- ISBN-13: 9780316230070
- ISBN-10: 0316230073
- Publisher: Little Brown and Company
- Publish Date: September 2014
- Page Count: 352
- Dimensions: 8.74 x 5.84 x 1.17 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.02 pounds
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2014-07-28
- Reviewer: Staff
Mixing criticism with memoir, NPR book critic Corrigan (Leave Me Alone, I’m Reading) contends that F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Great American Novel is greater than we think. According to Corrigan, we were too young to appreciate The Great Gatsby when we read it in high school; we were dead to its themes of nostalgia and regret, overlooked its trenchant social critique, and mistook it for a love story. (Corrigan is adamant that we miss the point if we ask whether Daisy ever loved Gatsby.) To reintroduce and reassess a masterpiece, Corrigan visits the book’s Long Island setting, Fitzgerald’s grave, and a high school English class. Most illuminating, though, is her research into Gatsby’s reception: in the Library of Congress, she investigates how the novel, unheralded on its publication in 1925, became part of the canon by the 1960s. (Fitzgerald’s ghost can thank a few friendly critics and the paperbacks issued to GIs during WWII.) Today, Corrigan asserts, Gatsby still doesn’t get its due. When she laments that Fitzgerald is the subject of fewer college seminars than are his modernist cohorts, such as James Joyce, her partisanship may seem blinkered. She makes a good case, however, that our very familiarity with Gatsby’s Great American qualities has caused us to underrate it—and she does much to restore its stature. 13 b&w photos. (Sept.)
Well Read: Why 'Gatsby' is great
Millions of readers love The Great Gatsby, but perhaps none more than Maureen Corrigan. In her enthusiastic new book, So We Read On: How The Great Gatsby Came to Be and Why It Endures, the NPR book reviewer and Georgetown University lecturer makes an impassioned case that Fitzgerald’s novel should be a strong contender for the “Great American Novel.” Fair enough. She also argues that while most educated readers have read the book, few have given it the consideration it deserves. In view of its enduring stature and sales, this is a hard claim to disprove, but, certainly, few of us have spent as much time with the novel as Corrigan, who, by her own estimate, has read Gatsby some 50 times.
So We Read On is a marvelous mix of the high and the low: solid literary criticism delivered in a user-friendly manner, coupled with the back story of the book’s creation, replete with the sordid details of Scott (and Zelda) Fitzgerald’s sad, unfulfilled promise. What we now recognize as Fitzgerald’s greatest work was met with critical indifference and commercial failure when published in 1925; at the time of Fitzgerald’s death in 1940, most of the second printing of the novel was gathering dust in the Scribner warehouse. Corrigan undertakes some literary detective work to discover when and why public opinion turned back in Gatsby’s favor. She identifies a confluence of circumstances—a posthumous critical push from friends like Edmund Wilson and Dorothy Parker, the advent of cheap paperbacks and the inclusion of the book in a series of Armed Services Editions given to service personnel during and after World War II, and the brevity of the book, which made it perfect for course adoption. As for its lasting popularity, she suggests that Gatsby speaks to a singular brand of yearning that permeates the American experience (and attracts readers around the world).
Fans of the book will appreciate Corrigan’s close reading of symbols and motifs, which never hinges on the academic, despite her years in the classroom. Moving well beyond the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock or the eyeglasses of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg looking down like an unforgiving God, she writes on the importance of water imagery throughout the book, the geography of the novel and its quintessential New York setting, and the complicated relationships between characters. Corrigan has a personal connection with Gatsby—she grew up in the shadow of the Queensboro Bridge that serves as the link between the promise of Manhattan, the desolation of the Valley of Ashes and the aching splendor of East Egg and West Egg beyond. She returns to the Catholic high school she attended in Queens to observe English classes and hear what kids today are saying about Gatsby, Daisy, Tom and Nick.
Corrigan takes on any naysayers who argue that Gatsby is a thin narrative. “Simply put, the intricacy of The Great Gatsby is staggering,” she writes. “Once you become aware of how deliberate even the most throwaway moments in the novel are, you develop a double vision toward Gatsby, admiring its smooth surface while sensing the fathoms that abide beneath.” With So We Read On, Corrigan for the most part is preaching to a choir of acolytes already at the altar of Gatsby, but it is a sermon as smooth and palatable as the novel itself.