‘Gatsby’ continues to glitter

Leo in Gatsby

Taking a break from my regularly-scheduled Wednesday photo posts to talk Gatsby. Honestly, can one have too much Gatsby in their life?

I doubt it, old sport.

Like so many teens, my first exposure to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic came in high school. The Great Gatsby was assigned reading my sophomore year — and though I’ve always been a reader, it took an introduction to this work to get me excited about literature. Gatsby was a gateway drug. I sprang to Austen and Dickens after this 1925 classic, devouring Shakespeare and Welty in turn. Heck, I even humored Hemingway. I was addicted.

Gatsby book coverBecause Gatsby is accessible, entertaining, absorbing and all-around fantastic, I didn’t spend my time as a student afraid to approach Great Literature. I wasn’t scared off by serious tones and symbolism. The Canon of Fabulous Works didn’t intimidate me. My obsession with reading launched my English studies in college, which sharpened my writing skills, which led to my career as a writer and editor.

Can I thank Gatsby for that?

In a way, yes.

But as a lovesick teen girl, I wasn’t focused on the corruption of the American dream or costs of decadence. At 15, I became enamored with the Jazz Age classic because I considered it a love story. (And maybe it still is.) Gatsby’s pursuit of Daisy seemed unrelentingly optimistic and just . . . sweet. Ignorant to the book’s messages, I read it purely as the story of a man who could never forget his first love. Convinced he need only money and luxury to lure Daisy away from the privileged, “careless” life she shares with Tom Buchanan, Gatsby sets off to make it big. And win Daisy back. Her green light is a beacon of hope — one that declares he can have anything he’s ever wished for . . . if he never eases up.

It’s interesting now, examining the story as an adult. I’ve read the book three times and am halfway through a fourth. We went to see Baz Luhrmann’s latest film adaptation on Sunday . . . and I became obsessed with the story anew. No matter how many times I hold Gatsby up for inspection, analyzing his motives and means and parts, I can still uncover more layers. Almost a century after it landed in the hands of its first readers, we still have so much to talk about.

Gatsby posterThat is the magic of Gatsby. Of Fitzgerald’s writing. Of that particular era of history, the 1920s: so rich and vivid and compelling. Despite some lukewarm to derisive reviews of “The Great Gatsby,”
I loved the film. I loved it so hard. Leonardo DiCaprio was a charismatic, convincing Gatsby, and I viewed his pursuit of wealth and the so-called American Dream with fresh eyes. Daisy’s portrayal by Carey Mulligan was the perfect mix of disaffected ingenue and fragile mess, which I adored, and I despised her all over again.

And can we talk about the music? I know people are all over the place with this one. Executive produced by Jay-Z, the film’s soundtrack features eclectic music — hip-hop, alternative rock — and modern tunes punctuate some of the movie’s most pivotal scenes. As Gatsby and Nick fly in that iconic car and the New York skyline comes into view, a haunting bar of Alicia Key’s “Empire State of Mind” caught me off-guard. But I liked it. It took what could have been a staid  interpretation of an iconic story and turned it around. I downloaded Lana Del Rey’s “Young and Beautiful” from bed the next morning. I just . . . couldn’t get it out of my head. It’s so haunting.

The whole film is haunting.

The modern feel isn’t for everyone, I know. And that’s okay. But even the departures from Fitzgerald’s text — notably a framework where Nick is telling Gatsby’s story from a sanitarium, where he’s being treated for alcoholism and depression, among other ailments — just added to the narrative; for me, it didn’t take anything away. I like that Gatsby is still provoking us to imagine things differently, to ask questions and draw the text into the current world.

Gatsby and DaisyDid I think the movie was flawless? No. Nothing ever is. But I didn’t go into “The Great Gatsby” wearing my critical glasses. I wanted to be transported, entertained and dazzled — exactly what I’d expect from a Luhrmann film. And I was. As the credits rolled and the lights came up, I blinked in the dim light. I felt disoriented. Even knowing precisely what was going to happen didn’t save me from feeling breathless throughout the movie, and somehow still shocked by its close. I wanted things to be different.

When I got home on Sunday, I dug through my bookshelves until I found my tattered old copy of Gatsby. It’s underlined and highlighted, dog-eared on pages where a passage or two struck me, and worn around the edges from getting stuffed into book bags and purses. I’m 100 pages into my latest reading. Despite being such a relentless lover of literature, I never re-read books. Ever. Seriously, Gatsby is the only book I’ve ever read more than once — and being on a fourth reading is sort of ludicrous. But seeing the film provoked so many new questions . . . and I wanted to be able to compare the film and book after a fresh reading of the text.

But I can’t really do that. Not really. It’s not fair to intricately compare a book to its cinematic counterpart; they’re two different ways of storytelling. Overall, would I declare the film “faithful” to the beloved text? Yes, I would. And if I agree with some of the quibbles about Nick’s role, for instance, that doesn’t dampen my overall enthusiasm. Gatsby moves me like no other story, and “Gatsby” on the big screen was an incredible experience.

I loved it. And if you love the story, too, I trust you’ve got your tickets.

Creating a Bookprint — or choosing the reads that most defined me

Every reader has stories that defined them.

Whether it’s assigned reading from high school or a novel lovingly passed along by a parent or friend, we all have those books we reflect upon with reverence. Stories that changed our perceptions or inspired us. Novels that altered the way we viewed the world, or helped us through a difficult time.

Scholastic has just launched its “One Million Bookprints for One Million Books” Campaign — an initiative to donate one million books to needy children through Reach Out and Read. At You Are What You Read, we can make a Bookprint — a collection of the five books that made an everlasting impression on us. For every Bookprint created on the site, one book will be donated to charity. More than 21,000 have been donated so far.

Choosing five books for my own Bookprint was challenging and fun. The key was to find the five stories that changed or defined me — not just the five stories I liked best. They could be one in the same, sure, but that wasn’t inherently the case. Upon reflection, a few of my first picks didn’t really define so much as entertain me, so I scratched them from my roster.

So after much soul-searching, my selections are:

1. The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri. The Namesake has the distinction of being the first book to keep me up late into the night crying uncontrollably, contemplating life and all its complications. I’ve read many books before and after The Namesake, but it remains firmly ensconced as My Favorite Book of All Time. It has everything: love; family; death; grief; hope; salvation. It moved me so completely, it would be impossible to say how much.

2. Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech. Read the summer I turned 10, Walk Two Moons was my first experience with life, death and family dynamics. Though Walk Two Moons is considered middle-grade reading, I felt decidedly adult while reading it; its themes translated beyond my elementary years.

3. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer. We all know of my rampant JSF love, and this book — his second novel — was another serious tearjerker. I bought it after finishing and loving Everything Is Illuminated, but I think Extremely Loud is actually my favorite. The first book I encountered to deal with Sept. 11, it was profoundly moving. I can still remember hunkering over the book while commuting to D.C. for an internship, hunched over in my seat with tears streaming down my face. And the movie trailer gets me all misty.

4. The Berenstain Bears and Too Much Junk Food. It’s impossible to overstate the important of the Berenstain Bears on my childhood — I mean, they were everywhere. I learned the meaning of the word “moral” from our bear friends and can clearly remember reading the stories aloud with my parents and little sister. We had many books in the collection, but Too Much Junk Food really stands out in my mind. It could be because the pictures were so darn appetizing to a chubby kid like me, but I like to think it’s because I recognized the value of healthy eating at a young age. (Sure — we’ll go with that.)

5. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. The quintessential American novel, Gatsby has the distinction of being the only book I’ve read more than twice. Though many readers seem to be firmly in the pro-Gatsby or anti-Gatsby camp, I’m all for it — and can’t wait to see the remake with Leonardo DiCaprio as Gatsby (swoooooon) next year.


I’m not the only celebrity (ahem — joke!) creating a Bookprint; famous folks like Suzanne Collins, Jim Parsons, Scarlett Johansson and Daniel Radcliffe share theirs, too (and yes, Harry Potter appears on Daniel’s). Head over to make your own Bookprint now and help the next generation find their own influential reads.

Have you created a Bookprint?

What are some of the books

that most defined you?

Book review: ‘The Summer We Read Gatsby’ by Danielle Ganek

After their beloved and eccentric Aunt Lydia dies and leaves them to inherit Fool’s House, a ramshackle old place with tons of character, half sisters Pecksland “Peck” Moriarty and Cassie Moriarty arrive in Southampton ready to greet a summer of unknowns. Growing up with the same father but on different sides of the globe, Cassie and Peck know little about one another’s current lives — and share snippets of memories from their formative years. A love of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic The Great Gatsby united them several summers before and is a bond now, too.

After moving into Fool’s House and meeting Biggsy, the “Fool In Residence,” Peck and Cassie set to work readying their aunt’s property for sale. The sisters are instructed to live in Fool’s House for a month before shedding the property — an instruction Cassie is determined to keep. Peck, on the other hand, can’t seem to bear any talk about selling their aunt’s beloved property and begins a theatrical campaign to keep it.

After one of Aunt Lydia’s favorite paintings goes missing and Biggsy points fingers at Miles Noble, Peck’s first love, the Moriarty girls must band together to get to the root of their aunt’s mysterious life — and find a “thing of utmost value.” Perhaps in an unlikely place.

Danielle Ganek’s The Summer We Read Gatsby was a unique novel about two sisters who become an unlikely pair of friends. Dramatic, theatrical and over-the-top Peck is a total counterpoint to Cassie, a practical writer and expat who returns to the United States after years of living abroad. Both girls seem to share little and know even less about one another, though they’re predisposed to love each other. And that’s what sold me on this novel: despite the antics, banter and occasional bickering, you knew Peck and Cassie were sisters who cared.

The setting of the book is an interesting one — especially since, from the outset, we’re told the novel takes place in the summer of 2008. Given that we’re skating around in 2010 now, just two years later, I was surprised to see a definitive date given at the start of the book. But, as with all good novels, there’s a reason for that: we’re drawn into a lush world in the Hamptons where optimism, money and superficiality are the norm.

Two years later, thick in the middle of a U.S. recession, extravagant theme parties, foreign sports cars and high-end meals in New York City are, at best, out of reach for most Americans — and, at worst, disgusting shows of wealth in a time when so many are struggling. Much like, you know, in The Great Gatsby. Daisy and Tom Buchanan, anyone? Many of Ganek’s characters bask in the glow of financial security, showing little regard for trivial matters like money. Biggsy stands as the foil to that: a starving, scheming artist frantically looking for a way to make ends meet. And, unfortunately, that often means making a nuisance of himself.

The plot moves along quickly; the writing was interesting and fluid, propelling me through one summer in the lives of two extraordinary women. Next to the buoyant Peck, Cassie occasionally came across as dry — but I think that’s what I liked about her. She knew she could never keep up with Peck and her ridiculous hat collection, so she didn’t even try. She simply basked in the glow of being close to Peck, having a family, and figuring out where to take her own writing. And how to write.

One of my favorite moments:

‘What difference did it make if they were still in love or not when he died?’ She reached out and patted my knee with one hand. ‘You couldn’t change the ending of that story.’

‘I called my mother the queen of unreliable narrators,’ I said, as the rush of words in my brain abated.

‘I thought I was the queen of unreliable narrators,’ Peck said, only half kidding.

‘I suppose we all are,’ I said. ‘That’s what I’m starting to realize. We all tell our stories the way we want to. And sometimes these stories have nothing to do with reality.’

(Page 123, ARC)

And, well, ain’t that the truth.

Fans of contemporary fiction will be seduced by quirky Peck and Aunt Lydia, even posthumously, and just might relate to Cassie, too. Considering The Great Gatsby stood as my all-time favorite novel for quite some time, I appreciated the allusions to Fitzgerald’s classic — but if you’ve never read it? Don’t be put off in the least. No Gatsby knowledge is required for enjoyment. Just get ready for a breezy, mysterious good time.

4 out of 5!

ISBN: 0670021784 ♥ Purchase from AmazonAuthor Website
Review copy provided by agent