A&E / Archive

Rereading the Great Gatsby: An underrated classic offers the chance to relearn how to read.

Literature has a way of bringing impossible things to life with your own eyes and your very own imagination. You are the one to create the images; the words just guide you. I have always loved reading, since the first ever book was read to me on a parent’s lap.

This summer, my mom and I decided to take a road trip to see Mount Rushmore in South Dakota. We only had six days to do this, due to my work schedule. We took two days to drive there, two days to see the sights, and two days to drive home. While this was not hardly enough time to see the beauty of the Black Hills, the drive promised to be endless. Coming from California would mean driving through Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming, all
of which are completely straight and flat. This created an opportunity I rarely get with carsickness. I could read as we drove. So, I packed a couple well-worn favorites and we headed out.

One of the books I grabbed was F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby,” which I read for the first time as a requirement of my AP Language and Composition course in high school. I immediately loved this book for the impeccable imagery Fitzgerald creates. The descriptions of flappers, giant parties and New York City in the 1920s as well as the poverty, ash, and physical presence of “God” truly bring this story to life. The glitter and glamour are not all I got to enjoy while rereading this, though.

I read the book aloud to my mom as we drove. This allowed me to experience the book in an entirely new capacity. In a chapter of “The Oblation of Things” by Robert Farrar Capon, he talks about how teenagers “may recite only commercial slogans and comparable idiocies; but he recites them, at least partly, because he loves the way the words rattle. And somewhere along the line he will, unless he is starved to death, come to love some very grand rattles indeed.”

Gatsby is quite a marvelous rattle, I discovered. Just see, “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 a transcendent effort, of men who move dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air.” Read this passage aloud. See how it rattles.

Now, I could talk for days about the imagery throughout “The Great Gatsby,” but I’ll keep it brief here. Can’t you see the ash here drift and rise like a dust devil in a desert film? The way the ash permeates not only the air but coats the places and lives of the valley with a deep layer of dust. It’s almost like you’re there. I urge you again, read the passage aloud. Can’t you hear the way the words rise and fall like waves, the way they dance? Even in a monotone you cannot stifle the hitting of the alliterations and repetitions that make the music.

Teachers, for as long as anyone can remember, have told students to read aloud. I never realized, until reading to my mom, that this direction is not about catching errors in your own writing or developing public speaking skills. Reading aloud is to feel the vibrations of the world you have entered and are creating with every word you pass over.

Sources: “The Oblation of Things”

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