Monday, January 4, 2010

Aimless Reading: The F's, Part 12 (F. Scott Fitzgerald)

The Great Gatsby
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Fitzgerald, F. Scott
The Great Gatsby

This is either my high school copy of the book or my brother's high school copy of the book. Or it is neither – but that is my best guess. I pulled it off the shelf yesterday to take the photo for the blog entry, opened the book, started reading and got about halfway through before I put it down. I think this will be the third time I've read it.

The first time was in high school. I keep thinking about high school as I look over my life from what I hope is its midpoint (judging by the males on my father's side of the family, I am 2/3 to 3/4 done at 41 -- here's hoping I've got my mother's genes!). Anyhow, when I look at the path I have chosen -- basically a life centered on writing, reading, and books -- I am amazed that things have turned out as they have.

In high school, I hated reading. I think I may have read five books in four years, if that. I absolutely could not sit still long enough to read anything. I smoked pot. I got drunk. I socialized. I played video games. I listened to music. I played sports a bit. I went to school. That was it. No interest in reading. None.

That said, this was one of the five (or fewer) books I did read.

The image of the narrative that I created in my head at 16 is a lot different than the image I am making now as I read it again. Some of it has to do with life experience, I suppose. I have since met people that resemble some the characters in the book. I have since seen homes with details similar to those described in the book. I have since seen plenty of films and so forth that depict the jazz age, so called, all of which conjure a world altogether different than the one the book conjured 25 years ago, when I had experienced none of these things.

What the book can no longer conjure is the same sense of wonder and awe at having discovered a pleasure that I had at that time only intermittently felt, pleasure being at the time the opposite of what I usually felt when I read. I usually felt anxiety and impatience bordering on physical suffering and could barely read two pages without having to go outside and climb a tree or run around the block or play basketball for several hours at a pop.

I think the second time I read it was in college -- I remember reading the whole thing in an afternoon and feeling very proud of myself for having done so. However, I remember more the experience of sitting down and reading the book that day than I do the content of the book itself.

Anyhow, I may sit down and read the rest again today. I am in a feverish reading state at the moment, unable to read one book at a time. I currently have five or six books started -- Gatsby, The Brothers Karamazov, The Interpretation of Dreams (second time around), Deleuze's book on Cinema (1), a book by Iraqi poet Dunya Mikhail, and another novel by Javier Marias, who I have been reading in the original Spanish for the past six months or so (oddly, I was very good at Spanish in high school despite the fact that I never read and never studied and never did my homework).

The ironies continue to abound.

from The Great Gatsby

The large room was full of people. One of the girls in yellow was playing the piano, and beside her stood a tall, red-haired young lady from a famous chorus, engaged in song. She had drunk a quantity of champagne, and during the course of her song she had decided, ineptly, that everything was very, very sad – she was not only singing, she was weeping too. Whenever there was a pause in the song she filled it with gasping, broken sobs, and then took up the lyric again in a quavering soprano. The tears coursed down her cheeks – not freely, however, for when they came into contact with her heavily beaded eyelashes they assumed an inky color, and pursued the rest of their way in slow black rivulets. A humorous suggestion was made that she sing the notes on her face, whereupon she threw up her hands, sank into a chair and went off into a deep vinous sleep.

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