I'm a bit flummoxed about how to review Tavis Smiley's My Journey with Maya. I requested a review copy because I am a big fan of both the author and hI'm a bit flummoxed about how to review Tavis Smiley's My Journey with Maya. I requested a review copy because I am a big fan of both the author and his subject, Maya Angelou, so I had high hopes it would be an entertaining and informative read. I guess what I can say is that it was entertaining, and at times it was informative, but it still somehow didn't meet my expectations. Something I'm not sure how to articulate is missing.
I think it may have something to do with métier; despite the fact that Smiley has written a dozen or more other books (none of which I have read), his strength as a communicator lies in his verbal skills as an interviewer. Judging by My Journey, this did not translate well to the printed word, and Smiley relied overmuch on transcripts of dialogue between he and Dr. Angelou. I'm unsure how or to what degree his collaborator David Ritz influenced the piece; I've never fully understood the role of a ghostwriter or writing partner.
Despite a somewhat bland recitation of events, encounters, and conversations between Angelou and Smiley, it was a pleasant, quick read. If you are a diehard fan of either, you will probably find something in it that you didn't already know, may find inspiration (they are both very inspirational figures, after all), and will likely enjoy it. I, however, will stick to the source material going forward, continuing to, in the case of the author, watch and listen to his scintillating interviews, and in the subject's case, read her work and seek out audio and video of her prolific performances. See? It's the métier.
I'm all over the place on how to review this book, wishing I could rate it twice: first as an expression of my enjoyment of what it does contain (), aI'm all over the place on how to review this book, wishing I could rate it twice: first as an expression of my enjoyment of what it does contain (★★★★☆), and again for what it purports to cover (★☆☆☆☆). Two, Two, TWO reviews in one!
Seriously though, I did enjoy reading So We Read On, but as biography (of Fitzgerald) and memoir (of Corrigan), NOT as lit crit. I'm no expert on the latter (nor the former, for that matter), but I know when an author misses the boat entirely. One of the predominant themes in Gatsby is over-reaching; maybe Corrigan just got caught up in the spirit of striving that she so admires in Jay Gatsby. Had she stopped her title at How the Great Gatsby Came to Be, or chose the more accurate How the Great Gatsby Came to Be and Why I Love It to Pieces, she'd get at least one more star from me. But she didn't, and therein lies the problem for me. There's almost no crit in her lit.
Unlike other reviewers, I didn't mind her (quite) personal approach to her assessment of Gatsby; on the contrary, that seems to be precisely the model she subscribes to, the one set by Mencken, Wilson, Kazin, & Sontag, which she claimed as her own in the Reading Group Guide, stating that she most likes to read criticism "rooted in the critic's personality and experiences". No, my dissatisfaction isn't with how she approached the material, but with what material she chose to investigate in the first place. Turning again to her own words (as found in the Reading Guide), Corrigan states her goal for the book was the "juggling" of three stories: "...how Fitzgerald came to write Gatsby; the story of the novel's incredible 'second act' after Fitzgerald's death...; and the story of the surprising things I've discovered about the novel...". Do you see what's missing? Nowhere in Corrigan's explication of her strategy is there any mention of WHY PEOPLE STILL READ GATSBY.
As a reader remembering little of my first, mandated, high school reading of Gatsby, and knowing even less of Fitzgerald's personal history, So We Read On was a good companion as I re-read this classic of American literature*, as it added contextual depth and insight into its making and reception. But, as a source of enlightenment on why Gatsby continues to be taught, read, and loved, it was woefully inadequate, as this segment consists solely of Corrigan's own impressions plus reportage of a smattering of contemporary readers (students at her high school alma mater, adult Big Read participants in the mid-West) as interpreted by her, and her cursory attempt to find instances of Gatsby on university syllabi. Wan efforts indeed.
So, if like me you came to So We Read On with scant knowledge of the back-story behind The Great Gatsby, and are looking for biographical information on F. Scott Fitzgerald, and don't mind receiving that wrapped in a package of personal anecdotes by the author, you'll probably enjoy this book. However, if you already have a background in these areas and are looking for serious literary criticism, look elsewhere. Me, I'm going to try reading Careless People: Murder, Mayhem, and the Invention of The Great Gatsby by Sarah Churchwell; I've heard good things about her work on the same subject.
(*Note: I read this book as supplementary material for my re-reading of The Great Gatsby for my book group, Books and Booze. My review of Gatsby can be found here.
The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review....more