I was a little surprised, not too long ago, to hear a student mention that The Great Gatsby was her favorite book. “Because it is the only book you have read,” flashed through my mind, before I could shut up the red-faced misanthrope who accompanies me through my days. I have seen enough of contemporary undergraduates to know that they do read — oh, they do indeed – but only if instructed to do so in order to prepare them for some specific form of assessment that will end in a credential they can list on their curriculum vitae (Harry Potter? Well, that must be read to prove one’s bona fides as a Millennial). But, no, in this case the ruddy misanthrope was wrong, and was well advised to turn his bar stool back round and continue toasting Jason Peters’ health with a long pour of rye on the rocks. There was something else at stake in that student’s love — something that I found mysterious. For, while I always admired F. Scott Fitzgerald’s success at straddling the border between celebrity and genius, literary realism and a lyrical modernism (the modernism that might have been, as opposed to the modernism that was), I never quite understood why Gatsby occupies the place it does in so many persons’ imaginations, their canons of youthful affection.
more from James Matthew Wilson at Front Porch Republic here.