So We Read On: How The Great Gatsby Came to Be and Why It Endures by Maureen Corrigan makes you want to read (or reread) The Great Gatsby. Her enthusiasm for the novel is refreshing and incredibly contagious. When I first started reading it, I thought it would be dry, stuffy, and full of the obscure literary references and book-snob ideas that typically keep me away from literary criticisms in the first place. But I ended up loving it so much that when my audiobook (which the author herself narrates) was over I felt genuinely sad that I would no longer be spending time with Maureen. I’d love to have coffee with her somewhere in New York, our copies of The Great Gatsby in hand and a couple of pieces of cake in front of us. I also kind of wish I could take her Literature of the City class at Georgetown.
I never read The Great Gatsby in high school, but I did read it when I was a teenager. And that, according to Corrigan, means I was probably too young to appreciate it. Too “defensive emotionally, too ignorant about the life-deforming powers of regret.” I can’t say that I disagree with her because I don’t think I really got Gatsby the first time I read it. I thought it was a pretty straightforward love story with a sad ending. But every time I’ve read it since then I’ve realized that it is so much more than that. Or, as Corrigan puts it, “It’s not the green light, stupid, it’s Gatsby’s reaching for it.”
In addition to exploring Gatsby’s themes of longing, friendship, and water, So We Read On also spends a fair amount of time on the life of author F. Scott Fitzgerald. As sad as his life was and as short as his career turned out to be, Fitzgerald made such an impression on so many with not only his novels but also his impressive collection of about 200 short stories. As soon as I finished So We Read On, I added a book of Fitzgerald’s short stories to my must-read list.
F. Scott Fitzgerald died without ever knowing what The Great Gatsby would go on to become. He never got to see the Gatsby tattoos or the Gatsby-themed parties and products. He never got to debate whether Baz Luhrmann’s 3D film adaptation was too flashy or just flashy enough. He never got to hear the discussions about whether The Great Gatsby is the Great American Novel. If he were alive today I’m sure he might wonder why we keep reading this little book he wrote and published way back in 1925. In my opinion, we continue to read The Great Gatsby because it continues to be relevant. We all have dreams, we all aspire to something. And I can’t imagine a book that captures longing for something better than The Great Gatsby. If you don’t believe me, reread it. It’ll break your heart, you’ll see. And if you’re already a Gatsby fan, pick up Maureen Corrigan’s So We Read On and fall in love with Fitzgerald all over again.