So We Read On: A Fitting Tribute to “The Great Gatsby”

So We Read On  F. Scott Fitzgerald

The 90th anniversary of the publication of The Great Gatsby happened on April 10, 2015, and while I am late to the party in terms of paying my tribute to this magnificent piece of work, I am no less enthusiastic. When people ask me to declare my favorite novel, this is the one. I have such strong feelings for this book that it is hard to encapsulate it in these few blog posts I intend to write. Why do I love it so much? Well, for starters, it is everything that I think a great novel should be:

  1. I discover something new each time I read it (since I rediscovered it about 8 years ago, I have read it every summer since 2007) – I love books that make me think and make me want to analyze them and conduct additional research
  2. I identify strongly with the main characters, Nick Carraway and Jay Gatsby, both of them in search of identity and principles to live by, and both of them striving to make their own way and a better life for themselves
  3. It contains some of the most beautiful and poetic language I have ever encountered in the English language
  4. The plot is compelling from beginning to end – there are never any parts I want to rush through in order to get to better parts
  5. It contains glamour and vivid descriptions of everything happening which takes readers on a wonderful journey where we can live vicariously through the characters
  6. It is about the 1920s – the era I adore (I read other novels which are not set in this time period, but the fact that this one is set in this time period is a major bonus)
  7. It is cinematic (it has been made into movies at least four times) – I adore movies as much as I do books, so I always like to see books dramatized on screen – each time I view the movies, they make me think about things all over again
By sealhouette on Etsy

By sealhouette on Etsy

Maureen Corrigan, another lifetime fan of The Great Gatsby, published a book last year called So We Read On: How The Great Gatsby Came to Be and Why It Endures. Corrigan has been teaching this book for several years as a college professor, and she recently threw herself into conducting research for the book. She also runs a literary show on NPR called Fresh Air. I am sharing some of the information from the book that really stuck with me:

  • “Fitzgerald’s plot suggests that the American Dream is a mirage, but his words make that dream irresistible.” She is right – for all of the morally questionable things that happen in the novel, there is a hopeful almost buoyant tone to the telling of the story.
  • She refers to the fact that the American Dream is about diving in and sinking or swimming – everyone supposedly has the opportunity to succeed, but can you swim fast enough and far enough to make it. One of the central questions in the book is about whether meritocracy really exists in America. Fitzgerald’s best characters dive into life full tilt and then must fight hard to stay afloat. The thing that he did so well in Gatsby is show how the rich among us have extra advantages to help them stay afloat and swim farther and faster than the rest of us – money, connections, and a confidence that things will always, or more often than not, work out in their favor.
  • Scholars often talk about how the book is time haunted, but she does an excellent job of presenting a new perspective by showing how the book is also full of imagery related to water and drowning.
  • Despite all of the good luck and advantages Fitzgerald experienced in life, he always felt like he was on the outside looking in when it came to his interactions with the wealthy. This came from the uncertain fortunes of his family while he was growing up and his feelings that his father was a failure as a provider.
  • There are four short stories, known by critics as the Gatsby cluster, with similar themes to The Great Gatsby where the characters fixate on the act of reaching for something or someone just out of reach: “Absolution” (American Mercury, 1924), “Winter Dreams” (Metropolitan, 1922), “The Sensible Thing” (Liberty, 1924), and “The Rich Boy” (Redbook, 1926). I have read all of these stories, and they are all excellent and easy to locate online.
  • Corrigan talks about how Francis Cugat’s cover art for the book captured perfectly the sense of longing which permeates the story. It was created before the book was completed, and Fitzgerald has stated that he wrote it into the book, but no one knows exactly which parts of the novel coincide with his writing. The detail that people often miss in the cover art is that there are nude women floating in the eyes of the figure.
  • Corrigan talks about how the last line of the story with the dash suggests that it is like Gatsby’s dock. People in pursuit of the American dream either jump in gracefully and keep swimming or they drown from exhaustion once they have been struggling to swim forever without getting anywhere. I find this fascinating because I had always puzzled over why he left the line open ended with that long dash, and this seems like a plausible explanation given the context in which it was written.
  • The summer that Fitzgerald was writing The Great Gatsby was the same summer that Zelda cheated on him with a French aviator named Edouard Jozan. There are theories that he rewrote parts of the book to incorporate the devastation he experienced while going through that difficult time with Zelda. There is no doubt that there is a lot of cheating going on amongst the characters in the book, so this seems entirely plausible.
  • The novel has continued to endure for several reasons. It was widely distributed as an Armed Services Edition sent to soldiers serving during World War II (these soldiers continued to share it with others and teach it when they became educators). Fitzgerald’s literary friends continued to analyze and review the story so it remained in the public eye. The dramatizations of the book as movies, plays, movies made for television, and so on have helped to keep it alive and well in the hearts and minds of various generations. Scholars such as Matthew J. Bruccoli generated biographies, critical editions, articles, and monographs about Fitzgerald and his work. There is an F. Scott Fitzgerald society with devoted members who meet to celebrate and share his work. Plus the book continues to sell about 250,000 copies per year and is on most of the reading lists provided to high school students within American schools.

I hope I have enticed fans of F. Scott Fitzgerald and his master work, The Great Gatsby, to do further research on his life and work. You should start by reading So We Read On!


The Fascinating History of Chanel No. 5

Chanel Biarritz livre Patricia 000

Over the Christmas break, I read Tilar J. Mazzeo’s engaging biography “The Secret of Chanel No. 5”. I am conducting research for my novel which includes a perfumer during the 1920s, so this book provided fantastic information about the industry and how Chanel No. 5 became a cultural icon of both the past and present. I wanted to share some of the fascinating facts I learned about this delectable perfume with all of you.

The heart of Coco Chanel’s style arises from her time spent at the orphanage called Aubazine in France, a Cistercian order which prized simplicity, cleanliness, and purity. The monks also used perfumes and ointments in prayers and rituals of purification. Although she was deeply unhappy there as a child, she carried it with her always because it was essentially her first home.

Aubazine sur les traces de Coco Chanel

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Rosecliff: Elegance Personified in Newport


I spent my birthday in Newport, Rhode Island, touring five of the opulent mansions.  I am glad that I chose not to visit all of them in one day because it would have been far too overwhelming.  I stayed overnight at a charming bed and breakfast in the neighborhood and took my time getting out and about the second day.  While I enjoyed all of the mansion tours, there is one mansion that has captured my heart and that I return to every time I visit Newport – Rosecliff.  I love Rosecliff for many reasons, but its elegance and simplicity are chief among them.   I decided to write this post to share some of my favorite tidbits about this mansion. Continue reading

Bessie Coleman: The First Black Fly Girl

Bessie Coleman

I took some time to watch “Amelia” today, the movie about the brave aviatrix Amelia Earhart.  It inspired me to look up information on another aviatrix who is not as well-known but who was no less brave, Bessie Coleman.  They both started flying around the same time, 1920-1921, but being black, Bessie did not receive the same level of recognition as Amelia.  Her story is just as inspiring –  here are some fast facts about Bessie:

  • The world’s first African-American pilot to receive an international license
  • One of thirteen children born to George and Susan Coleman on January 26, 1892 in Atlanta, Texas
  • Attended beauty school in Chicago and worked as a manicurist during the early years of World War I at a barber shop; this is where she started to hear stories about flying from pilots returning from the war
  • Always dreamed of flying; traveled abroad to attend aviation school in LeCrotoy, France in 1920 because no American school would accept African-Americans
  • After studying ten months in France, she was issued a license on June 15, 1921 by the Federation Aeronitique Internationale
  • Returned to the United States in 1921 with the intention of opening a flying school for blacks interested in aeronautics; during her trips she often gave lectures at colleges and churches to encourage young black men and women to enter aviation
  • Participated in many air shows and exhibitions from 1922-1925 to finance her flying career; her death-defying stunts earned her the nickname “Brave Bessie” and she became a barnstormer (pilots who roamed the country renting cow pastures where they put on shows flying low, zooming high above barns, and sometimes even flying through barns) for paying crowds
  • On April 30, 1926, she died during a test flight before a show sponsored by the Negro Welfare League in Jacksonville, Florida. About twelve minutes into the flight, the plane did not pull out of a nosedive as planned; instead, it did a somersault and dropped Bessie Coleman to her death.
  • Although her dream of establishing a flying school for black students never materialized, the Bessie Coleman Aero groups were organized after her death. On Labor Day, 1931, these flying clubs sponsored the first all black air show in America, which attracted 15,000 spectators. She also had a day named in her honor in Chicago and was featured on a commemorative stamp issued by U.S. Postal Service.
  • Famous Quotes: “The air is the only place free from prejudices.” “No one had ever heard of a black woman pilot in 1919. I refused to take no for an answer.”

Primary Resource: Doris L. Rich, Queen Bess: Daredevil Aviator (Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1993).

For more information on Bessie, check out this website:

Bessie Coleman 1921

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Women Jazz Musicians

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

I just finished watching a wonderful documentary called “The Girls in the Band”. It featured solo musicians, all women bands, and even women band leaders with incredible flair and smooth dance moves. Since I was a female drummer from the ages 8 to 18, I have an understanding of what it means to be one of the few women playing an instrument in musical fields mainly dominated by men. Even though I was playing the drums in the 80s and 90s, I was still one of a small number of female drummers. I can only imagine how difficult it must have been back in the 20s to play an instrument and garner any measure of respect for your craft. While there were many brilliant women musicians featured in this documentary, I have chosen to focus on two that actually played during the years which are the focus of this blog – the 1920s.

Valaida Snow was best known as a trumpet player, although she could also play the cello, bass, banjo, violin, mandolin, accordion, clarinet, and saxophone. Talk about multitalented! Beyond playing a slew of instruments, she could also sing and dance. She became so good at playing the trumpet during her concerts in the USA, Europe, and China, that she became known as “Little Louis” after Louis Armstrong. He actually paid her the compliment of saying she was the second best trumpet player besides him. She also toured in Shanghai, Singapore, Calcutta, and Jakarta with a major band from 1926 to 1929. She played successfully throughout the 30s and a few years in the 40s until she was arrested in Denmark by the Nazis and held in a prison. She was eventually released in 1942, but she was never the same again and stopped playing professionally.


Mary Lou Williams was an American jazz pianist, composer, and arranger. She taught herself how to play the piano when she was six and appeared in public throughout her youth. In 1925, she played with Duke Ellington and his band, the Washingtonians. She was also noticed by Louis Armstrong at Harlem’s Rhythm Club where he reportedly kissed her because he loved her playing so much. In 1927, she married a saxophonist by the name of John Williams and they continued to play together. Over her long career (she died in 1981) she wrote hundreds of compositions and arrangements and recorded more than one hundred records. She played with such illustrious musicians as Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Thelonius Monk, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillispie among others.

Obviously, there is a lot more to know about these talented ladies, but I hope that I have at least stoked your mental fire so that you want to learn more. I would also recommend purchasing the “The Girls in the Band” to see the evolution of music through the lens of women versus men.