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Friday, January 12, 2007


A friend of mine pointed out the fact that "books do not come equipped with a quota" of pages to read a day. I needed to hear that statement. After finishing "The Good Soldier" yesterday, I started to think that perhaps for the first time in my life I am becoming a fast reader; I am, for the most part, a very slow reader, consuming word by word, enjoying each of them as if they were a drop of honey. Instead of putting restrictions and limits on myself I am just going to read, come what may. I don't want to defeat the whole purpose the "freedom of reading."

I started "Trimalchio" last night right before dinner. The book is billed as "An Early Version of 'The Great Gatsby,'" yet James West writes in the introduction that despite the fact that the book is an early edition of a great book, it should be read as a completely different book. I agree. You see, I have a long history with "Gatsby." I never read it in high school (it wasn't even offered), and I didn't come into contact with the book until 1995. The first mention of it I believe was in college. One of my undergrad professors gave me a copy but I never picked it up to read it until the summer of 1996. I read it that summer before entering graduate school at Georgetown University because it was on the reading list of one of the course I was going to take. I enjoyed my first reading of "The Great Gatsby." Now, after reading it over 20 times and teaching it for the last six, I enjoy it more and more. There's something miraculous about a book with such an intense plot, such lyricism of language done in 50,000 words. It is the economy of language that makes Fitzgerald's masterpiece a great book.

There are many differences between "Trimalchio" and "Gatsby." The first two or three chapters are identical. The differences begin in the chapter where Nick Carraway, the narrator, goes to Gatsby's party for the first time. There he meets Jordan Baker again (she will become his love interest later in the book). A major difference occurs in some passages that were eventually cut from the final version of the book, so reading those passages feels like reading a secret treasure of words that was kept inside a closet for a long time.

About Fitzgerald's lyrical style. Simply put, he was a god of lyricism. Here's an example:
"He smiled understandingly--much more than understandingly. It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced--or seemed to face--the whole external world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor. It understood you just so far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey."

I will confess that I consider this book one of the greatest (if not the greatest) masterpiece of the 20th Century literary canon. While I may be prejudiced for it, I am also aware of its little discrepancies. I will keep these in mind as I write.

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At 12:49 PM, Blogger Orange Blossom Goddess (aka Heather) said...

I didn't read all of your post as I have just begun The Great Gatsby but already I very much agree with your statement about lyrical quality in this book. I'm entranced by that if not by the story as yet.


At 1:05 AM, Blogger Susan Abraham said...

How beautiful towards the end, JCR.
And I would aye, aye the first paragraph as Exactly & Good Idea. :-)

At 7:09 PM, Blogger BookGirl said...

What a great post. Like you I didn't read Gatsby in high school, actually not even in college but after reading your post I feel like I need to re-read it. I remember I loved it and I do think that it's one of those books that would only get better with a second reading.

At 9:24 PM, Blogger Framed said...

Jcr, thanks for commenting on my blog. I've never read Gatsby and never wanted to until I read your blog. Now I feel compelled to read it. I just don't know when, but it's going on the list. Great review.


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