DEBORAH CROMBIE: In one of the those weird synchronous things, the Boston Globe ran a piece yesterday on The Joy of Rereading.
And yesterday we had G.M. Malliet here on Jungle Red, talking about (at least in part) the importance of language to writers.
Which brings me to my very belated love affair (only on paper, which is probably a good thing, considering his amorous history) with Ernest Hemingway. My introduction to Hemingway was The Old Man and the Sea, given as an assignment in ninth or tenth grade English class. I don't remember being told anything much about Hemingway--my faint impression was of a crotchety old guy who had committed suicide. Although now I don't think he was old, there was certainly nothing to appeal to the romantic instincts of a fourteen or fifteen-year-old.
And the story? I hated it. Really hated it. (Nobel prizes meant nothing to me, either, callow as I was.) It made no sense to me. And the teacher only wanted to talk about symbolism, and we were graded on whether or not we interpreted the symbolism "correctly." It sucked. Really. (You may be getting an idea why I didn't major in English... You may also guess that you don't want to get me started on deconstructionism...)
I went on in the next few years to read most of the Hemingway novels and some of the short stories (by choice) but I still didn't particularly like them. Keep in mind that at the same time I was first introduced to Hemingway, I was also reading Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, and there, I was completely hooked. (Am I a plot sort of girl, I wonder?) I developed an intense infatuation with Tolkein and C.S. Lewis and their coterie of tweedy, middle-aged academics, and you'd have to try hard to find less romantic writers.
I can't believe that I knew absolutely nothing about Hemingway and PARIS. I didn't understand what he had gone through in the first world war. I didn't understand the impact of that on his entire generation. (How hard would it have been to have spliced in a little history and biography with the symbolism?)
And for heaven's sake, why did that long-ago English teacher never show us a picture of Ernest Hemingway when he was twenty-two?
So we fast-forward to a couple of years ago. I was staying in London in a charming mews house. There was a fabulous library of first editions, and among them was a copy of Hemingway's A Moveable Feast. I picked it up (carefully) and took it to bed with me on a cold night. Hours later I was still reading.
The words jumped off the page. Paris in the twenties was as real as if I were there. I could see it and smell it and taste it. And I knew this young man who couldn't contain the words swarming in his mind, who had to put them on paper as if his life depended on it.
I finished A Moveable Feast and wondered how I could possibly have missed all this. A year or so later, Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris came out, and Paula McLain's The Paris Wife, which is about Hemingway's time in Paris with his first wife, Hadley Richardson, so there was definitely something going on in the ether.
As for me, I have gone back to The Sun Also Rises. (Why did they not give us The Sun Also Rises in that long-ago class? Because it had sex in it? Nothing could appeal to a teenager more...)
It makes me remember why I love writing. And maybe someday I'll be brave enough to pick up The Old Man and Sea again, and even like it.
What about you, REDs and readers? Is there a writer you disliked but have come to see in a different light?
(And don't you love the cover of the first edition of The Sun Also Rises? What were they thinking!)
P.S. News flash! The winners of the three G.M Malliet books are Marni, Karen in Ohio, and Reine. If you three would email me at deb at deborahcrombie dot com with your addresses, I'll forward them to Gin.
AND be sure to come back tomorrow to get ready for the Superbowl with our recipe for Jungle Red Homemade Buffalo Wings!
P.S.S. One more little bit of synchronicity: Lucy is writing about Hemingway's house and cats on Key West next week. One day I'm going to go there.