What depresses me is what this Macmillan Reader edition says about our American educational system. Any high school student who cannot read The Great Gatsby in the original cannot read. That student has been sold a bill of goods. We know that teachers at the college level complain that many of their students cannot read and write competently. If this is an example of a book they are assigned, can they be blamed?
After a certain point, you teach yourself to read. You arrive at an unfamiliar word, and usually don’t look it up. You sort of flow with it in the context, and in time it teaches itself to you. Consider Fitzgerald’s big word “orgastic,” which for years was incorrectly printed “orgiastic” because of an editing error. You’ve never seen it before. What, oh what, can it mean? No matter how it’s spelled, it must have something to do with an orgasm, right? Am I correct in guessing that most high school students are familiar with that word?
I never read a simplified text of a novel in my life, and to the best of my knowledge neither did any other graduates of St. Mary’s Grade School or Urbana High School — not in school, anyway. The first book I read was Huckleberry Finn, and I got through it just fine, encountering hundreds of words I didn’t know.