Learning a Lesson from The Great Gatsby by Amy

Most people believe that librarians have read, and like, all the great classics. Once I was helping a young woman choose an item from a high school generated list. Her choice was whatever was the shortest. Her mother wanted her to choose a really good book. As we went down the list I was questioned about every title. “How long is it?” the student wanted to know. “Will she like it? What’s it about?” asked her mother.

All the way down the list I did the best job I could of answering their questions. “Yes, Animal Farm is very short. No, I really don’t know what Madame Bovary is about.” Sadly I realized that although I could produce a length for nearly all of them, I really couldn’t say what nearly any of them were about.

My normal predilection is for books with lots of ‘sploden’ (i.e.: exploding); mature adult situations, complete and utter nonsense, or a lot of action. I like stories where everyone dies horribly and civilizations crumble so that the survivors have to learn to survive with no indoor plumbing, or where serial killers play cat and mouse with a determined detective. Books that have built entire other universes, complete with different social mores, more (or less) moons, and bizarre, but useful body parts.

This has put me at odds with some choices in our monthly Book Club. When it was announced that our next choice was going to be The Great Gatsby, I whined to myself- “Do we have to read THAT? It’s going to be sooooo boring!” I’m pretty sure I didn’t whine too much out loud, being a professional and all, but I still didn’t want to read it.

Like those high school students putting off reading the classics until the night before their paper is due, I put off the reading as long as I could. Finally I got the CD, as I thought that maybe a narrator with a good voice would help.

The first CD had me horribly on edge. Although it was a good narrator, I hated waiting for something, really anything, to happen. Second CD, same as the first. “Is this never going to end?” I asked myself.

And then, somewhere in the third CD, I had an epiphany. There was no plot. There had never been a plot, and there was never going to be a plot. As soon as I accepted this truth and let go of my need for it, I began to really enjoy the words. Fitzgerald’s beautiful lyric words and concepts suddenly began to appeal to me. I started hearing the way his sentences flowed and how he used such beautifully descriptive phrases, as well as the gentle humor in places. I still hear some of the phrases in my head…few can turn a phrase like F. Scott Fitzgerald. So, nobody ‘sploded’…it was still a good read.

I haven’t run out to read all the classics, but I do read outside my comfort zone more often. The Great Gatsby taught me one truth about myself: I’m a sucker for the English Language.


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