So We Read On
How The Great Gatsby Came to Be and Why It Endures
The "Fresh Air" book critic investigates the enduring power of The Great Gatsby -- "The Great American Novel we all think we've read, but really haven't."
Conceived nearly a century ago by a man who died believing himself a failure, it's now a revered classic and a rite of passage in the reading lives of millions. But how well do we really know The Great Gatsby? As Maureen Corrigan, Gatsby lover extraordinaire, points out, while Fitzgerald's masterpiece may be one of the most popular novels in America, many of us first read it when we were too young to fully comprehend its power.
Offering a fresh perspective on what makes Gatsby great -- and utterly unusual -- So We Read On takes us into archives, high school classrooms, and even out onto the Long Island Sound to explore the novel's hidden depths, a journey whose revelations include Gatsby 's surprising debt to hard-boiled crime fiction, its rocky path to recognition as a "classic," and its profound commentaries on the national themes of race, class, and gender.
With rigor, wit, and infectious enthusiasm, Corrigan inspires us to re-experience the greatness of Gatsby and cuts to the heart of why we are, as a culture, "borne back ceaselessly" into its thrall. Along the way, she spins a new and fascinating story of her own.
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.