Saturday, November 7, 2009

I recently was charmed to find Flappers and Philosophers by F. Scott Fitzgerald the most delightful little bunch of short stories, even though in the back of my "enhanced learning readers' critical edition" (the same "brand" as my edition of Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, which I just finished, years after being given a diluted photo book about AF in elementary school) there are essays criticizing it as cheap -- even at his worst Scott's better than most, or all. It came out in 1920, same year as This Side of Paradise.
Here's a slightly uglier cover:
This was the image on my copy, although it was shrunk a bit.
Among criticisms:
Mencken in The Smart Set was among the first to call attention to the split in Fitzgerald betwen the entertainer and the serious novelist: 'Fitzgerald is curiously ambidextrous. Will he porceed via the first part of This Side of Paradise to the cold groves of beautiful letters, or will he proceed via 'Head and Shoulders' into the sunshine that warms Robert W. Chambers and Harold McGrath?

Apparently in the copy he sent to Mencken, Scott had this inscription: "Worth reading: The Ice Palace, the Cut-glass bowl, Benediction, Dalyrimple goes wrong; Amusing: The Offshore Pirate, Trash: Head and Shoulders, The Four Fists, Bernice Bobs Her Hair."

Well I think its perfectly silly for the different critics in the back of this book to be saying that one story is better than another, they're all pretty similar in quality to my eyes, and I liked all of them. It was also a very pleasantly quick read.
Which brings me to a big point of this post, actually. Publishers seem to always put the short stories of great writers of antiquity into 500-page-long compendiums. It's insane! What are we, in some college course getting an anthology? I don't want to read the Collected Short Stories of Nabokov, Faulkner, or Borges -- I would feel terrified of the undertaking. If I want short stories, I want something short -- like in Scott's case, the original, 250-page collections are infinitely preferable! Some of the four, like Tales of the Jazz Age, are still available, at least according to ABE Books. But other ones, like All the Sad Young Men, (Keith Gessen's title inspiration?) fetch prices around $80.

Biographical note: I have a new apartment, after two months of homelessness.

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