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C. P. Lesley

Bookworm, writer, radio host—I blog about history, fiction, and publishing in the Internet Age. You can find the full blog on my website. This space is for books.

The Benefits of Age

The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald

Like many American teenagers, I read this book under duress in 11th-grade English. Like many American teenagers, I hated its guts. I didn't get what made it a classic. Not for a minute. The only result of being forced to read it was that for decades I refused to touch it with a bargepole.


Then I reread it as an adult. The characters are shallow, but Fitzgerald intends them to be. Who are these people who "retreat into their money" whenever trouble strikes? I wanted to know more.


The plot, too, is simple, but oh, the writing! The description is gorgeous, from the moment Nick meets Daisy and the entire room moves around her to that last haunting image of rowboats tossed in the currents of life.


Fitzgerald exhibits a casual racism and antisemitism that was typical of his time but cannot be glossed over today. Even so, I am glad that I revisited Gatsby's world.


To my high school English teachers I can only say that a book may be a classic, but that doesn't mean teenagers can appreciate it. Sometimes, life experience makes a big difference....