I did a lot of really, really spectacular things this weekend (if you’re assuming “really, really spectacular” things include going on runs, picking wildflowers, grocery shopping, eating enchiladas, hanging out with excellent human beings [both in person and via interwebs, two thumbs up technology, and also, good work creating air conditioner], drinking the best iced coffee of my life, giggling with my BFF in the event that I’d misdirected us [again (and again)], eating sweet potato fries, etc., you’d be a really good assumption-maker. Great work!) And I have to say that thing I’m going to spend the most time telling you about isn’t exactly the most important (see hanging out with excellent people.) It wasn’t exactly the most fun (see giggling with my BFF and know they don’t call me “Magellan” for nothing). But it was this thing that inspired me, especially when I started thinking about how to write it out (especially now that I’m writing it out.) I bought a copy of The Great Gatsby.
If you know me at all, or if you’ve read this blog, or if you’ve talked to me for 10 minutes at a mutual friend’s house, then you probably know it’s one of my most favorite books in the whole world, and maybe you’re wondering why I didn’t own a copy since you can buy them at Barnes & Noble for $4.95. That’s a good question, but as you might have guessed, I’ve got an answer.
See, I’ve always loved to read; it’s always been my home away from home, the land where I was understood. Some kids find that on baseball fields; some settle into their niche in an art studio; some kids ride horses. I, though, spent much of my childhood with half my mind somewhere else, eating chocolate candy on Christmas Day with Laura Ingalls Wilder or wondering what was going to happen to Mary Anne in The Babysitters Club (and eventually trying to come to terms with racism thanks to John Grisham and Harper Lee or solving mysteries with Mary Higgins Clark.) At school, I won reading contests and aced AR tests like it was going out of style (which it kind of was by sixth grade.) This was my business, this reading books thing. I didn’t care one bit that I could hit 1/246 softballs pitched at me because I had something I loved. But back to the The Great Gatsby (I just had to let you picture my 7-year-old self lost in some book, and my 14-year-old self lost in some book, so you would know my 21-year-old self has been doing this a long time.)
I read lots of books for school, of course, and I loved many of them. I first remember falling head over heels for A Tale of Two Cities (and thus literature), which I’m sure is perplexing, since this is about The Great Gatsby. But here’s what happened when I read that book: I got it. I ate up the pages in one night, even though we were only supposed to read three chapters, because the story took hold of me, which wasn’t something that I hadn’t experienced before. But this time was different because this book wasn’t just a story; it was art, and it was beautiful art, and it was art that meant something to a lot of people. Those words ask questions we’re still asking—Who am I? Who do they think I am? Why does it matter? Why am I chasing this dream? What is this dream, anyway?—and just like that, I knew why it was such a big deal, and I wanted to read it again. It was the first time that really terrific written words—literature, if you will—and a gripping story had fused in my life, and thus, my adoration for The Great Gatsby was born. After that, there was no stopping it; I was smitten, and, as you know, I still am. Gatsby’s been joined by the likes of Jane Eyre and Holden Caulfield, but he’s still my main squeeze.
I’ve been looking for a copy ever since I’ve moved to college. In high school, I spent a lot of time in the library for yearbook, and I read the copies there several times. When I realized I didn’t own it, I decided I needed to own a copy that meant something more than the other books I bought clean and shiny off the Barnes & Noble shelves. I checked eBay, and I found a beauty signed by F. Scott Fitzgerald for $500,000, which was a tad out of my price range, and anyway, I decided, I shouldn’t be chasing it.
So it made sense that Janie suggested on Saturday night that I come along for an impromptu trip to Birmingham, and that we should see if 2nd & Charles was open, and that we could wander around. It made sense, of course, that when I opened the door my heart got all jumpy, and it made sense that I would stroll away and happen upon a table of “School Reading List” books. And then, just sitting there, for $7, looking rather inconspicuous, was a used copy, and my breath caught. I knew it was mine.
It may seem silly to you, imagining me standing over a table, caressing a book, a tear welling. It may seem silly to you that I’d write a whole blog post about this when I already said the most lovely thing was the minutes with my people. It may seem silly that I could go on and on about a book, since it isn’t even a true story. It may seem silly that I never just bought a copy from Barnes & Noble, that I waited all that time to find a book that may or may not have been loved, that may or may not have tossed in the donate pile after someone read the SparkNotes online. And you may find it silly that I wholeheartedly believe this isn’t true based solely on the dog-eared pages. But this is okay with me.
Maybe you don’t understand; but maybe you do. If, perhaps, you’ve held something like this close for a long time; if maybe you’ve had some special corner of your heart carved out for some sort of art that always seemed call your name; if you’ve ever read something, or seen something, or heard something that made you want to make something beautiful too, then maybe you’ll understand, and maybe you’ll think of your gem, and maybe you’ll want to go read it again. Then maybe you’ll sing, or write, or at the very least, smile.
And just like that, because of you and me, the world is a more beautiful place.
“That is part of the beauty of all literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong.”
—F. Scott Fitzgerald