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A Library of Lies

In featured posts, The Great Gatsby on September 11, 2012 at 3:56 pm

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There is a moment, in Jay Gatsby’s library during the first time Nick Carraway attends one of Gatsby’s parties, wherein an inebriated party guest excitedly exclaims that all of the books are “bona-fide piece[s] of printed matter.” Thinking about that moment, I did a Google search for “fake books.” One of my first results was a website which, proudly and at length, advertises its “fake book panels”: expensive walls or cupboard doors made of book spines which are “individually coloured, gilded and waxed by hand.” And when I write “expensive,” I truly mean it; one six-foot row of pretend tomes is nearly $700.

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These rows of false books—especially their priciness—made me think of Gatsby’s library and its purpose. Like shelves of pretend books, all of Gatsby’s ostentatious displays of wealth are really just a front. He doesn’t care about his extravagant parties or flawless lawn for their own sakes; instead, he uses them in an attempt to prove to Daisy Buchanan that he is a legitimate, wealthy member of society, deserving of her love. However, like a shelf of hollow book spines, his wealth and place in society don’t stand up to close inspection. When Buchanan hears that Gatsby’s money is derived from “bootlegging,” she loses interest in him almost instantly.

In that way, Gatsby’s guest’s surprise at the books’ realness is more than just drunken rambling. Gatsby hopes that things like his library will symbolize his place in society. However, in a literary sense, the guests’ incredulity is the true symbol: as Gatsby’s station as an upstanding member of society is, to some characters’ viewpoints,  merely an act, it stands to reason that his books might be, too.

It is that falseness of societal credentials which harks back to the fake books so proudly sold online. While the books in Gatsby’s library were real, his place in society, much like a row of carefully gilded cardboard encyclopedias, was distinctly—even fatally—not.

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(The above picture is a fake book tissue box from the same fake books vendor as above. It’s not super-closely related to the post, but I thought it was kind of interesting.)

All photos in this post are courtesy of originalbookworksusa.com.