Sunday, March 16, 2014

Hemingway, Hunger, and "My Old Man"

There are novels I've read at least three times, and both Hunger and The Sun Also Rises would fit this category. In the most recent rereads, I'm getting a lot more from the Hamsun than the Hemingway; for the former I've written down several quotations whereas when I was reading Papa in Suzhou, I found the book did not wear well with me.

In fact, just like my story "My Old Man" which began as a parody of a Hemingway story, or maybe, more so, a parody of my life, The Sun Also Rises, read in 2012, seemed to be an elementary tale about a bunch of drunks who were or felt like failed writers. That struck more than anything, that everyone from the opening Jew, Robert Cohn, to the narrator had a novel or an aborted effort somewhere in his dossier. So that's the ultimate writer's novel, but it's also the essential parody of all of us.

In the past though, particularly when reading it at my father's in his 1990s, $400-per-month studio by the sea in Ponte Vedra, Florida, I appreciated the book a lot more. Here's a section on Hemingway's slim novel that I wrote into my twenty-page story almost twenty years ago:

      Out of the sun, and with the wind blowing from the water and cooling his place, I have energy for the first time since morning. As my father drifts off, I peruse his bookshelf, looking for something special among a shelf of sallow paperbacks. He has kept all his trade-paper Russians and Kunderas, and more recently added newer self-help and how-to-writes for memoir and screenplay, but I select from a section of Hemingway and pick out The Sun Also Rises.
      It is my father’s copy from college, the Scribner Classic edition. When I was in Paris, I felt proud to read the same copies of Dostoyevsky as Hemingway read at Shakespeare & Company. Hemingway wrote his first stories in Paris, and as a busboy, un commis, I broke my first wine glasses there and wrote only a little in a journal each day.

I'd certainly still recommend The Sun Also Rises if you've never read it. But if you only have room for one Hemingway in your life, I'd go with A Farewell to Arms or my personal favorite, his memoir, A Moveable Feast. For the latter, I have yet to read the new "restored edition" that includes chapters cut from the first published version.

As a final note, yesterday, from a public library sale, for fifty cents I picked up some poetry by Lucille Clifton, another Dave Newman favorite, and this old Paris Review paperback with an all-star cast of more contemporary writers. From the library's lending side, I checked out The Old Man and the Sea, which I haven't read since high school, and To Have and Have Not, a title I've yet to read.

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