Teaser Tuesdays: So We Read On by Maureen Corrigan

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.

so we read on

I am quite over the moon for the latest book about The Great Gatsby, by NPR’s Fresh Air book critic, Maureen Corrigan. It’s called So We Read On. Please note that even the title of this book is a nod to the complexity of language. Presumably if we were to hear Corrigan speak about her book (as, since she works in radio, I hope we will), we would know what I am still wondering: does she say “so we read on,” rhymes with feed, current tense? or rhymes with head, past tense? I love this ambiguity.

But wait! There’s more. In the opening pages, Corrigan shows that she will have a sense of humor even while exhorting her audience about the importance of her topic:

When we make our first chain-gang shuffle into Gatsby, we spend so much time preparing for standard test prompts on the eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg and the color of Gatsby’s car and – above all – the symbol of the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock that the larger point of the novel gets lost. It’s not the green light, stupid; it’s Gatsby’s reaching for it that’s the crucial all-American symbol of the novel.

One main premise of her book (which is very friendly and accessible, by the way) is that most of us, who read Gatsby for the first time in high school or even middle school, are too young or distracted to fully appreciate it on that first try. I rather liked it in high school (I was a pretty enthusiastic English student, believe it or not), but I am absolutely on board with her larger point.

Recommended! Stay tuned.

This quotation comes from an uncorrected advance proof and is subject to change.

6 Responses

  1. There seems to be a minor trend in this sort of book – an accessible explanation not only of the text of a classic, but also the context in which it was published. I enjoyed “Why Read Moby Dick” by Nathaniel Philbrick (though I have yet to re-read MD itself), and also recently learned of “Give War and Peace a Chance” by Andrew Kaufman. So even though I haven’t read “Gatsby” itself (moving out of state during one’s high school years has some interesting educational impact), I’m interested in this book also. Although I’m annoyed enough by Maureen Corrigan that I’ll wait for a full review before committing…

    • I hadn’t noticed such a trend, but you’ve made a fine argument! I wonder what annoys you about Corrigan? I like her in this book. Although that doesn’t mean you would!

  2. I’m aware of Corrigan’s writing from her NPR book critic role, and actually have had “Leave Me Alone, I’m Reading” on my ‘check this out’ list for quite a while (though it never seems to rise to the top). My annoyance stems from her appearance as interviewer/moderator for authors or panels at the National Book Festival (which is otherwise a wonderful event). She’s one of those presenters who – in my not at all humble opinion! – unfortunately comes across as full of her own importance, spending far too long talking herself instead of fulfilling the role of getting the authors to speak. For example, more than once she has said that an author is known for “books such as…” and then proceeds to read every single title they’ve published (which is a bit excessive when said author has more than 15!). The real kicker, though, came when she was talking about how impressed she was with one author’s newest release, which was new enough that many in the audience could have been expected to just be learning about it, or not have finished it yet – and she gave away the emotional climax of a storyline that had crossed several books, and which was clearly part of that book’s final reveal as well. Even though I had (fortunately!) already read it, I found it infuriating that she had no consideration for the audience.

    Whew! “Annoyed” was clearly the correct word choice, no? All that goes to explain why I’m waiting to see your review in case that helps balance the scales a little.

    • Yep, you’re annoyed! Well, I didn’t get this self-important impression from her book, you’ll be glad to know. Although having already gotten that impression, you might be more sensitive to clues I didn’t pick up on, so as usual, your mileage may vary. She does present herself as something of an expert on Gatsby, but I see the evidence that she’s earned that title; no hard feelings there. And she frequently acknowledges what she learns from others about the book even after all these years (including what she learns from high school students), which strikes me as modest.

      There ARE Gatsby spoilers in this book. But I think that’s allowable in a book about the social/cultural significance of a book that (the premise goes) most Americans have read. And I’m fairly sure (unconfirmed, I’d have to go back and study the book to be certain) that she warns us about spoilers early on. So, grain of salt, still. But I enjoyed the book and don’t see any red flags for you. That said, once we’re annoyed with somebody, we are often annoyed thereafter.

  3. In a book addressing another book, I expect spoilers – in fact, that’s how I’ve learned about the (many!) classics that I have not read and, realistically, am not likely ever to read. So no problem there.

    Normally, I don’t go looking for reasons to be annoyed with an author, or to support my preconceived opinions, but at the same time it’s both difficult and foolish to pretend that said opinions don’t influence my reading choices. So your review will assist in the ongoing project to counter my biases by not letting them adversely affect my reading and learning in areas that I find of interest.

    And I’d bet that this conversation falls into the “you never know which book/post will prompt a reaction” category …

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