their what Gatsby says (in just one of the novel's immortal lines) he hears in Daisy's voice:  money.  I didn't get this when I was young.  I figured you either bought that stuff or you didn't;  it was black or white.  You know, that's youth.  Now, as a wizened (not necessarily wise) old dude, I'm all about the conflicted feelings, the self-contradictory attitudes, the loving what you don't necessarily approve of.  It strikes me as being about as close as you can get to a summary of the human condition.

Fitzgerald nails it.

1 comment:

Matt said...

This is your golden opportunity to read Eric Rauchway's sequel, "Banana Republican", about Tom going to Nicaragua and getting involved in politics. I hear it's just like the Flashman series except not as amusing or clever!

(While Googling that up I learned that Baz Luhrmann is apparently planning to film TGG... in 3D!)