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Welcome to Bookshelf Buzz, where I read and write stories. email: bryanduffett@gmail.com

Thursday, 31 October 2013

B2S Series (Part 3): The Great Gatsby


"I'm a small town." -- Kenny Chesney

Year: 2000 - 2001

I wasn't really nervous because I was too stupid to get nervous. 

But it doesn't take a genius to observe that -- in Bonavista at least -- eighth grade is probably the most important one. (It's the grade where you move from the elementary school to the high school. There is no such thing as the "transition period" otherwise known as junior high.) This provides some memorable experiences for the average twelve year old. Things like: buying rolled cigarettes from some twenty-one year old twelfth grader named Ricky; witnessing the curvature of spandex shorts on a woman's backside (there's a reason all thirteen year old boys want to be gym teachers); or meeting someone from Melrose. 

Not quite the real world, but probably the next best thing.

Other than the fish plant, the high school is the largest building in Bonavista and honestly, the sheer brick and mortar is just the tip of the iceberg.
Certain intangibles exist. Things like culture. There was culture in the high school. Pretentious teenage culture, but culture nonetheless. No longer was my only thought trying to round up enough bodies for a game of after school street hockey. Somebody tattoos their last name on their arm: art! Somebody cooks a pot of Kraft Dinner in home economics: culinary art! Somebody finds a used condom in the stairwell: love! A racket breaks out between the Little Catalina crowd and the Cove crowd at recess: theater! Student body elections, bake sales, drama clubs, and bands. Of course, I was too timid to take part in any of these extra-curricular activities. I just kind of watched them from afar, like the way Toby Mcguire watches Reese Witherspoon in the movie Pleasantville. 

(Nobody found a used condom in the stairwell. I made that part up. There was however, a rumor that two kids had sex in the stairwell. Just a rumor though.)  

They even had events like Pajama Day to raise money for student council. Pay a buck, wear your pajamas. No thanks. If the wind blew the right way enough blood rushed to my penis for a transfusion. Perhaps some unsettling imagery, but it's sadly what I remember. The flannel fabric of my PJ's was hardly enough material to protect against events such as girls volleyball, girls track and field, or girls sitting on a bench. It was all new and it was all electric. The type of security only denim and a loosely fastened belt can provide.

(My editor, Alana, did not appreciate these examples. I chose to leave them in. While I'm not sure any female readers can relate, I'm 100% sure the male readers can. Basically, there are two types of high school boys: the ones that get erratic, unpredictable erections, and liars. 

And women: don't act like you weren't picking your tonques up off the slimy theater floor during Magic Mike. You people actually paid money to see that shit. Perverts.

*     *     *

I had a great teacher in eighth grade. I related to him on many levels; our interest in sports, television, and music all synced. He was a comical teacher, often bursting into fits of rage. On one occasion, he grew so angry he had to leave the class to cool off. The students just sat there waiting. When he returned his knuckles were bleeding. I assume a locker was on the receiving end of the punches, but who knows. Maybe there was a bus prefect, or some teachers pet taking attendance who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. 

Just kidding.

Remember in seventh grade, I said how the girls liked me? Well, my stud appeal wore off once we moved to the big school, where guys drove cars, shaved, and smoked. 

Girls used to call me "cute" and I hated that. I guess it wasn't all bad -- when you're in eighth grade, pity is better than no attention at all. But still. I'd think, "Yeah, I'm cute, but on Friday night, you're goin home with Fonzie, and I've got a date with my Nintendo 64."

My teacher announced to the class. "Girls, I've seen this time and time again. When Bryan grows up, you'll be wishing for your time back, and he'll be saying 'sorry girls, you had your chance.'"

While I fail to imagine this vision as reality (HA!), it's still a nice memory. And it meant quite a bit at the time.

One of the girls I liked started smoking cigarettes and I considered this a huge deal. 

"Nothing turns me off more than a girl who smokes," I announced to her.

"Well, Bryan," she replied, "I'm not exactly trying to turn you on."


It's funny how you trudge through five years of high school lessons/lectures and these are the things that ultimately stick, while the sixth Prime Minister of Canada, the definition of photosynthesis, or the difference between a prime and composite number have a best before date in your brain like a tub of yogurt.

*     *     *

Yup, eighth grade was a pretty good time. Despite the enigmatic surroundings, I'd say I transitioned quite nicely. A few things helped:
  • My teacher: educator and mentor
  • My performance as the lead singer of S Club 7 in the Lip Sync earned me some street cred within the hallways of DC. Seriously. It might sound weird, but people knew my name the next day. (I did it as a joke with my older cousin and his
    S Club 7 - Aint no party like an S Club Party.
    buddies. I was volun-told to be the lead singer because I knew the lyrics to the shitty songs. Don't ask where I got the courage to stand up in front of the school like that, dressed as a sexy woman, singing S Club Party like my future depended on it. Surprised I didn't piss my dress -- scratch that -- my sisters dress. People laughed. A lot. We finished dead last. I loved it.
  •  The hockey season was phenomenal, as always, serving as an effective security blanket whenever life got rough. Our minor hockey team was a well oiled machine that season, and won the provincial "A" championship as the top team in NL. It was a team of hilarious characters, coaches, and parents. I believe the parents had more fun than the kids; laughing and singing and drinking till the wee hours in hotel rooms from Stephenville to St. John's. People often ask me if I miss high school, and the answer is: no, I don't. Not even a little bit. If I could go back and do it all again, I wouldn't. And I kind of feel bad for anyone who would. Why? But, I do miss minor hockey. I'd go back and relive those days, without question. Not trying to sound like one of those babbling poetic hockey nuts, waving a Canadian flag, and explaining how hockey is in my blood (whatever the fuck that means), just saying, while my education was earned at Discovery, I feel like my character was developed one minute up the road, at Cabot Stadium. In the dressing rooms, the hotels, the billets, and the mini-vans. And that might sound like the corniest sentence you ever read, but it's the truth. 

I can only speak from my own personal experience, of course. Hockey isn't the only damn way a young fella can cope with shit. Everyone has their own stories -- most better than mine -- and everyone's childhood is fucked in its own beautiful way. It's what makes us who we are. Just saying, hockey was my security blanket, and I'm thankful I had one. 

With that, let's talk about The Great Gatsby!

*     *     *
Title: The Great Gatsby 

Author: F. Scott Fitzgerald

Originally Published: 1925

It's important to note that this novel was not part of my high school curriculum. I never even heard of the thing until I saw a movie trailer with Leonardo DiCaprio and immediately halted channel surfing thinking it was the Titanic sequel. Wrong again, Bryan.

Then, I was scrolling this BuzzFeed Books list (books you didn't read in high school but actually should - great list) and noticed Gatsby at the top. Well, I thought. Shall we... 

First things first: 1925 was a long time ago. This book takes the title as the oldest thing I've ever read -- if you disregard those handful of pages in The Bible I thumbed through during Confirmation. In my Harry Potter discussion, I imagined a scenario where J.K. Rowling sits in her London den during the nineties, and creates the world of Hogwarts over steeped tea and an Oasis record. I like to do that: draw connections of author's work with the time and place they wrote it. In Fitzgerald's case, I can't even imagine. 1925! Six years after the Titanic went down, and the Red Sox played their first games at Fenway. Referred to as the "Roarin' Twenties" it was a time of economic prosperity, in essence, a calm before the stock market crash of 1929 and the storm that was the Great Depression. (Hey, I just remembered something from high school history. Can't learn that at the hockey rink!)

This story is not told from the perspective of its main character, rather his next door neighbor, Nick Carraway. Carraway's a newbie to the New York suburb, and becomes entrenched in the mysterious aura surrounding Jay Gatsby. Gatsby's young, rich, and handsome; and on the surface, appears to have it all.

I'm a sucker for a great quote and this book offers a classic on the very first page:

"Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone, just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the same advantages that you've had."

Any high schooler, or any person for that matter, could save themselves from years of pouting, hair-pulling, and overall bitching and complaining if they walk away from Gatsby with just that lesson alone.    

Another lesson: things aren't as they appear. 

Gatsby's life is filled with all the charming material money can buy; mansions, swimming pools, glamorous vehicles. However, there's a void in his soul -- created by love and lust. 

Gatsby's character reminded me of a classic lyric from the Eagles: "It's those restless hearts that never mend."

(Leave it to me to relate everything to an Eagles lyric. I still think Hotel California was inspired by the first time I attended a wedding at the Hotel Bonavista.) 

Gatsby's ex is married to another man. He yearns for her and plots to win her back, while sheltering his image behind the protection of all his material bullshit. 

Overall, I enjoyed The Great Gatsby but probably for the wrong reasons. I didn't particularly love the story, and as expected, much of it flew over my head. It's a tough read, but there are some intriguing lessons: dreams vs. reality, social image crafting, etc., which I believe are responsible for landing it in high school classrooms worldwide.

I had fun with it simply because it's a classic and I believe everyone should read it. Just like everyone should listen to The White Album, watch Forrest Gump, and replay Game six of the 1993 World Series. Classic is classic.

Up next on the blog:

The next Back to School book in the series is Lois Lowery's The Giver. Read along with me as I discuss Jonas and the gang, and relive the ninth grade.

Until next time,


Bookshelf Buzz's Back to School Series is a seven part series where I revisit the school reading curriculum I failed to conquer as a teen. Full series deets here.


  1. Sultan of Twat1 November 2013 11:14

    I had to close my office door after the erection bit caused me to spontaneously burst into laughter. Also agree with the items on your "things everyone should do" list. Keep up the good work.

  2. Awesome! Little erectile humor for a Friday morning.