Brace yourselves, Savvy Readers: the Roaring 20’s are back! Ladies don your best flapper dress, and gents sport your smartest tux and fedora – Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby hits box offices this Friday, May 10th. So throw on some of your favorite jazz music, have a dry martini, and transport yourself into Gatsby’s world through the magic of books.
I am sure many of you Savvy Readers are ahead of the curve and have already dusted off your worn-out copy of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. If not, isn’t it time to revisit what has been dubbed “The Great American Novel?” Or, if you haven’t read Gatsby, to see what all the fuss is about? While, I know, some may remain less than enamored with Fitzgerald’s prose, it is hard not to be swept away by Gatsby’s New York: full of extravagant parties, jazz music, and fascinating social complexities.
To keep the Roaring 20’s alive we have selected 10 books that capture the spirit of Gatsby.
1. Zelda: A Biography by Nancy Milford
First: become ensconced in the history. In Zelda: A Biography, acclaimed biographer Nancy Milford explores the beautiful and tormented life of Zelda Sayre, the Southern beauty and wife F. Scott Fitzgerald. With penetrating detail, Milford paints a vivid picture of Zelda, once dubbed by her husband as the “First American Flapper” – the poster child of the Roaring Twenties. We follow Zelda’s struggle to strike a balance between supporting her husband’s career and nurturing her own talent, and gain new insights into her tormented life. Zelda: A Biography takes a candid look at the private lives of two culturally important figures and will help bring context to The Great Gatsby.
2. Sutton by J.R. Moehringer
Decadence. Greed. Corruption. Crime. These are just some of the Gatsby-esque themes that surface in Sutton by Pulitzer Prize-winner J.R. Moehringer. Set in the early 20th century, Sutton tells a story of economic struggle (one that strikes a chord today) with vivid detail and creative flare. Fed up with banks taking unnecessary risks and seeking shameless bailouts, Willie Sutton takes matters into his own hands to become America’s most successful bank robber.
3. Rules of Civility by Amor TowlesNew York, 1938. We find ourselves transported to Gatsby’s decadent world of dry martinis and smoky jazz clubs. Rules of Civility follows twenty-five-year-old Katey Kontent as she strives to rise through the ranks in Manhattan and find a place amongst New York’s elite. Towles presents vivid characters and a fascinating exploration of New York’s social classes after the depression.
4. Debutantes by Cora Harrison
For fans of YA historical fiction, Debutantes by Cora Harrison, set in 1923 London, is a fun read. Like its New York counterpart at the time, London is buzzing with jazz music and a complex social scene. Four sisters – Violet, Daisy, Poppy, and Rose Derrington – strive to escape their humble country life and hob nob with the social elite. But everything is not as it seems and as secrets are uncovered, the girls’ plans are threatened. Like Gatsby, Debutantes is full of epic parties, social climbers, and scandalous secrets.
5. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
Can you think of any famous frenemies? How about Britney and Christina, Winona and Gwenyth…Hemingway and Fitzgerald? Okay, okay, I know that frenemies is an oversimplification of the complex relationship between the two writers. Hemingway and Fitzgerald were best friends who would later become bitter rivals, and the two are infamous for their dysfunctional relationship. So, it is fitting to read some Hemingway before taking in the new Gatsby film. Set in post-war Europe, riddled with powerful themes of love and society, The Sun Also Rises is, arguably, Hemingway’s greatest work.
6. One Sunday Morning by Amy Ephron
Like The Great Gatsby, One Sunday Morning by Amy Ephron also explores the complex social nuances so prevalent in Jazz Age New York. A seemingly innocuous bridge party at the elegant Gramercy Park Hotel results in scandal and betrayal. Four women witness a friend leaving a nearby hotel with a man who is not her husband. Secrets and gossip ensue in Ephron’s exploration of the life of a 1920’s New York socialite.
7. Bright Young Things by Anna Godbersen
Feeling intoxicated by the Roaring Twenties yet? Keep the good times rolling with Bright Young Things, the first in a series by Anna Godbersen. Set in 1929, Bright Young Things follows Letty larkspur and Cordelia Grey as they strive to escape their small Midwestern town and earn their place in New York’s social scene.
8. For the Thrill of It by Simon Baatz
For you Gatsby lovers who are also fans of true crime, we have the perfect book for you. For the Thrill of It by Simon Baatz examines the brutal 1924 Chicago murder of a child by wealthy college students, Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb. Baatz explores the gritty realities present in Gatsby’s world of excess and self-indulgence, and brings to life one of the most sensational criminal trials in the history of American justice.
9. Born of Illusion by Teri Brown
The Great Gatsby meets paranormal romance? Sign me up! On sale in June, Born of Illusion is the first in an exciting new series rooted in a real-life secret society that studies paranormal mysteries, founded in 1862 by the likes of Charles Dickens and Arthur Conan Doyle. Set in Jazz Age New York, Born of Illusion follows young Anna Van Housen, fictional daughter of famous magician Harry Houdini. Magic, romance, secrets, and jazz – who could ask for anything more?
Interested in delving into the relationship between F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda Fitzgerald? Pick up the semi-autobiographical works by the prominent spouses: Tender is the Night and Save Me the Waltz. Tender is the Night was F. Scott Fitzgerald’s final novel where he fictionalizes his real life feelings for the tumultuous relationship between him and his wife Zelda. Save me the Waltz, written by Zelda Fitzgerald, is the story of southern belle Alabama Beggs, wife of philandering artist David Knight. Tender is the Night and Save Me this Waltz are available on Kobo, Apple, Amazon, Google, and Sony.
Ready for your assignment? School yourself in the Roaring Twenties by reading the above titles, channel your inner Jay Gatsby, and hop a ride in a Rolls Royce to the nearest theatre. See you there, Savvy Readers!
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