About a month from now, Baz Luhrmann’s much-anticipated film adaptation of The Great Gatsby will hit theaters, and try as we might to maintain a healthy amount of “they’re going to ruin it” skepticism; we have to admit that we’re pretty excited. So excited that we’ve already re-read the book, and now we’re casting about for similarly jazzy, indulgent, socially critical reads to hold us over until we can watch it unfold as a spectacle in theaters.
Appointment in Samarra, John O’Hara
Fran Lebowitz famously called O’Hara “the real F. Scott Fitzgerald,” and whether or not that scandalizes you, you should try his first novel of small town politics and the dark side of polite society — all wealth and jealousy and downward spirals spurred on by alcohol. Sound familiar?
Rules of Civility, Amor Towles
Towles’s recent bestselling novel follows enterprising, wise-cracking secretary Katey Kontent from a Greenwich Village jazz bar to the top of New York Society — and all the trappings, both glittery and grungy, that come along with it.
An object of beauty, Steve Martin
Lacey Yeager is young, captivating, and ambitious enough to take the NYC art world by storm. Groomed at Sotheby's and hungry to keep climbing the social and career ladders put before her, Lacey charms men and women, old and young, rich and even richer with her magnetic charisma and liveliness. Both this and The Great Gatsby feature the deception of a social climber amid wealthy New Yorkers.
The Beautiful and Damned, F. Scott Fitzgerald
Hey, when you’re on a Fitzgerald kick, you’re on a Fitzgerald kick, and sometimes nothing else will do. Like his other novels, The Beautiful and Damned is steeped in hard liquor, marital discord, and vaguely existential greed. Read it with cocktail in hand and intone along, “Here’s to alcohol, the rose colored glasses of life.”
Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf
Woolf, it should be noted, does parties much differently than Fitzgerald. But if it’s party tricks you like, things don’t get much more exciting than an affair with a defenestration.
Lady Windermere’s Fan, Oscar Wilde
Though Lady Windermere’s Fan is set a few decades before Gatsby, you can always count on Wilde for some biting social satire. And then there’s the most notorious line of the play, which sums up the themes of both Wilde’s and Fitzgerald’s work pretty well: “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”
A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway
If you’re looking for jazz age gossip, go no further than the memoir-of-sorts by Fitzgerald’s very best frenemy, Ernest Hemingway, whose biting sketches of absolutely everybody will entertain and inform.
Jazz, Toni Morrison
If it’s the general mania of the ’20s you love and not West Egg in particular, try Morrison’s musical historical novel of Harlem during the decade, equal parts glamor and chaos, shine and sweat. The prose even reflects the musical styles of the time, with shifting narrators and a sort of call and response throughout. It’ll rattle your bones.
The House of Mirth, Edith Wharton
Well, we couldn’t leave off our favorite novel of the perils of social climbing, and perhaps our favorite New York novel of all time, could we? If only Lily Bart could have met Jay Gatsby. Now that would be a good book.