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  • Writer's pictureCraig Messenger

Judging Books by Their Covers | 003

One of the most well known stories of all time, Fitzgerald’s classic tale of humanity’s insatiable desires is surely deserving of the notoriety. Gatsby is one of the few public school required readings that is actually worth its homework assignments, and looking back on just how short and plain it is (in a good way), it’s shocking how we students could have ever labeled it as a burden.

Most people are somewhat familiar with the story, but if you have fallen out of memory with it, I highly recommend reading the book before seeing any of its films. Despite the movies’ star power, they surprisingly fall flat in their cinematic attempts to portray the unembellished nature of the actual plot (despite its background of ostentation). Fortunately, unlike Confederacy of Dunces, this fine novel has a lot of really wonderful covers out there.


This is the most common these days, and it’s also the original, and it's not bad. This is probably the cover you picked up from the school library, or lost into the sanctuary of the space beneath your bed. It packs a lot of detail, although some of the symbols are a bit conflicting due to the fact that Cugat’s painting actually predates the writing of the novel. I always thought that the tone of this cover didn’t really mesh well with the actual story, with its solar flares and fireworks and ferris wheels. Yes, the story is set in a world of gaudy flamboyance, but the plot sums to a realization that these embellishments don’t provide humans any real consolation. So now that I think about it, perhaps the blue wanting eyes staring out over (past) these flickers of illuminated privilege indeed do showcase the exact point I just accused the cover of omitting. O well. Peer deeply into the eyes for a renaissance surprise!


This cover is nice and simple and meshes well with the actual story. Parking the climactic yellow car at center stage dovetails well with the repeated importance of this flashy chariot. Meanwhile, the font gives us the roaring 20s placement without beating us over the head with it. It’s also unclear which woman is offering herself to the sun in the back, and for that matter I guess it’s not even totally clear who mr. driver guy is – and those uncertainties mesh well with the punchline of the story as well. My only quibble is that the driver’s hat looks more out of Grapes of Wrath than a proper Gatsbyian wardrobe, but we can minimize that to a minor detail. I like the more plain display of this cover, and appreciate how interwoven its images are with the plot of the book.


There’s a James Bond intro scene type of vibe in this example, I can even hear Adele playing in the background. I actually really like this cover, but I can’t put my finger on exactly why.

The Batman-esque spotlight in the dark of the night coupled with the fall of man is a bit dramatic, but I’ll give them points for trying something different. We see Daisy’s provocative lips preoccupying the glassware landing zone, and some enticing lights off in the distance to stare at from across bodies of water. I think it works.


This final cover, with its Art Deco overflow, is my least favorite. The stylized letters or intricate mantle work each individually would have been appropriate, but the combination of the two, overlaid on our silhouetted and shadowed man, is just too much. And for that mysterious man, he’s not particularly well dressed enough to be the Great Gatsby, so I wonder who this John Doe is supposed to be. I would actually admire the ironic novelty of putting Nick Carraway on the cover of Gatsby, if that is indeed what they attempted to do here. He is, after all, the one who tells us the story.

And if used books give you the heebie jeebies, or maybe an old Eucalyptus wronged your family in the past, you can buy a brand new Gatsby here.

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