The Bruccoli Files

At the Big Read blog, David Kipen offers an appreciation of Matthew J. Bruccoli, a leading F. Scott Fitzgerald scholar who died of cancer last week. (You can see Bruccoli’s hand throughout the University of South Carolina’s very deep Fitzgerald centennial site). Kipen had invited Bruccoli to record a commentary on The Great Gatsby for the Big Read. He recalls the experience:

“Strivers!”, he cried, nailing for legions of Big Read listeners in one emphatically flung word the generation of ambitious dreamers for whom Gatsby stood in. Around the office even now, at the mention of Matt’s name, it’s a contest between Dan and me to see who can pronounce it with a more faithful New York honk. “Strivers!” The merest hint of an audible “r” is grounds for immediate disqualification.

Bruccoli was a striver too. Like the teenager in the stacks that Salinger and Updike used to fantasize about, Bruccoli was a bookish kid from an unbookish household. One day he wandered sweatily from a stickball game into a candystore, recognized Fitzgerald’s name on a paperback spinner from a radio play the week before, picked up Gatsby, and he was off to the races. If young Matt was anywhere near as good at stickball as he was at reading, the loss to American sport was incalculable.

Over at the Washington Post’s obituary blog—no, really, I honestly think it’s the paper’s best blogMatt Schudel discusses his experience writing Bruccoli’s obituary. He was working on both Bruccoli’s obit and Jim McKay‘s at the same time, and guess which one got more attention:

It’s curious to note that the death of Jim McKay was all over the news on television, and our online editors were pushing me Saturday to finish the obit and get it on the Web.

One day earlier, no one at the paper asked me about Bruccoli, who wasn’t widely known outside the world of literature, and whose death passed unnoticed by every TV network and most papers. But I’ve already received many comments from people who knew him and his work and who were glad the Post took time to do an original obituary. Not one person has written to me about the much more famous Jim McKay.