It started with a recommendation from my Dad to read "The Snow Leopard" around mid-2009. From there I found a neglected copy of "The Great Gatsby" loitering on my bookshelves and then discovered "Diary of a Drug Fiend" in a secondhand bookstore. Continuing in this vein, and fuelled by childhood memories of Bill Murray, I tracked down "The Razor's Edge".
Reading these books from nearly a hundred years ago, it startled me how little many things had changed. That despite the sea of change in which we are currently immersed, "people … are still people". This dovetails nicely with one my primary experiences in Asia over the last year, that despite significant language and cultural differences, people are still people. It's a great lesson that neither time or space is powerful enough to change us, in essence we are all the same.
Digressions aside, one of the things I love about these classic novels is the almost breathless way in which characters are often introduced. Here's an example from F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby":
His parents were shiftless and unsuccessful farm people — his imagination had never really accepted them as his parents at all. The truth was that Jay Gatsby of West Egg, Long Island, sprang from his Platonic conception of himself. He was a son of God... and he must be about His Father's business, the service of a vast, vulgar, and meretricious beauty. So he invented just the sort of Jay Gatsby that a seventeen year old boy would be likely to invent, and to this conception he was faithful to the end.
and from W. Somerset Maugham's "The Razor's Edge":
He was a colossal snob. He was a snob without shame. He would put up with any affront, he would ignore any rebuff, he would swallow any rudeness to get asked to a party he wanted to go to or to make a connection with some crusty old dowager of great name. If I have given the reader an impression that Elliot Templeton was a despicable character I have done him injustice. He was for one thing what the French call serviable...helpful, obliging, and kind. He was generous, and though early in his career he had doubtless showered flowers, candy, and presents on his acquaintances from an ulterior motive, he continued to do so when it was no longer necessary.
This gave me an idea for a writing exercise. Using my friends as inspiration I will try and craft my own versions of these introductions. I don't have the courage to name them, hopefully nobody recognises themselves, and if they do, hopefully they won't be offended by my caricature!
Stay tuned …