One: This Side of Paradise
The book smelled like a cathedral, dignified with rough manila pages, and a cool worn cover, veiled in the mystery of past ownership. The copyright page read 1960, and the milestone year allotted Kick’s unbridled imagination space to run. There was something inherently magical in that anyone could have owned this ordinary paperback, printed in 1960. Kick had amassed quite the collection of This Side of Paradise copies. However, never until this moment at The Spiral Bookcase had she managed to find one whose release date paralleled that of America’s finest decision.
I hope the owner voted for Kennedy was all Kick could think, for inheriting the treasure of a former Nixon supporter would be all too much to bear. Truly, for all she knew, this copy could have belonged to John F. Kennedy himself, although it’s ending up in a Manayunk used bookstore did not bode well for this scenario. Still, the crinkled cover revealed that the owner had loved the novel as dearly as Kick did, and had read it with comparable intensity, often clutching it too closely and perhaps falling asleep with it at hand. Kick reflected on all her original This Side of Paradise had endured: albuterol spills from her nebulizer, the crushing pressure of textbooks placed above in her narrow backpack, the jaws of her teacup Yorkie, and even a thunder storm on her bedroom balcony at the shore. Ripped, torn, and wrinkled, the proud survivor had scarcely lived to see the day Kick cried at its closing lines, “I know myself. That is all.”
No leather bound antique had done more for her life than those tattered pages. She had found a friend in F. Scott Fitzgerald and a call to think, and laugh, and cry in his words and ideas. No book proved as influential in her life, save for A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and The Catcher In The Rye maybe. These books were of a fundamentally superior breed, of content and character, first devoured at impressionable times during her coming of age, which made them permanent markers of memory. While she firmly believed these novels were among the finest ever written, Kick knew that because she read these three works during the glorious summer in which she had first fallen in love, she would show Amory, Francie, and Holden notable bias and undeniably nostalgic affection for her whole life long. Books, like songs and perfumes, are overwhelmingly capable of capturing and preserving fleeting moments in time. Perhaps Kick so loved the humid streets of Williamsburg and the autumnal Princeton campus because something deep down would always remind her – not of Fin – but of the way she had felt about him that summer when she was fifteen – that indescribable fluttering affection.
She squeezed her grip around this new addition to her collection, pressing her chin against its cool cover. She finally decided it was owned by a handsome college student with blue eyes and an Irish last name who had studied political science and worked as a volunteer on the Kennedy campaign. That was the nice thing about this sort of a mystery – any conclusion she preferred would become the book’s accepted history, for Kick would never truly know who had bought the Fitzgerald book when its pages were pure white and its cover flat and glossy. That is what is both lovely and unsettling about life: its lack of evidence. Mere faith and speculation are often all we have to cling to as we grow up. Kick, permanently sick with asthma and nostalgia, and in the diligent service of her ambitions, ideals, and interests, both feared and delighted in the uncertainty of tomorrow.