When Books Get Bigger Than The Words On The Page

The first one that comes to my mind is probably The Great Gatsby. It is well known for being one of the great American novels – something that most of us read by the time we are through college (and most likely before that). We read it and probably think, “What’s the big deal?” But we have this expectation because it has been talked about for the better part 85+ years. Whatever that expectation is. Is it “Will this novel help form my opinions on what literature should be?” or is it that “Maybe this will help teenagers in their formative years?”

I can’t even begin to ascertain those motivations as I’ve not yet been responsible for a choosing a book to teach to someone (and I think it might be the worst thing that you can do to a book) in high school. Perhaps luckily, I didn’t read it until well after college. I had this same experience with The Catcher in the Rye though that wasn’t met with these same results that I am now talking about.

I read it for the first time. And I suppose I didn’t necessarily understand the hub-ub. It was a fine novel, well written, but I couldn’t find the resonance that drove generations to read and reread this little novel.

But then something odd happened. It grew in stature…in my mind…just sitting there, waiting for me to read it again.

The second time I had no expectation other just wanting to reread it.

And that was when I discovered the beautiful dialogue that, in my opinion, makes the book. I felt like I was able to let myself live in their time latching onto every word that fell from their lips.

So this book grew in my mind without my knowing it. And perhaps that is why this book gained the majority of its popularity after Fitzgerald passed away. Just a thought.

There are a couple of other books that have grown in resonance (again, in my mind) over the past few years. The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman and A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. Perhaps they won’t resonate the same with you but I get the feeling that we will see these books talked and talked about for years to come. Still, we should appreciate them not for the massive indescribable things that they’ve become but for the actual words that the author put on the page.


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