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I assume you are referring to the scene in chapter 3 with the man in the owl-eyed glasses. It isn't Nick who is surprised; it is the man in the owl-eyed glasses. Nick and Jordan are at one of Gatsby's parties, the first one Nick attended. They go into the library where they encounter the man in the glasses. The man tells them, with surprise in his voice, that the books are real - they have pages and everything. The man goes on to say that he's checked the books and they are indeed authentic books, not cardboard. He also says that he's quite drunk. This happens after Nick has heard many contradictory stories about Gatsby and before he's actually met him. Gatsby, at this point in the story, has a mysterious, almost unreal quality about him. Even though the reader hasn't really met him yet either, enough information has been hinted at to let us know that there is something not quite true about the man. It's fitting, therefore, for the man in the glasses to suspect that much more about Jay Gatsby, including his books, is not real.
The fact that the books in the library are real surprises Nick. This is significant because it ties into the theme of appearances verses reallity. Nick expected the books to be fake because it was customary during that time to have "faux cardboard" books to give the appearance that one was well-read. However, it should also be noted that the pages have not been cut (which means it is impossible that they have been read).
It interesting to examine what this reveals about Gatsby's character and about Nick's character.
1. It reveals that Gatsby is really concerned about how he is perceived by people, so much so that he would go through the trouble of buying the real books in order to appear erudite. However, it also reveals that he sometimes does not pay attention to detail in his attempts to beguile people into thinking that he is something that he is not.
2. It reveals that Nick pays close attention to detail and henceforth is a reliable narrator. As readers, we feel that we can trust what he is saying to be true.
I agree with luannw. It is not Nick who is surprised, but owl eyes who '[takes Nick and Jordan's] skepticism for granted' (about the books being real).
Might want to reread that chapter before answering questions on it sharrons.
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