I finished Book 12 of 2015, The Crack-Up by F. Scott Fitzgerald, edited by Edmund Wilson. It made a good pair with book 11, which was Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald. Basically, I picked up Z at The Strand and then decided to finally read The Crack-Up, not wanting to leave the world of my first literary crush (“Crush” isn’t the right word, but it’s something like that.)
In eleventh grade, during The Semester of Infidelity, we read The Great Gatsby. It might’ve been my favorite of all the stuff we read in high school. Apparently, Gatsby is only about 50,000 words long, but it packs in a lot in that tight space–so much so that Fitzgerald, in some of the letters within the edition of The Crack-Up that I read, acknowledges that he didn’t illuminate Gatsby’s background as well as he could have.
My English teacher had given us a low-down about Fitzgerald (and Zelda): the fame, the Jazz Age, the alcoholism, living in France, Zelda’s mental breakdown. For a seventeen-year-old who desperately wanted to be a writer, their stranger-than-fiction life story really spoke to me at that time, as did Gatsby, the only novel of his I’ve read to date, and his concerns about being a popular writer versus being a very literary writer.
I loved Gatsby. Soon after, I read a volume of The Short Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald–Scott wrote a ton of shorts throughout his career. The short stories paid his bills. Then I read a biography. I’d never done that with an author before.
Z is a fictionalized biography of Zelda Fitzgerald, who was an artistic person in her own right. I’m glad she’s been given more attention recently; I don’t think anyone can say what their life together really was like, except that it wasn’t the healthiest of relationships.
The Crack-Up was a collection of essays Scott wrote in about 1936, published in Esquire magazine, about his fall, as he saw it–he was an alcoholic, he was running out of money, his health wasn’t great, Zelda was in and out of mental institutions, and his writing wasn’t great either. There was also a long section of seemingly random notes (but alphabetized) that Fitzgerald kept in notebooks. I might steal some bits and pieces here and there, but in reality, a writer’s notes do not make sense to other people.
There were some letters in the book, though, and those I found entertaining–and gained some good writing advice.
In letters to his daughter, Fitzgerald wrote:
“About adjectives: all fine prose is based on the verbs carrying the sentences. They make sentences move.“
“Nobody becomes a writer just by wanting to be one.”
“A good style simply doesn’t form unless you absorb half a dozen top-flight authors every year.“
I’m trying, Scott. 🙂
Who was your first literary glom or crush? Would you want your random notes published for posterity?