Book #17 of the 2015 reading challenge – This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald

This_Side_of_Paradise_dust_jacket

Read a popular author’s first book.

I love the idea of reading the classics. Books that are taught in school. Intellectual books that are supposed to enlighten you and leave you with something greater than just a story and a few hours of entertainment. Books that matter.

I have a bunch of these classic novels on my Kindle…books that are just waiting to be opened. I’ve read some of them already. Most of them have titles that I know, contents unexplored.

With that being said, there’s (honestly) also something undoubtedly b-o-r-i-n-g about reading classic literature (gasp)! I’m sorry to say this, but these are the kinds of books that put me to sleep, the kind of books I’ve only read, because they were part of my curriculum at school. There. I wrote it out loud!

This Side of Paradise (what a beautiful title, by the way), is one of these “put me to sleep” books that I just couldn’t get into…at first. I read some of it a few years back and quit, because the story didn’t catch my attention. It’s like watching an old, black/white movie. The pace is different that what we’re used to today. The narrative moves slowly, almost creeps along in what seems like an aimless direction.

Where is this going? I kept thinking this thought several times as I was reading the book. What’s the point of it all? Well, there’s an even bigger question, perhaps.

And then all of a sudden something snapped and I knew exactly what it was about (I think). It had caught on, or I had caught on. Despite being almost 100 years old, the essence of the story still applies. It’s about life, which (in spite of what you may believe from e.g. Facebook posts or Instagram photos) isn’t always glamorous, fast paced or action packed. Life moves sometimes at a slow pace, and sometimes you can’t wait for things to happen, to push forward while you may wonder where things are going and what the point of it all is. You encounter people along the way who influence you in some way with their love, knowledge and actions. But in the end all that is left (no matter what happens), as this story’s main character discovers, is one self.

The story follows Amory Blaine from boyhood through prep school and Princeton.

We get to know him as we read about his life’s ups and downs, his

…love for different girls

But Amory, being on the spot, leaned over quickly and kissed Myra’s cheek. He had never kissed a girl before, and he tasted his lips curiously, as if he had munched some new fruit. Then their lips brushed like young wild flowers. Page 12, Kindle location 145

Amory Blaine was an open subject. Evidently a bit light of love, neither popular nor unpopular – – every girl there seemed to have had an affair with him at some time or other, but no one volunteered any really useful information. He was going to fall for her. Page 60, Kindle location 725

…boredom with school

Even more than in the year before, Amory neglected his work, not deliberately but lazily and through a multitude of other interests. Page 76, Kindle location 931

Oh, Alec, I believe I’m tired of college, he said sadly, as they walked in the dusk together. Page 77, Kindle location 947

…love of books, reading and writing (there are a lot of references to books and authors, poets)

He read voluminously all spring, the beginning of his eighteenth year (…). Page 30, Kindle location 370

Amory took to writing poetry on spring afternoons, in the gardens of the big estates near Princeton. Page 51, Kindle location 606

…vanity

Vanity, tempered with self-suspicion if not self-knowledge, a sense of people as automatons to his will, a desire to “pass” as many boys as possible and get to a vague top of the world…with this background did Amory drift into adolescence. Page 17, Kindle location 200

…self confidence or lack thereof

Amory wondered how people could fail to notice that he was a boy marked for glory (…). Page 15, Kindle location 179

(…) the reason you have so little self-confidence, even though you gravely announce to the occasional philistine that you think you’re a genius, is that you’ve attributed all sorts of atrocious faults to yourself and are trying to live up to them. Page 137, Kindle location 1664

…endeavors in the athletic field

Having decided to be one of the gods of the class, he reported for freshman football practice, but in the second week, playing quarter-back, (…) he wrenched his knee seriously enough to put him out for the rest of the season. Page 41, Kindle location 481

…friendships

Long afterward Amory thought of sophomore spring as the happiest time of his life. His ideas were in tune with life as he found it; he wanted no more than to drift and dream and enjoy a dozen new-found friendships through the April afternoons. Page 70, Kindle location 847

…his dreams

Amory watched them in fascination. He was planning his life. He was going to live in New York, and be known at every restaurant and cafe, wearing a dress-suit from early evening to early morning, sleeping away the dull hours of the forenoon. Page 28, Kindle location 344

In my mind, this story is about a life, about a person going through everything that one must go through when growing up. It’s not just Amory Blaine and his life, it’s about everyone’s life…yours and mine. We all go through these same stages of life. Our experience from childhood to adolescence to adulthood is in many ways the same or at least similar. Regardless of where we are born and grow up, we all need to find our place in life, to live a life that is not unfulfilled, to sigh deep, laugh free, starve, feast, despair – – to be essentially happy. We’re all struggling to do so, some more than others. We’re all struggling to get to know ourselves and maybe one day, it will hit us. Maybe one day, we get to exclaim:

I know myself, but that is all. Page 273, Kindle location 3188

I think this is why the story still holds true today in 2015 even if it was written in 1920… its essence is timeless, continuous:

As an endless dream it went of; the spirit of the past brooding over a new generation, the chosen youth from the muddled, unchastened world, still fed romantically on the mistakes and half-forgotten dreams of dead statesmen and poets. Here was a new generation, shouting the old cries, learning the old creeds, through a revery of long days and nights; destined finally to go out into that dirty gray turmoil to follow love and pride; a new generation dedicated more than the last to the fear of poverty and the worship of success; grown up to find all Gods dead, all wars fought, all faiths in man shaken… Page 273, Kindle location 3188

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