Rereadings: The Great Gatsby
For many years, I held a deeply-rooted resentment towards books I was, at one point or another, required to read for class during middle and high school. I felt the forced nature of the reads and the ensuing painful discussion of them in class ruined pretty much everything about them. The very aspects that made them “classics” and “required reading” were undone by the nature of the read. Could a classic really be appreciated when it was being shoved down your throat and teachers are going on endlessly about imagery? I decided not, resented the imposition on my reading time, and snubbed a large bulk of the literary canon, largely out of teenage pique.
In my defense, a lot of the books we read simply are not up my alley, even to this day (see: Mario Puzo’s The Fortunate Son, Ordinary People, and Lord of the Flies). All the same, I like to think that I’ve matured as a reader and a person enough to give “required reading” a second try. All these years later, I can now see the value in having us read these books (even if I still object to the way in which we did): I would be missing out on so many serious cultural references and so much literary knowledge if I hadn’t been “forced” to read Orwell and Huxley. Not to mention Catcher in the Rye and To Kill a Mockingbird.
So, this week, as I felt rather at sea with life and homesick for America, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby presented itself to me. I’m not sure what made me think of re-reading Fitzgerald, but, having not read it since high school and having since acquired an appreciation for his remarkable prose, it seemed like a good time to give required reading a second try.
I’m sure it will come as no surprise to any fan of Fitzgerald or Gatsby to hear how perfect a read the book was. How enviable the prose and phrasing was. How evocative the setting was. How perfectly-articulated some feelings were. In short, how excellent a book Gatsby is.
Funnily enough, as I re-read along, half-remembering the plot and totally experiencing the writing itself for the first time, the words of my 11th grade English teacher kept banging on in my head about the eyes of God and the meaning of everything. I suppose I’m glad to have that knowledge somewhere in the back of my mind, to know that Fitzgerald was writing and meaning more than just a story, but I’m also glad that it’s been long enough since I last read Gatsby that it that I can separate the book from the pedagogy and simply enjoy one of the most well-crafted novels in the American canon.
This particular re-reading reminded me of the value of second chance reads. They can be dodgy exploits, and you might well hate a book during the second go-round as much as or more than you did during the first, but, for me, it’s high-time I separated the classics from my residual annoyance with my secondary education. It’s time to stop seeing them as “required reading” and start appreciating them for the works of literature that they are. In short, if I were really a reader of integrity, it’s time for me to give these books the fair, second-chance readings they all probably deserve. Gatsby was surely worth it and I’m sure there are others out there to be rediscovered, too.
This is part of our on-going Rereadings series wherein we take a trip down memory lane to reread some of our favorite books. We are looking for guest bloggers for this series, so if you’re interested in taking a second look at one of your favorites, drop us a line at literarytransgressionsATgmailDOTcom! I look forward to hearing from you!