Picks and Pans Review: F.scott Fitzgerald on Writing

updated 03/17/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/17/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

edited by Larry W. Phillips

A couple of years ago Phillips, a journalist who lives in Wisconsin, collected into a single volume Ernest Hemingway's statements about the craft of writing. It was full of nuggets that anyone interested in good writing would find both enlightening and enjoyable. This companion volume is not nearly as effective. Phillips has worked through the novels, biographies and the letters that Fitzgerald wrote to his wife, daughter, agent, editor, lover and friends. Unlike Hemingway, however, Fitzgerald was a skinflint when it came to revealing his inner workings as a writer and at giving out helpful advice. The best stuff comes from his fiction, where characters have something to say about the lonely art. In The Last Tycoon, Fitzgerald wrote: "Writers aren't people exactly. Or, if they're any good, they're a whole lot of people trying so hard to be one person." From The Crack-Up: "When the first-rate author wants an exquisite heroine or a lovely morning, he finds that all the superlatives have been worn shoddy by his inferiors. It should be a rule that bad writers must start with plain heroines and ordinary mornings, and, if they are able, work up to something better." There's just enough of that kind of insight here. Perhaps the most valuable thing in this collection is the random citation of the books that Fitzgerald considered important: He admired Thackeray's Vanity Fair during his formative years. That passion for a novel so obsessed with class and status explains much about Fitzgerald's own work. (Scribner's, $12.95)

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