Monday, July 2, 2018

Reading Hemingway

The weather was perfect, not too hot, with a nice breeze helped along by the two fans behind me. The tea was cold and the flies wouldn't discover my cookie for another whole minute. I hadn't read Hemingway since not long after we moved to Savannah. I picked up a copy of The Old Man and the Sea from a Little Free Library and read it in an afternoon. I'd forgotten how beautiful it was, all bare bones and emotions.

When I picked up The Sun Also Rises (also from a Little Free Library) all I knew about it was that a friend of mine hated the bull fighting scenes. So there I sat, old book spine cracked in my hands, getting ready to read a book that I thought was about bull fighting.

It wasn't.

If you've ever taken a college English class you're familiar with Hemingway's sparse writing. There's no fuss, no muss. His characters appear as flesh and blood, his places are pulsing with life, with sun, with dirt, with sweat. There's nothing flowery here. No multi-syllable words unless the story required something written in French or Spanish. Hemingway shows us real life with the veneer stripped off, in all it's gore and glory.

I grew up reading fantasy. I love being transported from "real life" to some magical realm that begs for beautiful descriptions and the strange and unusual. I run from books that people suggest that have anything to do with  "a woman who faces a tragedy and must find the strength to over come it." I see that every day. I live it, breathe it, watch it, have experienced it. And, yes, we can argue that all stories are ultimately about characters facing challenges and finding the inner strength to fight things that, underneath the monster facade is really just a metaphor for an every day struggle. But what Hemingway does is present us with people and places and plops us down beside them, between the backseat, getting grit between our front teeth, and eavesdropping on conversations that you walk way believing actually happened.

He doesn't try to give us someone facing a tragedy and digging deep for the strength to go on. He gives us flawed human beings, like me, like you, who are living life. They make poor choices, they enjoy themselves, they get into fights, they eat, drink, catch fish, have affairs, love, and hate. What he did was exactly what he set out to do: find the truest sentence he could write and write it. He makes me realize that there is beauty in the every day and that is what I should be seeking. There's nothing wrong with fantasy; I still love it, but the challenge isn't world building but showing this world as true as we can, through our unique lens. Hemingway writes about war, fishing, love, hate, men, women, and those damned Hills Like White Elephants. He writes about you and me and everyone in between. And isn't that really where our fantasies lie?

This Summer I want to learn more about that "one true sentence" that's sitting inside me. It's out there, sitting on the jetty just north of the lighthouse. It rolls in and out with the tide. It's on the fresh sliced watermelon and on the ice in the glass just after finishing a mojito. They wait, not buried beneath mounds of the unexpected but right there, to the left, of that dirty fork in your sink.

Summer isn't good for writing. I don't want to write about the sand, I want to be out there, toes in it, laughing as the tide creeps in closer to my chair. I want to live stories, not write them. I want to read them and let them soak deep and force me to look at life clearer. That's what Hemingway has done for me. These past three days I've paid closer attention to the mundane, looked for the story in the washing up. And it's there, hidden deep, in the truest sentence I can write when I sit down ready again to write.

Do you find it hard to write in the Summer? Have you ever binge-read an author? Do you prefer bare bones prose or long, lingering descriptions? What about that "one true sentence"? Any thoughts?



  1. Not a Hemingway fan but I do like my prose on the simpler side. (Certainly the opposite from Tolkien.)
    I can write in summer because I'd much rather be hiding inside with the air conditioning.

    1. It's funny because I've always been such a fan of long, lingering prose. I love Tolkien and get lost in his words but there's something so satisfying about Heminway.

  2. Having moved to Idaho and discovered that Hemingway lived here some of his years, I need to learn to tighten my writing...find that 'one sentence'. The Old Man and the Sea hooked me to Hemingway - like a marlin.

    1. Excellent analogy. The Old Man and the Sea was the first novel of his I read and I LOVED it. Every word. That 'one sentence' is a life-long quest I believe. It shifts and changes as we go along. All we have to do is keep tracking it.

  3. First time I read Hemingway, I was hooked. His writing was so simplistic but powerful. Haven't binged on reading for a while. Just bouncing around different genre.

    1. I've been doing that too. I've been reading a lot of non fiction this summer, which is not like me at all! As soon as I do, it's back to Hemingway!


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