Tuesday, February 07, 2006

English Teachers and Papa Hemingway

Hunt's comment in my Hester Prynne post of yesterday reminded me of something I wanted to share with you all from my recent trip to Spain. While I was there, I read Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises, and also his short story collection, Men Without Women.
Can you believe it? I had never read any Hemingway but The Old Man And the Sea before, and I was just flattened by admiration and appreciation.
Couldn't really tell you why. I guess because his writing is just so clean and macho and honest, and there's a tender kind of funniness to it all, and he writes characters and doesn't judge them. He just lets them live there on the page.

There I was loving Salinger so much all along -- and all those other cool guys of the mid-20th century-- and never knowing that Hemingway started it all. It's so obvious when you read him that he started it all. It's like seeing Brando: you say to yourself, "when he started doing that, everyone's hair caught on fire and they all wanted to do that, and who could blame them?" Raw, real, totally unmannered American male (but yet somehow totally mannered), riveting.

It's been a long time since I was an English teacher, and as I read and loved The Sun Also Rises I thought to myself, "There was a time when I would have assigned this book, and been marking it up for quizzes and essay assignments. What a pleasure it is to just read it and not have to analyze it even one tiny bit." I don't know what you'd do with Lady Brook Ashley anyway. She's just a rampant slut who's far too beautiful for her own good, and I adored her. Madly.

(Just being able to read for pleasure makes me look forward to retirement, when I can read, observe or experience meaningful things and not have to think about how to use them in a sermon.)

But please do go and find Men Without Women. "In Another Country" is just the saddest little story about the ways that huge public catastrophes like war aren't as hard to take as little, personal catastrophes like losing someone you love to a perfectly ordinary disease.
"A Canary For One" isn't much until the last sentence -- the last sentence!! -- where your mouth drops open and you go "OH!!" and then laugh and laugh in a bitter way, as though you and Hemingway had a private joke. And "The Killers" is just one of those delicious macho things that reminds you of Dorothy Parker's ability to bring an era of American life and dialogue so totally alive.
I personally re-read "A Pursuit Race" three times in a row in a hotel room in Barcelona because I was so enchanted by the dialogue -- I finally just had to give in and read it aloud. I'll never sleep in sheets the same way again.
"Now I Lay Me" is something every neurotic spiritual type should commit to memory for those nights spent in the arms of the god Insomnia, and geez, I just plain admire the tight, satin pants off "The Undefeated." I read that twice in a row, too.

I might even go so far as to say that Gaudi and Hemingway were the two big unexpected inspirations I found in Spain.


He's hot.


Blogger Errantfrogs said...

Hemingway is an example of what happens when a great artist becomes a caricature of him/her own self! You're right, his prose is honest and brutal. I find it also nuanced and visual. He may have been the first author to make me cry in college, and I love him for that. -frogs

Blogger Chalicechick said...

I thought of you today while I was in the Ava Gardner Museum in front of a photo of Ava and Hemingway, who were apparently friends.


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