I let books do partying for me. They teach me the ways of the young and the damned so I don’t have to get too close to real life. I love books for how they make me feel: wild, traumatised, lovely, like I just woke up and someone made me coffee. Words let me feel things that life doesn’t. I get something more from them, something sweeter and more personal. I let my books do my living for me.
When I think of all the books I haven’t read and want to read I begin to feel panicked but excited at the possibilities. I can imagine all the life I have yet to live in them. I focus on the books I have yet to read instead of the places I have yet to go or the people I have yet to meet. Books replace all the houses I won’t be able to afford and all the men I should have married but turned my back to. Books are easy – they can be put aside, bookmarked or given as a gift. Life doesn’t have a front and back cover.
(photo from adoptanegotiator.org)
Now I get this one specific feeling from books that rarely comes in real life. The times I have felt it have been first dates, summer nights driving with windows open, and after a first beer at a bar with friends. It’s a distinct feeling of possibility. It smells like something; it makes me smile a certain way.
If you’ve never tried writing, then you don’t know that you get this same feeling when the words are coming together. You get it even when they’re not. And I realized lately what this feeling is. It’s the feeling of making something.
Making something is what is so valuable about reading instead of viewing stories on TV or in movies. When you read, you need to invent. You need to fill things in so you can see. Writing is then just a more advanced invention. There you start with nothing and you make everything. With reading you start with some things and you make more things (you can never make everything). Reading and writing and driving with windows open on summer nights are all about putting things in motion. You feel it in the tips of fingers that things are happening.
I ask books to do my living for me so I can learn to better live. I can live better if I remember that everything I am doing is a product of me doing it. I make things happen by rolling down the windows and picking up the pen. There is nothing happening unless I fill things in so I can see. I am reading and I am writing everywhere everyday. If I’m standing alone at a party it’s not because I’d rather be reading, it’s because I’m taking it all in, trying to make something of it.
I’m going to write a post about The Great Gatsby because I feel I am falling into irrelevance and infrequency here on my blog and I just want to write something that catches my own eye. I always try and read blogs or the news but it’s as though anything happening anywhere is still less interesting than something happening to me. So instead I read fiction or I sit here puzzled by life or I bury myself in work. That sounds horrible but I am becoming a teacher so that means I cut out coloured paper or plan how to explain something simple.
So the new Gatsby movie was so much better than the last Gatsby movie, which I stopped halfway through. There’s something so bad about a movie following a book so exactly, like someone lost their imagination and then decided to make a movie. Though this movie quotes the book at parts, it strives more to reinvent the mood of the book, which is really what the book is, a mood. I didn’t remember the end scene after the first time I read it; I just remembered how I felt when I read the book. I read it in high school but not for high school and was forever after puzzled about why other high school students had to read it for high school. I couldn’t find the academic merit in it. It was so light; it was so easy. It made me feel so much.
(photo from youngtopublishing.com)
I had a similar reaction when I read The Sun Also Rises, which I think but am never sure is my favourite book. Somebody wrote this ninety years ago? Somebody became a great American writer for writing this? These books are my twenties though they’re written in the twenties. They are about nothing more than him wanting her and all the seduction, passion, wit, nostalgia and pain that comes with that. They are about alcohol and money and glamour and everything that is misplaced and desirable in your twenties.
It was at some point long after I started writing it that I realized I am writing the book about my twenties. The whole thing seems to lose a little hope when I admit this because I have another six years to go and so then does the book. But I’m doing it whether I want to or not. Being in your twenties is about a certain self-absorption that couldn’t possibly be overcome in a first novel. I can’t write about the thirties until I’ve gotten me out of the way enough. I’m obsessed with me and everything around me and me interacting with it. It’s still sexy, it’s still young. I still want things. It’s why Gatsby is relevant: people have gotten stuck in their twenties.
Think of the good music that’s coming out now. Think of the people who are running big businesses like Twitter and Facebook. Think of who is driving revolutions, good and bad. Think of who are the people who are getting hit in the long run in this financial crisis. It’s us! It’s all about us! At least when we’re involved. To me, it’s all about us. You might have turned thirty.
Gatsby is about wanting love and about losing love and every kind of emotion that comes with that. It gives a mood to that gnawing anxiety we feel. It even makes it fun. This movie was able to sync two generations together: people in their twenties in the twenties and people in their twenties now. A final warning to please read the book first before seeing the movie, for fear you lose some capacity for imagination or maybe just some cachet. Reading is really in right now for people in their twenties.