Careless People: Murder, Mayhem, and the Invention of The Great Gatsby
by Sarah Churchwell
Penguin Press • $29.95 • ISBN 9781594204746
On sale January 23, 2014
Some people may be tired of reading about F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby and the 1920s . . . but I'm not one of them. My feet are firmly planted in the can't-get-enough camp when it comes to my favorite novel of all time. Which is why, this week, I'm reading Sarah Churchwell's new book, Careless People: Murder, Mayhem, and the Invention of The Great Gatsby.
In it, Churchwell focuses on one particular year in the life of Fitzgerald: 1922, the very year in which The Great Gatsby would be set (and, many say, the pivotal year that ushered in modernism). In 1922, Fitzgerald was just 26 and a rising literary star. He and Zelda settled right in the midst of a bustling New York City (and on Long Island), partying it up with the literati and everyone else snubbing their noses at Prohibition. As Churchwell points out, Fitzgerald was also doing a little first-hand research for a new book idea.
In her meticulous research, Churchwell combed through Fitzgerald's Princeton archives, through old newspaper articles, and other historical records, resulting in this fascinating account of a brilliant writer, a vibrant city and a tiny slice of American history and culture. While reading, you can almost imagine how the wheels must have turned in Fitzgerald's head.
In this excerpt, Churchwell describes the familiar landscape that Scott and Zelda (accompanied by none other than John Dos Passos) drove through while on a car trip from Manhattan to Long Island, where they were hunting for a house to rent:
About halfway between New York and Great Neck, just beneath Flushing Bay, stood the towering Corona Dumps, vast mountains of fuel ash that New York had been heaping on swampland beyond the city limits since 1895, in a landfill created by the construction of the Long Island Rail Road. By the time the ash dumps were leveled in the late 1930s (and eventually recycled to form the Long Island Expressway), the mounds of ash were nearly a hundred feet tall in places; the highest peak was locally given the ironic name Mount Corona. . . . By 1922, desolate, towering mountains of ashes and dust stretched four miles long and over a mile across, alongside the road that linked the glamor of Manhattan to the Gold Coast. In the distance could be seen the steel frames of new apartment buildings braced against the sky to the west. Refuse stretched in all directions, with goats wandering through and old women searching among the litter for some redeemable object.
What are you reading this week?
• The 2013 National Book Awards finalists were announced this week, narrowing each category down from 10 to 5 contenders. The winners will be revealed on November 20. In the meantime, you can familiarize yourself with the books in the running by downloading free excerpts here.
• With Halloween right around the corner, we can't get enough of Flavorwire's amazing collection of photos of famous authors dressed up in costumes.
• Speaking of Halloween, if you like creepy stories, Byliner is offering up an exclusive new tale called "Devotion" by Maile Meloy. (Those who aren't Byliner subscribers can download the book for $1.99.)
• Bloomsbury is launching a new popular science imprint, Sigma, which will feature books on subjects such as evolutionary biology, astronomy, robotics, bioengineering and climatology. Inaugural titles publishing in October 2014 will include Sex on Earth by Jules Howard and The World's Smallest Mammoth by Victoria Herridge.
• What's the most famous book set in your state?
That is part of the beauty of all literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you're not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong.
• F. Scott Fitzgerald •
Which F. Scott Fitzgerald book is your favorite?
The hype surrounding today's release of Baz Luhrmann's adaptation of The Great Gatsby officially reached a fever pitch this week—everyone’s talking about it. The occasion has prompted some interesting musings, lists and digging up of historically relevant artifacts, so we thought we'd bring you some of the highlights from around the web.
• Prep for your post-movie discussion with friends by reading Qwiklit's Everything You Need to Know About F. Scott Fitzgerald.
• Play the Great Gatsby video game over on Out of Print. For every 25,000 points you score, they will donate a book!
• Take a gander at some potential story titles that Fitzgerald jotted down in his notebooks over on Biblioklept. My personal favorite: The firing of Jasbo Merribo.
• Read the original review of TGG published in the LA Times back in 1925.
Are you planning on seeing The Great Gatsby this weekend? If so, we'd love to hear what you think of it.
. . . F. Scott Fitzgerald's first novel, This Side of Paradise, was published. Bolstered by his newfound fame and fortune, he promptly marched down to Montgomery, Alabama, to marry his love, Zelda.
• The 2013 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction finalists were announced earlier this week: Threats by Amelia Gray, Kind One by Laird Hunt, Hold It ’Til It Hurts by T. Geronimo Johnson, Watergate by Thomas Mallon, and Everything Begins and Ends at the Kentucky Club by Benjamin Alire Sáenz. The winner will be named on May 4. Which one will you be rooting for?
• GalleyCat has given us a peek inside the just-published children's picture book Flying Henry, a collection of whimsical images of photographer/artist Rachel Hulin's son.
• Did you know that Moby-Dick was inspired by real-life events? A ship attacked and sunk by an enormous whale, three months drifting at sea, cannibalism—and even a crew member actually named Owen Coffin! A fascinating Smithsonian blog post details the entire gruesome story.
• Dutch artist Frank Halmans' architectural book sculptures look so cozy that we wish we could pack our bags and move right into one.
• The Paris Review notes the passing of Barnaby Conrad, writer, boxer, matador, and one of the coolest guys you've probably never heard of.
• Who knew so many writers were gifted in the visual arts, as well? Flavorwire has compiled a collection of 20 self-portraits by famous authors. Flannery O'Connor, Edgar Allan Poe, Kurt Vonnegut, Margaret Atwood—which one is your favorite?
• The Baltimore home where F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald lived (with their daughter, Scottie) from 1933 to '35 is up for sale, which means we get to peek inside. Also posted this week is Scott's 1921 passport application, which features a crossed-out description of his chin as "prominent" replaced with "round." And apparently, his mouth was "medium"—whatever that means.
• Finally, Book Riot has collected photos of some very impressive literarily themed Lego projects. It sounds silly, yes, but we dare you not to be impressed by the Harry Potter one, which was built with 400,000 Legos!