Wish #2: My Favorite Book

Oh, Strawburygrl, could you have asked me to write about something harder than my favorite book? I don’t know if I could possibly narrow it down to one! I chose a book to discuss, but I will tell you all that it is only one of my favorites. I couldn’t narrow it down to one single favorite.

In my profile, I list my favorite author, after my husband, as F. Scott Fitzgerald. I think there is something beautiful in his prose — something very poetic. He has a facility with the English language that I very much admire. For that matter, so does my husband. But it is easier to discuss F. Scott Fitzgerald, as he is well known. He had a very tragic life. He was an alcoholic. He died young — age 44, I believe. It is quite possible he suffered from Bipolar Disorder. Certainly his writing demonstrates manic tendencies — he holed himself up in the upper floor of his parents’ home to pound out This Side of Paradise — mostly to get Zelda Sayre to change her mind about not marrying him. He was fascinated with wealth. His wife, Zelda, was diagnosed with schizophrenia and died in a fire in a mental hospital. He was beautiful — his photographs show a strikingly handsome man — but what was really beautiful was his expression.

The book that I am going to discuss is The Great Gatsby. Lots of you may have been forced to read it junior year, and if that is the case, you might not have enjoyed it as much as you could have. What I mean is that teenagers in general buck against being told to do anything — trust me on that, if you can’t remember. And we may decide not to give a good book a chance simply because we’re forced to read it. So if it has been since American Lit. that you read this book, give it another chance.

Every last detail about why I love this book? The beauty of the language, as I have said, is one thing. Gatsby is such a tragic figure. He falls in love with an idea. He wants Daisy, but he doesn’t really know her. He loves the image of her that he has created in his mind. He loves what Daisy symbolizes — acceptance and wealth among them. Every detail of his life revolves around getting Daisy. Does he really want wealth for himself or because it is a means to get Daisy, the girl all the others wanted? Nick, the person who tries to view all the events with an unprejudiced eye, winds up somewhat more jaded at the end. Gatsby never gets the insight Nick does. Gatsby refuses to see the reality that crashes down around his carefully constructed dream.

The other characters are lovable in their ways. Daisy, the vapid, careless narcissist. Tom, the racist, brutish oaf. Myrtle, the voluptuous, social-climbing bimbo. Jordan, the classic beautiful snob who cheats at golf. Wilson and his dog-like devotion to a wife who thinks he’s beneath her. I don’t mean lovable in the sense that I like them so much as they are so well described, so easy for me to see.

I love the symbolism in the book. The green light that beckons at the end of Daisy’s dock. The eyes of Dr. T. J. Eckleburg — all seeing eyes of a God that will not move to stop the events, but watches them play out. The Valley of Ashes that represents the decay and squalor of the lower classes in comparison with the wealth at the center of the story. Isn’t it interesting that the eyes of Dr. T. J. Eckleburg watch over the desolate Valley of Ashes? The Owl-Eyed Man who senses greater depth in Gatsby than anyone else realizes.

I felt saddened as Gatsby was steadfastly drawn toward his own destruction and couldn’t see it. I cried when he died and nobody came. The last pages of the novel are pure poetry.

These are my favorite parts (mostly descriptions) from the book:

He [Tom] had changed since his New Haven years. Now he was a sturdy, straw-haired man of thirty with a rather hard mouth and supercilious manner. Two shining, arrogant eyes had established dominance over his face and gave him the appearance of always leaning aggressively forward. Not even the effeminate swank of his riding clothes could hide the enormous power of that body — he seemed to fill those glistening boots until he strained the top lacing and you could see a great pack of muscle shifting when his shoulder moved under his thin coat. It was a body capable of enormous leverage — a cruel body.

And this:

Turning me around by one arm he moved a broad flat hand along the front vista, including in its sweep a sunken Italian garden, a half acre of deep pungent roses and a snub-nosed motor boat that bumped the tide off the shore. …

We walked through a high hallway into a bright rosy-colored space, fragilely bound into the house by French windows at either end. 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. Then there was a boom as Tom Buchanan shut the rear window and the caught wind died out about the room and the curtains and the rugs and the two young women ballooned slowly to the floor.

The younger of the two was a stranger to me. She was extended full length at her end of the divan, completely motionless as with her chin raised a little as if she were balancing something on it which was quite likely to fall.

And:

[H]e stretched out his arms toward the dark water in a curious way, and as 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 on the end of a dock. When I looked once more for Gatsby he had vanished, and I was alone again in the unquiet darkness.

And:

This is a valley of ashes — a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens, where ashes take the forms of houses and chimneys and rising smoke and finally, with transcendent effort, of men who move dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air.

And:

She was in the middle thirties, and faintly stout, but she carried her surplus flesh sensuously as some women can.

And:

Her laughter, her gestures, her assertions became more violently affected moment by moment and as she expanded the room grew smaller around her until she seemed to be revolving on a noisy, creaking pivot through the smoky air.

And:

I noticed that she wore her evening dress, all her dresses, like sports clothes — there was a jauntiness about her movements as if she had first learned to walk upon golf courses on clean, crisp mornings.

And:

They were still under the white plum tree and their faces were touching except for a pale thin ray of moonlight between.

And:

Sometimes a shadow moved against a dressing room blind above, gave way to another shadow, an indefinite procession of shadows, who rouged and powdered in an invisible glass.

And:

So he waited, listening for a moment longer to the tuning fork that had been struck upon a star. Then he kissed her. At his lips’ touch she blossomed for him like a flower and the incarnation was complete.

And:

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter — tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. … And one fine morning —

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

2 thoughts on “Wish #2: My Favorite Book

  1. I'm not big on favorites — there are so many things I like: books, music, ice cream flavors — but if pressed, I might have to pick The Great Gatsby. I agree, the sheer beauty of the prose alone makes it worth reading. The fact that the characters are so fascinating, the plot so compelling and the values expressed so enduring, elevate it to the level of a truly great book.

    And, I suppose, the fact that I read it for the first time on the beautiful north coast of California in the summer perhaps colors my perception of the book's beauty ever since.

    Not logical, but there it is.

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