Books

Short Takes: Book reviews, in brief

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Nonfiction

So We Read On: How ‘The Great Gatsby’ Came to Be and Why It Endures

Maureen Corrigan, Little, Brown, 352 pages

Maureen Corrigan, book critic for NPR’s “Fresh Air,” has produced an easy-reading combination of biography, literary history and memoir that’s aimed at those of us who are not Fitzgerald scholars. If you don’t mind a few too many personal digressions, it’s entertaining and informative.

Corrigan unpacks all the reasons for the book’s staying power: It’s hard-boiled enough to be considered early noir. It’s funny enough that the only magazine interested in serializing it was College Humor. She properly faults the book’s dated racial stereotyping, and explains how it overcomes such flaws, but such lecture-style ruminating is not the best part of “So We Read On.” Corrigan is most enjoyable when her insights are braided with details of Fitzgerald’s famously tragic life and with the tale of the book’s genesis, descent into obscurity and remarkable rebirth.

Considering the novel’s modern status, it’s astonishing to learn what a flop it was upon its release in 1925. The resurrection of “Gatsby” is as extraordinary as its author’s fall. Significantly, 155,000 miniature copies were sent to GIs fighting World War II, exposing a generation of young men to his work. By 1952, the novel was selling more than 140,000 copies a year. The tally now grows by a half-million annually.

Corrigan successfully spreads her enthusiasm. She compelled me to give “Gatsby” another read, maybe my fifth since I first encountered it in high school English.

Dallas Morning News

Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin, and Sadat at Camp David

Lawrence Wright, Alfred A. Knopf, 368 pages

An air of tragedy hovers over Lawrence Wright’s excellent new book on the 1978 peace negotiations at Camp David. The world watched as three world leaders – Christian, Jewish and Muslim – shook hands at the White House after reaching an agreement to end three decades of war. Every reader will know what’s coming – the promise of peace in the Middle East ultimately proved false.

The agreement then-President Jimmy Carter brokered between Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin was the crowning achievement of his presidency. Much of “Thirteen Days” details the fractured histories that brought the three to Camp David. And it portrays tense meetings between powerful men who whined, pouted and screamed to get their way.

As a condition for recognizing Israel, Sadat demanded that Begin return the Sinai Peninsula. Wright describes Carter’s efforts to break the deadlock. Eventually, Carter pushed for a limited agreement, leaving the fate of Jerusalem and the Palestinians unsettled.

When the treaty was signed, Egypt had effectively severed its links to the Palestinian cause, Wright says. But the final outcome was not entirely a disaster. Even as endless battles rage nearby, Egypt and Israel remain at peace with each other 35 years later.

Los Angeles Times

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