"So many books, so little time."
That's the thing I say every time I stand in front of the bookshelf (or rather, one of the bookshelves) and try to decide what to read next. In a good year, I read about two dozen novels. In a great year, maybe thirty. (In a bad year, you do not want to know me.) I'm not a fan of rereading books. I don't do it very often. I can only think of two, actually: Mrs. Dalloway, because I was distracted the first time and kept losing the thread; and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, because the first time I read it I was sixteen and I loathed it. (The second time, in my thirties, it was gorgeous.) Usually, I want to move on to something new.
Then there's The Great Gatsby.
I can't count the number of times I've read this book. Maybe it's the stock answer to the question, "What's your favorite novel?" but this was the one where reading it was like opening a hidden door for the first time. I first read it when I was fifteen (thank you, Angela Accardo, for assigning this in sophomore honors English) and it felt like the first truly adult novel I read. (We later watched the movie with Mia Farrow and Robert Redford, which was just awful.) I had written stories before that—juvenile things, mostly—and reading Fitzgerald was the first time I thought, "I want to do that." So, you can credit or blame him (among many others) for my being a writer.
The novel was again assigned in college, and that was really the start of my long-term relationship with Jay Gatsby and East and West Egg. It's amazing how much Fitzgerald packs into this slim volume—less than 50,000 words, which would be a feat for most writers these days, to tell a story so fully in such a small space. I think it's a beautifully told precisely because of that economy. And its cautionary tale about the folly of the American Dream and the worship of wealth has, sadly, endured in relevance 85 years later, though it hasn't been heeded.
So, let's hear it. What's the book you keep returning to?