28 February 2012

An open letter to a nine-month-old

Dear Neve,

Your parents have had the clever idea of asking family and friends to suggest some wise counsel to guide you in the adventure of life that awaits you.  You don’t know me from Adam, and in fact we’ve not formally been introduced.  Hi!  I’m Ethan.  I’m a friend of your Mum’s from University and from work in Wellington.  I once saw you in your pram at your parents’ cafĂ©.  Well, I saw your arm poking out.  It looked like a fairly normal arm to me.  An arm with potential.

In terms of useful advice, I’m sure you’ll have plenty of general wisdom offered up: you know, brush your teeth, do your homework, listen to your mother, ride through Paris in a sports car with the warm wind in your hair, that sort of thing.

So I thought I’d be a bit more specific, and recommend a particular book.  You’ll probably be a reader anyway, what with studious parents like yours, but there are so many books out there and everyone’s got an opinion about the good ones and the not-so-good ones.  But here’s my suggestion, for what it’s worth:

Don’t let the fact that it’s from 1925 put you off.  You’ll be surprised how a story from that long ago can be so fresh and entertaining.  And I’ll wager that by the time you’re likely to read it – I don’t know, maybe when you’re 12 or 13? – you still won’t have visited New York yet.  It’s set there, you see.  (And visiting New York is great, by the way.  Do that too, okay?)

Fiction writing goes through fads and crazes.  Last decade a stack of books about a boy wizard sold millions; this decade everything has to have vampires in it.  Both will probably be replaced by some other trend by the time you’ll be a fully-fledged reader.  But The Great Gatsby endures as one of the most popular books of all time because it captures perfectly the spirit of the age in which it was written.  And even if you’re not interested in mysterious millionaires, New York in the Roaring Twenties, humdinger parties, lost love and jealously-guarded secrets – although you’d be mad not to be – The Great Gatsby has one all-conquering trump card up its sleeve.

It’s really rather short.

So what do you say?  You’ve got nothing to lose, Neve.  And if you like Gatsby (and I think you will), it may well lead you on to other Fitzgerald stories, the writing of his wayward wife Zelda (and isn’t that a great name?), or the peerless 1920s Jeeves & Wooster comedies of P.G. Wodehouse, or even to visit Long Island and see what Fitzgerald must have seen when he went to parties just like Gatsby’s.    

Because books – really good books – can be your greatest ally in life, can intrigue, inform and entertain you in good times and bad, and will help to make you into the excellent grown-up you will one day become.

Best wishes to you as you start that journey!  And don’t forget to listen to your mother.  That’s pretty important too. 
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