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Feeling Nostalgic? The archives > 'Gatsby' worst American book ever?

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message 1: by Misha (new)

Misha (ninthwanderer) The LA Times' Jacket Copy blog has an analysis today of American Book Review's Top 40 Bad Books. Apparently, ABR asked a bunch of university professors about bad books. Among the bad books cited were The Great Gatsby and All the Pretty Horses.


Here's a snippet from the blog:

"Christine Granados of Texas A&M University writes:

'When I read what I consider to be a bad book, I notice that it is usually written by an arrogant person. Cormac McCarthy’s "All the Pretty Horses" (1992) comes immediately to mind. I think of it as a romance novel for men, his trilogy included. Like all good romance novel writers, McCarthy uses clichés and derivative characters to sell millions of copies.'

Perhaps Granados has met McCarthy; if not, it's hard to figure how or why she's decided he's arrogant. I'm not sure what is wrong with a romance novel for men -- Cervantes' "Don Quixote," which enjoys a pretty good reputation, would fall into this category too. I'm also not at all convinced that McCarthy, a longtime purveyor of literary fiction, had any formula for selling millions of copies.

At least Granados got into the text of the book. The same cannot be said for Tom LeClair of the University of Cincinnati, who condemned "The Great Gatsby" based only on a distant recollection.

'If badness is related to perceived greatness, then I offer "The Great Gatsby" (1925) as the worst novel in American literature. I haven’t read it for many years, since the only time I used it in a Modern American Fiction class, but I remember it as incredibly smug about its relationship to the traditional realistic novel.'

Exactly how a book might be smug about its relationship to other books isn't made clear."

Here's a link to American Book Review, but the actual Top 40 Books article apparently is a PDF file:


So, is Gatsby the most overrated piece of American literature ever, or are these academics full of it?

message 2: by RandomAnthony (new)

RandomAnthony | 14536 comments They can suck me about All The Pretty Horses. That book rules. McCarthy has removed himself from the literary ass-kissing circles, and I'm not surprised that some in the field dismiss him. But I love that book.

I liked Gatsby, too, though, so what do I know?:)

message 3: by Misha (new)

Misha (ninthwanderer) I loved Gatsby and think it's ironic that someone as smug-sounding as LeClair is criticizing the book for its perceived smugness.

What I'd really like to know is what LeClair thinks is good fiction. I find the "traditional realistic novel" (if he's referring to the 19th century Victorian brand of realism) rather boring, personally. I much prefer writers who experiment with narrative and character and point of view. One of the things I love about Gatsby is that it's told from Nick Caraway's POV rather than Gatsby's or Daisy's. I like having someone look at the people who arguably are the protagonists from the outside. I think it works wonderfully.

message 4: by Misha (new)

Misha (ninthwanderer) Right. I pretty much hated Wuthering Heights as a book about awful people doing awful things to each other, but I recognize that it's very well written and accomplishes things that really push some people's literary buttons. It just wasn't my kind of book. I'm really not much of a fan of the 19th century novel in general. It's just a matter of personal taste. I'm a 20th century novel kind of girl.

message 5: by Lori (new)

Lori Strikes me as people who can't write but dream of it becoming bitter critics!

message 6: by Mary (last edited Mar 10, 2010 05:14PM) (new)

Mary (madamefifi) 'When I read what I consider to be a bad book, I notice that it is usually written by an arrogant person.'

Incredibly ironic, isn't it? As if the person who wrote that sentence isn't a pompous ass herself. And that goes double for any so-called journalist who writes those "Top 12 Essential Authors"-type articles. It's all piffle written for the kind of person who is very anxious to decorate their houses with books that make them look well-read.

Everyone knows that Moby Dick is the worst American novel ever.

message 7: by [deleted user] (last edited Mar 10, 2010 05:20PM) (new)

::crossing Moby Dick off to-read shelf::

message 8: by Mary (new)

Mary (madamefifi) You see? It's all just some random idiot's personal opinion. By all means read the Dick, if you want to. Don't listen to me, I have no idea what I'm talking about 73% of the time.

In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex is an excellent companion read, by the way, and supposedly the inspiration for MD.

message 9: by [deleted user] (last edited Mar 10, 2010 05:36PM) (new)

That’s what I like about GR, you get so many varying opinions on all books. I am no expert on good literature, I read purely for entertainment & escapism. I'm impressed that you have some idea what you are talking about 27% of the time.:)

message 10: by Matt (new)

Matt | 819 comments Ten bucks says all of these candy-asses have half of a stilted, ludicrous manuscript hidden in their bottom desk drawer at home.

That is all.

message 11: by Misha (new)

Misha (ninthwanderer) tadpole wrote: "Ten bucks says all of these candy-asses have half of a stilted, ludicrous manuscript hidden in their bottom desk drawer at home.

That is all."

Hey! I resemble that remark! ;)

message 12: by Matt (new)

Matt | 819 comments Oh, I resemble that remark too, Misha, but you don't see either one of us taking disrespectful snipes at classic lit.:)

message 13: by janine (new)

janine | 7715 comments those critics are just doing their jobs, they can't help that they have to position themselves in order to be noticed and build a name. the best way to do that is shout something that's ridiculous and then add some 'intelligent' arguments to your point. they're full of it, because that's their job.

i haven't read either gatsby or all the pretty horses so i have no opinion there.

message 14: by Gus (new)

Gus Sanchez (GusSanchez) Tadpole wrote Ten bucks says all of these candy-asses have half of a stilted, ludicrous manuscript hidden in their bottom desk drawer at home.

That is all.

Same here. And what of it???

I was never fond of The Great Gatsby. It's not even Fitzgerald's best work. But to call it the worst American book ever is a colossal stretch.

Not to sound nitpicky, but that list is impossible to read.

I was surprised to see Let the Great World Spin, the most recent National Book Award winner. One of the most disappointing books I've ever read, but is it one of the worst? Hardly.

Like Bun said early, all just a bunch of posturing by elitist failed novelists with axes to grind. Fuck 'em.

message 15: by Misha (new)

Misha (ninthwanderer) Another critic declares the novel dead and says "Plot is for dead people."


Excoriate at will.

message 16: by janine (new)

janine | 7715 comments another dead thing. very convincing.

message 17: by janine (new)

janine | 7715 comments and original. i say declaring things dead is dead.

message 18: by Misha (last edited Mar 11, 2010 10:30AM) (new)

Misha (ninthwanderer) Declaring things dead is the new black (as is declaring things the new black).

message 19: by Gus (new)

Gus Sanchez (GusSanchez) The haters have been claiming the novel's been dead for 50+ years now.


message 20: by Misha (new)

Misha (ninthwanderer) Maybe it has been dead and that explains the prevalence of vampires and zombies on bookshelves these days.

message 21: by Félix (new)

Félix (habitseven) Wait ... there are vampires and zombies on the bookshelves these days?

message 22: by Misha (new)

Misha (ninthwanderer) You haven't had to fight off one of the undead at Barnes & Noble lately? That place is crawling with ghouls.

message 23: by Félix (new)

Félix (habitseven) See. I knew there was a good reason not to buy books anymore.

message 24: by Misha (new)

Misha (ninthwanderer) No. No. The vampire attacks just make book buying an adventure!

message 25: by Félix (new)

Félix (habitseven) I would never go there alone, though.

message 26: by Misha (new)

Misha (ninthwanderer) I went alone to buy Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter. I'll never do that again. Just imagine how the undead were crawling around that book display.

message 27: by Félix (new)

Félix (habitseven) *shivers*

Jackie "the Librarian" | 8993 comments As I understand it, the modern novel was all about deconstructing traditional story structure, and now, after going through the turmoil of the 20th century, we're moving back to plot playing a more central role.

And pffft to the idea of the novel being dead. Whoever said that might be a zombie, because that's a brain dead statement. :)

message 29: by Félix (new)

Félix (habitseven) I agree with the Librarian.

message 30: by Sarah (new)

Sarah | 13812 comments I'm all for plot, and the novel is not allowed to be dead yet. I like them to much for them to die. Maybe critics should have term limits, so they don't get grouchy and jaded.

message 31: by Lobstergirl (new)

Lobstergirl | 22115 comments I thought Gatsby was pretty good, but the thought of making myself read any more Fitzgerald is too much to bear. I loathe the Jazz Age.

message 32: by Jammies (new)

Jammies BunWat wrote: "Tee hee, the zombie thread lurches back to (un)life."

Moaning "poooooooooooooooooooooooooosts" as it lurches.

message 33: by Aynge (new)

Aynge (ayngemac) | 1202 comments The Great Gatsby didn't impress me, but it was hardly the worst American novel I've read.

Earnest Hemingway... now his books were really irritating.

message 34: by Lobstergirl (new)

Lobstergirl | 22115 comments Gatsby has now passed into public domain (author's life + 70 years). Download it free here.


message 35: by Misha (new)

Misha (ninthwanderer) Sweet! Thanks, LG!

message 36: by Sally, la reina (new)

Sally (MrsNolte) | 17274 comments Mod
Mish, I'm not saying they're not right, I just didn't know that is how it is done...Why does Gatsby go in the little quotes in the title?

message 37: by Lobstergirl (new)

Lobstergirl | 22115 comments No prob, Misha.

message 38: by Misha (last edited Feb 18, 2011 05:39PM) (new)

Misha (ninthwanderer) No particular reason, except that I don't think you can use html to italicize in a thread title, and I wanted to set that off as part of a title. Italics would be the ideal way to show the title of a long work such as a novel or a film. I suppose it would have been correct to use double quotes rather than single. I just didn't, for reasons I can't recall now other than maybe it just looked better to me aesthetically.

I'd be happy to change it to double quotes if it's bugging you, Sally. :)

EDIT: Or perhaps I'll pretend that I had the foresight to know that when we get e-mailed notifications about new comments in a thread, the thread title goes in double quotes, thereby making the use of single quotes inside completely appropriate. ;)

message 39: by Sally, la reina (new)

Sally (MrsNolte) | 17274 comments Mod
No, no not bugging me at all! I would be annoyed by double quotes more, because I know those are not right. :D

message 40: by Lobstergirl (new)

Lobstergirl | 22115 comments Beautiful and the Damned is public domain too...


message 41: by Misha (new)

Misha (ninthwanderer) I also love Hemingway, Ko. I would never have wanted to be in a relationship with the crazy bastard, but I do enjoy his prose.

message 42: by Lobstergirl (new)

Lobstergirl | 22115 comments Real life 'Great Gatsby' mansion to be demolished; Will be replaced with McMansions


message 43: by Misha (new)

Misha (ninthwanderer) It's a pity the house has fallen into such a state of disrepair and that no one is willing to preserve it. You'd think it would be on the National Register with the kind of pedigree mentioned in the article.

message 44: by Lobstergirl (new)

Lobstergirl | 22115 comments Lobstergirl wrote: "Gatsby has now passed into public domain (author's life + 70 years). Download it free here.


Oops, apparently in the U.S. it is not in the public domain. In Australia, it is. So it is illegal to download it if you are in the U.S.

message 45: by Charly (new)

Charly How can Gatsby or Moby dick be the worst when there are all those works by Hemingway?

This is really a case of personal taste for those of us not slamming someone in the media. As for those who do I sense that if anything the interest in Gatsby may have increased.

message 46: by ~Geektastic~ (new)

 ~Geektastic~ (atroskity) | 3207 comments I suppose it could be used as a Bible for those who want to prop up the continuing arguments about class warfare.

I liked Gatsby, though I was at odds against it when I had it assigned by three different professors over three semesters in college. It seemed like a fallback book for lit courses.

message 47: by ~Geektastic~ (new)

 ~Geektastic~ (atroskity) | 3207 comments BunWat wrote: "Amber ~Geektastic~ wrote: "I suppose it could be used as a Bible for those who want to prop up the continuing arguments about class warfare.

I liked Gatsby, though I was at odds against it when I ..."

Well, not so much for those people who are carping about being attacked for being rich, but for people who are leading the so-called war, like Occupy, etc. So, really the people that don't call it class warfare, but are trying to make changes in the system.

message 48: by Cortney (new)

Cortney | 241 comments I love Gatsby. It is the only novel that I have read and can reread over an over an over again.

Love it!

message 49: by Lobstergirl (new)

Lobstergirl | 22115 comments It has timeless things to say about wealth and class.

message 50: by Catherine (new)

Catherine (puddingduck) | 5 comments That article is kind of offensive. The Great Gatsby is one of my favourite novels. I love it so much I read it twice in one year. Fitzgerald is a fascinating writer and you can take almost any single sentence out of Gatsby and find a millions things to discuss from it.

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