Thursday, January 13, 2011

Book Group Meets on a Snowy Night

The Second Tuesday of the Month Book Group was scheduled to meet at the library the other night, but due to a confluence of circumstances, only two intrepid readers turned up in the face of a threatening blizzard.  What follows is the email I wrote to group members to sum up the discussion of F. Scott Fitzgerald's Six Stories of the Jazz Age and other stories.

Hello Readers,

Due to the weather and other factors no doubt, there were just three of us last night to discuss Six Tales of the Jazz Age and other Stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Before I talk about the book though, I have to apologize for several things: I was out Monday and didn't get an email off to remind the group of the meeting or post a blog piece about the book. Then, adding insult to injury, there was confusion about the exact title and edition of the book. The title on the poster was Tales from the Jazz Age which was published in 1922 and the BHPL catalog notes read:

Note:The Jelly-bean -- The Camel's back -- May day -- Porcelain and pink -- The Diamond as big as the Ritz -- The Curious case of Benjamin Button -- Tarquin of cheapside -- O russet witch! -- The Lees of happiness -- Mr. Icky -- Jemina.
Note:Tales From The Jazz Age was published by F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1922. This book has 11 short stories including The Jelly-Bean, The Camel's Back, The Diamond As Big As The Ritz, and Mr. Icky. These short stories were written and published around the time Age of Jazz began.

But the edition I got on interlibrary loan for most people was Six Tales of the Jazz Age and Other Stories which was published later and actually dropped some stories from the original book and added some from another. It was confusing. However there was a good deal of overlap of stories. The later book did not include A Diamond as Big as the Ritz which is rather well-known, so you might want to read that some time if you liked the stories in the second volume.

On to our discussion, two of us had read Six Tales and one had read the earlier edition, so we did get to compare which stories were included and fill each other in on the missing ones. Overall, the themes of youth and beauty and material possessions and wealth, either newly acquired or "old money", along with misused potential and missed opportunities turned up in some combinations in most of Fitzgerald's stories and books. We talked about the author growing up in genteel (relative) poverty in St. Paul, Minnesota on Summit Avenue overlooking the mansion of James J. Hill, the railroad baron. If any of you have been to St. Paul, you will know that Summit Avenue is aptly named, as it is not only elevated geographically, but also has the 19th century mansions of the movers and shakers of the Twin Cities from the turn of the century. It is perhaps comparable to Hobart Avenue in Summit and similar neighborhoods of the superwealthy in cities across the U.S. When Fitzgerald's father failed to succeed in business, the family lived off his mother's small inheritance. The author was sent east to boarding school in New Jersey and then on to Princeton, where he rubbed elbows with more fabulously wealthy people who he could not possibly compete with materially speaking. Like, Gatsby or Nick in the Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald was, or felt he was, always the outsider, the unsophisticated midwesterner, looking in on the lives of privilege.

As for which stories we liked: we all agreed that the Camel's Back was just plain funny and diverting and it seemed fitting that Fitzgerald wrote it for the sole purpose of using the $600. he was paid for it to buy a fancy watch he had his eye on. We compared The Curious Case of Benjamin Button to the movie and to other time traveling books like The Time Traveler's Wife and The Confessions of Max Tivoli which the book group has read in the past. Thank you Dina, for bringing up those comparisons, both books were good according to her. I can vouch for TTTW but not Tivoli, but will put the latter on my "to read" list.

So that's it for now. Thanks for reading if you have got this far. Ellen will be leading the discussion of Feed at next month's Tuesday Book Group.

PS: the predicted snow storm started just after the group broke up and by closing time a thin veil of icy snow coated the library parking lot and sidewalks.

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