Be sure to check out the L.A. Times great little “Literary Oscar Quiz” to get you primed for this year’s Oscars. It’s always fun to read the book, then see the movie and it makes a great book group outing.
If you like the book/movie combo, you’ll and to (re)read one of my favorite books, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, now because the movie with Leonardo Di Caprio is coming out in May. Will it be as good as the book? How will it compare to the Robert Redford version? This Boz Luhrmann version certainly seems to have a harsher edge than the earlier movie. Check out the trailer.
My book club took a little F. Scott Fitzgerald tour in St. Paul a few weeks ago. We walked around the neighborhood where he was born and grew up, taking in his various residents and hang-outs and staring as so many Fitzgerald pilgrims do at the house where he was born at 481 Laurel Avenue. (See my previous post on the St. Paul Fitzgerald tour. We gathered just off the front porch and gazed up like a bunch of tourists and in a few minutes one of the people who live in the building, Richard McDermott, saw us and called us in for a little talk about the building, which was a real treat because he was instrumental in preserving the building. I was sad to see in the Minneapolis Star Tribune an article about him and the fact that he has terminal cancer. He has done much to preserve Fitzgerald’s heritage in St. Paul and had regaled visitors from around the world, including Azar Nafisi, with stories about the building. Here’s an article about the charming Mr. McDermott
I took a walk last week through the Summit Hill neighborhood of St. Paul, Minnesota,
where F. ScottFitzgerald was born, grew up, wrote his first stories and made the revisions on his debut novel, This Side of Paradise. (If its original not-so-catchy title The Romantic Egoist is any indicator, I can see why they suggested revisions)
Even if you’re not a big Fitzgerald fan, even if you don’t know Amory Blaine from Jay Gatsby, this is a great neighborhood for a stroll, especially in summer. With its gorgeous Victorian homes, overarching elm trees and fun shops nearby it’s—if not this side of paradise—really, really nice.
The St. Paul Public Library (which has a special Fitzgerald reading alcove) offers a brochure called “F. Scott Fitzgerald in St. Paul—Homes and Haunts” that you can download. Start the tour at 481 Laurel Ave., where Fitzgerald was born. Park there and start the walk. The house where his parents later lived (593/599 Summit) and where he finished This Side of Paradisehe described as “A house below the average on a street above the average.”
Published in 1920, this work launched his career as spokesman for the Jazz Age. He chronicles the changing mores of the generation of wild children of Victorian parents, who Gertrude Stein later dubbed the “Lost Generation.” Fitzgerald presciently wrote in the most famous passage of the novel, “Here was a new generation, . . . dedicated more than the last to the fear of poverty and the worship of success, grown up to find all Gods dead, all wars fought, all faiths in man shaken.”
Be sure to make a stop at W.A. Frost (374 Selby), which has the world’s best outdoor dining, part of your tour. Frost’s was a drug store and soda fountain during Fitzgerald’s day and retains its historic charm. Finally, end your tour across the street from W.A. Frost at Common Good Books (downstairs at 165 Western Avenue North), whose proprietor is another St. Paul author and host of “A Prairie Home Companion,” Garrison Keillor. It’s a gem of a bookstore. To read more of Fitzgerald’s St. Paul works, look for The St. Paul Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald, edited by another St. Paul author, Patricia Hampl. Read “The Ice Palace,” “Winter Dreams,” and “A Night at the Fair.”
I just finished Jonathan Franzen’s book, “Freedom,” much of which is based in Minnesota, particularly, St. Paul. Anyone visiting St. Paul can walk through many of the areas that set the stage for the opening chapters of the book. That includes the restaurant W.A. Frost, which offers world-class outdoor dining, and it’s a place where my book club meets annually for dinner, conversation, and to soak up the ambiance in a neighborhood rich in literary tradition.
This is the neighborhood where Franzen’s characters, Walter and Patty, get their start, renovating a house on the fictional Barrier Street which is, in reality, St.Paul’s Ramsey Hill neighborhood. It’s also the place where F.Scott Fitzgerald grew up (Frost’s was a drug store then) and where he worked on his first novel, “This Side of Paradise,” along with classic short stories. Check out the St. Paul Public Library’s Fitzgerald “Homes and Haunts” itinerary http://www.stpaul..ib.mn.us/pdf/fitzgeraldbrochure.pdf
Fitzgerald is known as the chronicler of the Jazz Age. One wonders if Franzen, who, in “Freedom” chronicles the cultural flashpoints of the last three decades, will have the staying power of Fitzgerald.
Travel to the places you read about. Read about the places you travel.