I have recently—for reasons unknown—become slightly obsessed with F. Scott Fitzgerald. The fortunate product of this Fitzgerald fascination is it prompted me two weeks ago to read The Great Gatsby. The book was assigned reading in high school many eons ago, but I foolishly cheated myself and opted for the Cliff Notes. Truly reading the book for the first time was a wonderful discovery and education—for while I loved the story, I was completely blown away by the writing.
I can’t recall a book with more beautiful prose. Descriptions of simple things, like fading sunlight on a woman’s face, are stunning:
For a moment the last sunshine fell with romantic affection upon her glowing face; her voice compelled me forward breathlessly as I listened—then the glow faded, each light deserting her with lingering regret like children leaving a pleasant street at dusk.
Such writing in high school was wasted on me; I didn’t appreciate, back then, the effort involved. After reading Gatsby, I read A. Scott Berg’s Maxwell Perkins: Editor of Genius, a biography of Fitzgerald’s editor–the same guy who discovered Thomas Wolfe and Ernest Hemingway, among others.
It was interesting to note in Berg’s book that when Fitzgerald sat down to write Gatsby, he did so not with commercial success in mind but rather to see how far he could push his talent. “This book,” he wrote Perkins in 1924, “will be a consciously artistic achievement.”
The end result obviously speaks for itself.
Next on my reading list: Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night.