Thanks goodness I never studied Gatsby

3 09 2011

I love reading. I go through phases of what I love to read – sometimes it is biographies (usually of writers or 1920s artists), sometimes it is Classics, sometimes science and statistics books, sometimes pop culture, sometimes fiction, sometimes short stories. I have a bookshelf bulging with favourites that I reread when the mood takes me, and a pile of books next to my bed that have I haven’t yet read. I find it very difficult to walk past a bookshop, and almost never walk out of one without a new book or two. I am a book-a-holic.

My favourite writers are (in no order)
F Scott Fitzgerald (a sense of place and an economy with words)
Dr Suess (a way with words)
Douglas Adams (a sense of the bizarre)

Every time I reread these authors I find new things I hadn’t noticed before. Several decades and many rereadings on, it is a tribute to the quality of their writing that this is still the case.

I was lucky – oh so lucky – that I didn’t have to study Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby for English classes at school. Without fail, every book we studied at school I have developed an abhorrence for.

This came to mind when a librarian friend was commenting on his favourite book – Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath. (Side note – we both agreed we pronounce it “roth” not “rath” as seems to be the fashion now). I have never been able to even pick this book up since we dissected, sliced, diced, analysed it to pieces in Year 11. It ceased to be a story and instead became a series of themes and mechanisms, literary devices and conceits. The beauty of the story was lost.

I had always thought it was just me that felt like that, but my librarian friend agreed that English classes destroyed some books for him as well.

He had had the luck not to study Steinbeck’s book and hence he still loved it. I am grateful not to have studied Gatsby.

Fast Fact: The latest 60 Minutes / Vanity Fair Poll found that 65% of people surveyed could not identify who Harper lee was. This despite being given four options (including the correct one) to choose from. She is of course the Pulitzer-prize winning author of To Kill a Mockingbird. So I did learn something in English class!

If you like this post you might also like Old Dogs and New Tricks.



6 responses

3 09 2011
Old dogs and new tricks « Mud Map to Life in the Modern Age

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3 09 2011

Yes indeed about the ‘roth’, not ‘rath’.
I have mixed feelings or thoughts about the books we studied…I actually got a lot out of studying Shakespeare. I would never have read it of my own accord, nor understood the amazing skill and poignant themes, understandings and depth of his works without our school studies. I found this for any books where the historical or cultural setting was important- I just wouldn’t have known the importance of particular phrases, plot events or gained insight and understanding of the characters and their behaviours.
Other books, I would have liked to just sit with and let it resonate in whichever way…I enjoyed the cadence, the characters, the plot, the satire, the poetic metaphors, without needing to analyse the life out of them. That said, we had fantastic, engaging teachers, who did manage to pull more meaning from the books for me.
Some books just had themes I didn’t want to think about- post-apocalypse prose, mainly. It scared the begeebies out of me. Maybe it was good to face this fear earlier on, maybe not. But it was interesting to ponder what it might be like and what might cause the cataclysm.
All that said, I did study The Great Gatsby, and while I got a lot out of our studies, I do have that inner ‘cringe’ when I think about reading it. Same with any of the books we studied.
So, yes…got a lot out of the study, but it does seem to be a deterrent to enjoying the book as a story in my adult life!

4 09 2011

Thanks Cristy. Nice to know not everyone was damaged by the experience! I should say I don’t think there was anything wrong with my teachers, just that i enjoy books as stories and I don’t want to analyse them deeply. Perhaps it is intellectual laziness on my part!

The interesting thing is I don’t seem to have the same reaction to plays we studied – Shakespeare, Arthur Miller. However, having said that, I don’t read them, I go and watch them so maybe that’s the difference, it isn’t triggering the same memories!

26 11 2011
Angry birds

I like this blog so much, bookmarked. “To hold a pen is to be at war.” by Francois Marie Arouet Voltaire.

3 01 2012
Rose's Thingamajig

I agree with this for the most part (I had to study The Great Gatsby and didn’t like it at all- it may be time for a re-reading) but there are plenty of books I read in college that I really enjoyed, and like them better for understanding them better. A lot has to do with the way we read books, I think. Read a book on the wrong day, in the wrong place, with the wrong person, for the wrong reason, with the wrong emphases, and that book can be ruined for you. Books are very temperamental creatures. Or maybe it’s our tastes that are temperamental and books are subject to the readers’ whims. Either way, I’ve disliked books for many a reason over the years, but now that I’ve read this post, I wish I’d never studied Gatsby. 😀

Now following this blog.

3 01 2012

Thanks – nad you are right, it is all about the context. Perhpas the new movie coming out this year might help you overcome your dislike of Gatsby. Thanks for following!

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