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April 18, 2013

Welcome Back, Gatsby! The Joys and Perils of Re-Reading Old Favorites


We finally made it to the home stretch of our wait for the Gatsby movie release! It was touch-and-go there for a few months when they kept pushing off the release date --- I lost count of how many times I desperately YouTubed the trailer somewhere around 40. You know what I’m talking about --- the way your heart beats wildly when Carey Mulligan, our fickle Daisy, says, “Gatsby? What Gatsby?” and the whole sumptuous affair builds to a dramatic climax to the tune of Jack White wailing “Love Is Blindness.” I know I’m not alone here.

And although I’ll never admit that there is a silver lining to the extended wait time, I took the opportunity to re-read THE GREAT GATSBY, something I’ve been meaning to do since it changed my life in high school. Maybe it’s just the circles I’m running with, but people seem to be very opinionated when it comes to re-reading books. Some people (not very many) feel it’s a waste of time --- as Jay-Z so poetically put it --- on to the next one! But most readers believe there’s an inherent value in re-reading. For some, it’s the joy of discovering new things in an old book; for others, it’s the joy of discovering new things in themselves.

In 11th grade, my friends and I got really into checking out garage sales. The best thing I ever found was an early edition of THE CATCHER IN THE RYE. I’m sure I squealed with delight, and the man whose sale it was got up from his lawn chair and traversed the stretch of his driveway to see what the commotion was. “Ahh,” he said, when he saw me turning the book over and over with nimble fingers, like it was some sort of holy relic. “Big Salinger fan, huh?” I nodded fervently because I was 15 and bookish, of course. He looked at me then with pity in his eyes and said, “I used to be, too.” He gave me the book for free, but not without burdening my heart forever with the idea that it’s possible some books don’t age well.

Nevertheless, I remain a faithful re-reader. For me, it’s one part comfort, one part rediscovery, and so many parts nostalgia. Music is like that, too. We listen to songs over and over until they become not only cool or beautiful or fun, but full of our own feelings and memories we associate with them.

THE GREAT GATSBY has not aged at all for me. I’ve been telling people for as long as I can remember that it’s my favorite book. I must admit that I was a little nervous in my re-reading to see if it was going to live up to the standards I’ve set for it. I’m happy to say that it did. Fitzgerald’s prose is still heartbreakingly lyrical and his characters completely real and relevant. And of course, the irony was not lost on me when Gatsby incredulously exclaims to Nick, “Can’t repeat the past? Why of course you can!”

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