April 3, 2011

Words That Wake You Up

By 10:30am Sunday morning, around page 60 of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, I'd had three cups of coffee, one shower, and 16 highlighted passages.

Grandpa has a habit of buying used books in bulk from eBay, and depositing them to our doorstep about once every six months. After such an event I have a tendency to get flustered. After all, where do I deposit the goods? Rifling through the books with a surrendered sigh, expecting volumes for the early years, I lasered in on a set of steamy eyes. The Great Gatsby.

One the airplane back from Italy, I finished a book described as a modern Great Gatsby: Netherland, by Joseph O'Neill. I enjoyed the book, and completed it before touchdown in San Francisco. So why not read the real thing? I'd read it before, but who remembers drone details delivered from the English teachers of yesteryear?

Comfortably I nestled into the pages, fuzzy socks underfoot. Here is what I found:
  • On Daisy: Her face was sad and lovely with bright things in it, bright eyes and a bright passionate mouth - but there was an excitement in her voice that men who had cared for her found difficult to forget: a singing compulsion, a whispered "Listen," a promise that she had done gay, exciting things just a while since and that there were gay, exciting things hovering in the next hour.
  • On Sights: The eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg are blue and gigantic - their retinas are one yard high.
  • On Myrtle: Her face, above a spotted dress of dark blue crepe-de-chine, contained no facet or gleam of beauty but there was an immediately perceptible vitality about her as if the nerves of her body were continually smouldering.
  • On Libations: I have been drunk just twice in my life and the second time was that afternoon, so everything that happened has a dim hazy cast over it although until after eight o'clock the apartment was full of cheerful sun.
  • On Contemplation: Yet high over the city our line of yellow windows must have contributed their share of human secrecy to the casual watcher in the darkening streets, and I was him too, looking up and wondering. I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.
  • On Human Connections: He smiled understandingly - much more than understandingly. It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced - or seemed to face - the whole external world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor. It understood you just so far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey.
These passages are highlighted, which confused my daughter.

"Mom, you are not supposed to mark up books!".

Hmph (me).

"I've spent 40 years respecting boundaries (this will be one of the many "40 year" comments my kids will start to receive between now and November), thinking that I cannot disrespect the written word just because it is in a printed book. But let's think about the author - I wonder if he, looking down on us now, wouldn't take it as a compliment that I'm paying this much attention to his hard work?"

"OK, fine Mom. But I'm not going to mark up my Harry Potters."

"No problem, kiddo. That's your call. This is mine."

1 comment:

L'Escapadou said...

it remembers a story : When I was 10 I put my signature on a dictionnary and my parents told me that I was not supposed to do so, and I just answered that it was to prevent the dictionary to be stolen ;-)
Anyway, your remark about "boundaries" is very interesting. It is very delicate to cross a boundary but sometimes it is important to do so. Even as adult it is delicate to do it, so it should be very complex for a kid to decide if he can do it or not.
By the way, I started mark up books some years ago but I still feel a little bit guilty when I'm doing it !