Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The (Not Yet) Great Gatsby

A few weeks ago author and vlogger, John Green, announced he would be reading The Great Gatsby and commenting on it through the summer. Since I've never read it before, I thought about picking up a copy, but never did.

Until author, blogger and former literary agent, Nathan Bransford, asked "Which book do you most wish you had written?" His answer: The Great Gatsby.

I couldn't argue with both John and Nathan, so that day I swung by the used-book store and picked up a paperback copy complete with notes scrawled in the margins from the previous owner. I'm now six chapters into the story.

It's not my kind of book. This isn't meant to be derogatory in any way. There are many, wonderful books out there and we all have different tastes. What makes this book interesting is that it could be my kind of book.

If you'll permit me to share a personal anecdote in illustration. You see, my wife and I like visiting art museums. Every few years we decide to see what's on exhibit, but we are different in our approach.

My wife, she prefers to skim through halls sampling many different works until she finds something that speaks to her. Then spends time admiring the details, reading about it, and surveying the works around it.

I, on the other hand, plod through the halls. I prefer to study each work--teasing out the fine points and reading the factoids until I appreciate something about it.

In the end, we both feel enlightened and have tired feet and are ready to go out to eat. My wife's approach allows her to see many more works and discover some that move her. My approach allows me to open my mind to new ideas, new techniques, and appreciate the amazing complexity involved in making something appear simple.

So, here I am with The Great Gatsby. I said before it's not my kind of book, but it's not unpleasant. In the first six chapters I've discovered many things, but two stand out.

First, F. Scott Fitzgerald was a master of flawed characters. Each one flawed in their own, unique way. In fact, unlike many books I've read, this book seems to be built on the characters flaws more than their strengths.

Second, He is also a master of word craft. Sentences, lines, paragraphs, and sections have cadence and rhythm. At times it feels like the words themselves are drawing me forward through the story.

So far, I'm enjoying myself. I think I'll stand here and gaze a bit longer. Who knows what other parts I'll learn to appreciate.

* Mansion photo courtesy of pmschlenkler can be found on Flickr. The Great Gatsby cover image was found online. If you are the copyright holder, I will remove the image if requested.


Kaye P. Clark said...

Amazing post! I haven't read Gatsby yet either and feel somewhat guilty because I probably won't. Patrick Rothfuss is a master word crafter too. Have you read The Name of the Wind?

Natalie said...

My husband and I treat art museums the same way. He wants to spend a few minutes analyzing every painting and I want to spend my time with the amazing stuff. Go figure.

I actually love THE GREAT GATSBY. It's not the kind of book I normally enjoy, but I think it's a masterpiece. There's so much symbolism buried in the scenes. Of course I'm not sure I would have caught it all if I'd just read it for fun. It was required reading in one highschool and 2 college classes.

Stacy Henrie said...

I think I read the Great Gatsby in high school, but I can't remember. I love that mansion picture. And yes I tend to linger a minute or two over each thing in museums.

John Waverly said...

@Gussie - Thanks for the recommendation. I've heard a lot of good things about The Name of the Wind. I added it on Goodreads, so I won't forget.

@Natalie - It sounds like we have some things in common. I suspect if we all ended up at the museum together that you and my wife would have a great time chatting and ooo-ing and ah-ing over the art, while your husband and I would only see a dozen pieces before delving into a long, deep debate about some obscure historical reference. Good times.

@Stacy - The photographer has a whole collection of this mansion. It's beautiful. You should check it out: http://www.flickr.com/photos/pmschlenker/4130026770/

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