Sarah Churchwell

Last Thursday evening, in the elegant setting of The Club at Café Royal, I played literary hostess to Sarah Churchwell, author of Careless People, Murder, Mayhem and the Invention of The Great Gatsby, in the first of a series of salons called  The Books That Built Me.

The Books That Built Sarah Churchwell

1.The Great Gatsby (Modern Classics (Penguin)) Bantum , 6th (sixth) Edition by F. Scott Fitzgerald [2005]
: subject of Careless People, her ‘histoire trouvé’. Gatsby is, she tells us, the book that ‘taught her how to read as a writer’, a ‘litmus test’

2.The Fairy Books of Andrew Lang
: Andrew Lang’s fairy books are a compendium of every familiar and unfamiliar fairy story, a compendium of delights, and unlocked the door for Sarah to a magical world of stories and storytelling, which has preoccupied her ever since.

3.The Grand Sophy
: screwball comedy meets Jane Austen.

4. My Antonia (Oxford World’s Classics)

5.A Farewell To Arms (Vintage Classics)
, The Sun Also Rises (with a nod to Eliot along the way, not so much for his being one of Sarah’s desert island books, but because like Cather, Fitzgerald and Hemingway, Eliot is another extraordinary writer that bubbled from the literary wellspring of the American Midwest: I’d add Sarah Churchwell to that list. Interestingly, Eliot, Hemingway and Fitzgerald all, like Sarah, migrated to Europe – only as expatriates were they able to write so eloquently about America.

6. Careless People – the book, which as Harper’s Bazaar wrote, ‘will make you rethink everything you thought you knew about The Great Gatsby.’ It’s an exhilarating read and a stunning piece of scholarship, a unique literary biography which reconstructs in exquisite detail the year in which Fitzgerald set his finest novel.
Careless People: Murder, Mayhem and the Invention of The Great Gatsby

The Club at Café Royal created a delicious Careless People cocktail for the evening –  a beautiful, jewel-coloured blend of vodka, plum sake, pomegranate juice and fresh lime juice, served in a cocktail coupe with a curl of orange zest: ‘suddenly one of these gypsies in trembling opal, seizes a cocktail out of the air, dumps it down for courage and moving her hands like Frisco dances out alone on the canvas platform….The party has begun‘.

F Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, quoted in Careless People in a chapter that so glitters with detail you step straight through a magic door into one of the real jazz-age parties that inspired those in Gatsby. I also learned from Sarah that ‘cocktail’ is a verb as well as a noun – I’ll forever be inviting people to cocktail with me.