The Great Gatsby
By F. Scott Fitzgerald
Reserving judgments is a matter of infinite hope.
The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s third book, stands as the supreme achievement of his career. This exemplary novel of the Jazz Age has been acclaimed by generations of readers. The story of the fabulously wealthy Jay Gatsby and his love for the beautiful Daisy Buchanan, of lavish parties on Long Island at a time when The New York Times noted “gin was the national drink and sex the national obsession,” it is an exquisitely crafted tale of America in the 1920s.
The Great Gatsby is one of the great classics of twentieth-century literature.
Why it was challenged/banned: Language and sexual references.
Why it is important: I have written thousands of words about The Great Gatsby. I have read it many times, for both school and pleasure. A professor in college showed me that The Great Gatsby is one of those remarkable books to which you can apply almost any literary theory and come out with an airtight case (and a degree, in some cases). It was a great learning tool as well as a great read.
Fitzgerald wrote an intriguing novel that centered on superficiality and class. Gatsby’s raucous parties and the excessive show of wealth makes an enormous statement on the frivolity of money, class, and “sophistication.” Hypocrisy is prevalent when making determinations of the different types of wealth: the difference between “old money” and “new money”; between the hard-earned lifestyle of Nick Carroway’s family and the wealth passed down from father to son. While many view the Roaring 20’s as a period of jazz, whimsy, the American Dream, and anti-prohibition sentiment, The Great Gatsby is a satirical view of an era of selfishness. While having wealth is not a bad thing in itself, Fitzgerald shows that it is what one does with that wealth that truly matters. The strength and vulnerability of relationships are also called into question in Fitzgerald’s classic. Each relationship portrayed in the novel is faulty because of the weak foundations upon which they are built.
Without giving too much away, The Great Gatsby proves that money cannot truly buy happiness.
The Golden Compass
By Philip Pullman
You cannot change what you are, only what you do.
In a landmark epic of fantasy and storytelling, Philip Pullman invites readers into a world as convincing and thoroughly realized as Narnia, Earthsea, or Redwall. Here lives an orphaned ward named Lyra Belacqua, whose carefree life among the scholars at Oxford’s Jordan College is shattered by the arrival of two powerful visitors. First, her fearsome uncle, Lord Asriel, appears with evidence of mystery and danger in the far North, including photographs of a mysterious celestial phenomenon called Dust and the dim outline of a city suspended in the Aurora Borealis that he suspects is part of an alternate universe. He leaves Lyra in the care of Mrs. Coulter, an enigmatic scholar and explorer who offers to give Lyra the attention her uncle has long refused her. In this multilayered narrative, however, nothing is as it seems. Lyra sets out for the top of the world in search of her kidnapped playmate, Roger, bearing a rare truth-telling instrument, the compass of the title. All around her children are disappearing—victims of so-called “Gobblers”—and being used as subjects in terrible experiments that separate humans from their daemons, creatures that reflect each person’s inner being. And somehow, both Lord Asriel and Mrs. Coulter are involved.
Why it was challenged/banned: Religious viewpoint.
Why it is important: Where others might see religious denigration and blasphemy, I see commentary on truth and innocence. There are so many components to the His Dark Materials Trilogy that provided much entertainment and provocation of thought to me as an adolescent, when I first read these books.The Golden Compass begins with a little curiosity and intrigue, followed quickly by valorous acts of friendship and lessons in trust and truthfulness. Lyra and her daemon Pan, armed with a device called an Alethiometer, the titular golden compass, sets out to save her friend and make several new ones on the way.
The Golden Compass and its two sequels are important because they make such a strong argument about truth and lies; temptation and moral innocence. The book is rife with metaphors and symbolism; a veritable goldmine for those like me who pore over a book searching for new meanings and clever reveals. It’s quite hard to write about the trilogy and its obvious merit because to do so would give away some major information that would ruin the initial reading. While I admit that there are several religious references and figures throughout the series, it goes without saying that it really rests on the reader as to what they take away from reading this book. Having read it at such a tender, impressionable age, I walked away from this book not with a zeal to tear down organized religion but an enlightened view of literary symbolism and study.
Beyond being a fun, adventuresome read, The Golden Compass helped lay the foundation upon which I built interest in literature, research, and writing.