Saturday, January 26, 2013


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.


  1. Alas, despite a concerted effort on my part, I have never been able to find a way to enjoy reading Joseph Conrad’s works. I think the stream-of-consciousness style of writing that he employed in “Heart of Darkness” has a jumbled, chaotic choppiness about it . . . . I struggled through it once but have no particular desire to put myself through that agony again.

  2. This is so weird. In the last year I've also rediscovered Hemingway, although just slightly differently.

    Paula MacLain, the author of The Paris Wife, is from Ohio, although from the kittycorner other end of the state, in Cleveland. In the fall of 2011, she was one of the many authors signing books at Cincinnati's wonderful book festival, Books by the Banks (y'all should come). I bought her book, and then it sat in the TBR Mountain of Teeter for several months.

    Then last summer I finally read it, and was so captivated by the story. A week or so later I was at a girlfriend's house for dinner and she chose Midnight in Paris for our movie, which has so many of the same characters in it, and deals, at least partially, with the same time period.

    In the 70's I bought and read a lot of what we would consider classics: Hemingway, O'Henry, Steinbeck, Fitzgerald, Faulkner, Twain, and so on. I still have all those books, so I decided to reread The Sun Also Rises. The reason they didn't teach it at your high school, Deb, is there is so much DRINKING. Geez, every page is full of it.

    The Nook has also helped with rereading some classic literature: Mary Reinhart Roberts, Agatha Christie, Austen, and so many more. It's fun to reread with new eyes, and with a new and vastly expanded worldview from when I was in my callow youth.

    I thought we had A Moveable Feast, but it must have been in paperback, because I can't find it. But that's the next of Ernest's that I want to read.

  3. I did love THE PARIS WIFE Debs, and also the Woody Allen movie. I have the MOVEABLE FEAST on my TBR stack--I shall move it up.

    I wasn't fit to be an English major either. So I became a French lit major--reading difficult books in a new language doesn't make things any easier:).

    I can't wait to show and tell more Hemingway stuff next week!

  4. P.S. Thank you so much for the book!

  5. My mother gave me a copy of Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own for my sixteenth birthday (a gift from a writer to her daughter) and I found the prose IMPENETRABLE.

    Years later I listened to it on tape and loved it. And went on to read Mrs. Dalloway and more. I still find her work slow going... it's nothing like reading a mystery novel which I do at a gallop. I have to be in the mood to slow down. It's like reading poetry but much longer and without all the white space.

  6. okay - so maybe I'll try to read Hemingway again. Up until now I have loved reading everything I could get my hands on that's been written about him, but just don't "get" the things written by him. I too loved THE PARIS WIFE. I love everything about Paris in the 20s. So before I pick up A MOVEABLE FEAST, I think I'll reread Hotchner's PAPA HEMINGWAY. I'm a big re-reader, which is one of the reasons Mount To Be Read continues to grow.

  7. Deb, this reminds me of the "self-improvement" program I embarked upon around a year after I graduated from college: I wanted to read ALL the works of people like Hemingway, Steinbeck, Fitzgerald, etc. I bought multi volume sets of fiction by those three and one or two others. I know I never got through more than one or two by each of them. That was over forty years ago. Now that I'm older, I wonder if I would have a better appreciation for them? I did like excerpts of their works that I read in high school and college. I have no idea where those books are now-probably packed away in my mildewy basement. There's always the library...

    An author whom I have tried and tried to read and just cannot appreciate is Tolkien. Oddly, I really enjoy other books in that genre.

  8. Kaye, I don't know that either of us will ever really love the Hemingway novels, although I'm certainly willing to reconsider, especially with the earlier books. But I think I can guarantee that you'll love A Moveable Feast--it may be that Hemingway was best at memoir.

    Has anyone read Hemingway's Boat? It got very good reviews.

  9. I do think students should start Hemingway with A Moveable Feast or The Nick Adams Stories. The Old Man and the Sea is not my favorite. But For Whom the Bell Tolls is a great novel, and I love The Sun Also Rises.

    I just read Scott Berg's masterful biography of Maxwell Perkins, who was the famous editor of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Thomas Wolfe, Marjorie Rawlings, Taylor Caldwell, and many more. Hemingway definitely had a big ego; but in his letters to Perkins you see he was also capable of kindness, silliness, and he suffered all the worries and concerns about the quality of his work that every writer faces.

  10. As a literature major, I feel like I have read at least something from just about very one, and I don't think there is anyone that I didn't like in school, but I do now. What I have noticed though is that when I go back and reread old favorites I like them for different reasons at 53 than I did at 20. Take THE SUN ALSO RISES for example, as I was reading it at 20, I kept a notebook with a running list of liquor, cocktails, and wines that I wanted to try. When I reread it a few years ago, I found I wanted to just smack Jake and Brett both for being so selfish and self-destructive. I had a similar reaction to THE GREAT GATSBY. When I read GATSBY in my 20's I thought it was so romantic; Gatsby carrying a torch Daisy for so many years, blah, blah, blah. At now, at 53, I want to smack him too for wasting all his potential on such a spoiled brat!

    Wow, as I go back and reread this comment, maybe I've had too much coffee today.

  11. Suzanne, I didn't think Gatsby was romantic even when I was twenty. And at the moment I have a 17-year-old helping me with my Great Book Sorting Project. I asked if he'd read Hemingway and he said no, but that his class was reading Gatsby. I quote, "All they do is go to parties, and it seems really boring and pointless."

    This is a kid who is artistic and musical and doesn't much like to read, and his English classes are certainly not turning him into a reader. I think students should be given walloping good stories that turn them into enthusiastic readers before they are asked to appreciate 1920s ennui.

    But then I am a lowbrow:-)

  12. Jeff, I'd love to read the Perkins biography. Going on my (teetering) TBR list.

  13. Deb, I agree with you completely regarding giving students books that will turn them into readers. I am a 7th grade reading teacher, and the signature line on my school email account is a quotation from B.F Skinner, "We shouldn't teach great books, we should teach a love of reading." If the love of reading is there, the great books will take care of themselves.

  14. Just came home from book club. Next time, they are going to read The Paris Wife! Yay.

  15. I developed an active aversion to Beowulf in high school and I doubt that is going to change anytime soon.

  16. Was just at Hemingway's house outside Havana on Thursday!

  17. Oh, I saw that re-reding article..felt exactly the same way about Ethan Frome, then and now.

    As for Hemingway..In high school I loathed the Old MAn and the Sea. Then a million years later, an old boyfriend and I were on a long-drive road trip, I forget to where. It was his turn to drive, and for SOME reason, we had that book in the car, and I said I would read it out loud to him as we drove.

    By the end of the story, i was SOBBING. I mean, SOBBING. We joked about it for a long time after, I was SO affected by it. THE SHARKS ATE THE WHOLE THING??? I can still remember how upset I was. (Oooops, spoiler.)

    Anyway, yes, I'm not sure of the solution. MAybe part of the fun is re-reading later.

  18. As a journalist-turned-to-fiction writer, Hemingway has always had a soft spot in my heart. I love his work and find it inspiring. Love his work, but the man? After reading a few biographies, I'm sure I would not have liked him. Might have wanted to interview him, though, hehe,

  19. I've been a Papa fan since I was in high school and love most of his works. Besides his novels look at a pair of his short stories: The Killers, amazingly simple yet not, and of course The Snows of Kilimanjaro. As writers we are constantly warned about the use of flashbacks but if you want to see them used brilliantly, read Snows. Simply dead on perfect.

  20. Must have read all of Hemingway in my youth. Even bought the LP, "Folk Songs of the Spanish Civil War." The Spanish people(left-leaning) still love Hemingway, Fitzgerald, all of them. I read Joyce, Wolfe, Eliot and even Pound. Mostly I just re-read Proust. How weird is that?

  21. My feelings re Hemingway have gone in the opposite direction. I loved his books when I read them many years ago. Then, in the 70's, I read practically every biography about him, and came away disliking the man. This feeling was confirmed after reading The Paris Wife. I have no wish to reread his books, as they don't appeal to me. However, I thought highly of A Movable Feast, and probably would do so today if I were to reread it. Regardless, I think Hemingway has an important position in the history of American literature.