Our book of the month to open the year 2010 is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic The Great Gatsby. It may be familiar to you from classrooms long ago, or it may be one of those books you’ve always meant to read but haven’t. But there will never be a better time to check it out—again or for the first time—than during The Big Read in Newport, brought to you by the Newport Preservation Society and the Newport Public Library. The Big Read runs from January to March, 2010, and features film screenings, lectures, book discussions, and even a jazz concert. You can see a complete listing of events on our online calendar.
Despite all these wonderful events, though, the novel itself is well worth the read. Set in the glitz of the roaring twenties, The Great Gatsby nevertheless survives as a uniquely American story of hope, love, and tragedy.
The Plot: Midwesterner Nick Carraway comes East to start out in the stocks and bonds profession and is quickly drawn to the fashionably excessive parties thrown at his neighbor’s mansion on Long Island. The neighbor happens to be a mysterious man known as Jay Gatsby, who is fabulously rich, supernaturally charming and totally mysterious. Where did he get all his money? Was he a German spy during the war? Nick soon finds himself befriending Gatsby and learning of Gatsby’s desperately romantic infatuation with Nick’s cousin, Daisy, who is unhappily married. Her husband, Tom Buchanan, a Yale athlete from an elite East coast family, happens to have a mechanic's wife for a mistress. As you can imagine, this tangled web of parties and extramarital intrigue ensnares the characters and the readers as well. Mysteries are revealed, love is declared, but doom lurks just around the corner for these characters. The narrator ends one scene with the ominous sentence, "So we drove on toward death through the cooling twilight."
Though finishing at just under 200 pages, The Great Gatsby has an unusual depth of meaning for such a breezy read. And its themes of wealth, aspiration, unrequited love, and mortality appeal to us all. The setting, with its sea-facing mansions and tiny cottages, should be familiar to Newporters in particular. Many locals will remember the filming of The Great Gatsby movie at Rosecliff mansion in the early '70s. The Big Read offers an opportunity, within our unique and historic community, to engage with this wonderful book, the accompanying film, and that particularly glittering, decadent period in American history.