Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

'So We Read On' an Enlightening Tribute to 'The Great Gatsby'

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

'So We Read On' an Enlightening Tribute to 'The Great Gatsby'

Article excerpt

SO WE READ ON: HOW 'THE GREAT GATSBY' CAME TO BE AND WHY IT ENDURES"

By Maureen Corrigan

Little, Brown (352 pages, $26)

If you're reading this review, you've probably read "The Great Gatsby." Most likely it was in a high school English class, where you had to write a paper or two about the mysterious Jay Gatsby, his observant neighbor Nick Carraway, his siren-like cousin Daisy Buchanan and the meaning of those closing paragraphs, with the green light and the boats borne ceaselessly into the past.

Maureen Corrigan has read "The Great Gatsby," too. Upwards of 50 times, she figures. And she has written "So We Read On" as a love letter to it.

"Gatsby," she argues, may be the most classic of American classics - as a student tells her, "It's the Sistine Chapel of American literature in a hundred and eighty pages!" Although when she mentions her plans to write about it to colleagues at her university, "Some of them have been clearly underwhelmed, even a little patronizing, as though I'd unwrapped an American cheese sandwich on Wonder Bread at a faculty meeting."

This is not a book for such eggheads. Ms. Corrigan, known to NPR listeners as the book critic for Fresh Air, has produced an easy- reading combination of biography, literary history and memoir that's aimed at those of us who are not F. Scott Fitzgerald scholars. If you don't mind a few too many personal digressions, it's entertaining and informative.

Ms. Corrigan unpacks all the reasons for the book's staying power: It's hard-boiled enough to be considered early noir. It's funny enough that the only magazine interested in serializing it was College Humor. And it's "as elaborately patterned as other modern masterworks, such as T.S. Eliot's 'The Waste Land' and James Joyce's 'Ulysses.' ... Unlike those encrypted texts, however, 'Gatsby' can be enjoyed without the aid of an Enigma machine."

She properly faults the book's dated racial stereotyping, and explains how it overcomes such flaws, but such lecture-style ruminating is not the best part of "So We Read On. …

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