The Big Five (3 of 5)

September 1, 2008

This is the third of my series of five author profiles, specifically, my five favorite authors. On tap today, Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway was one of a group of writers to expatriate to Paris in the 1920’s, and several of his stories take place there. A member of the so-called “Lost Generation,” a World War I vet who wrote extensively about the nature and character of war, Hemingway was a journalist as well as writer of short stories and novels.

Hemingway is not for everyone. I’ve known plenty of fellow students, both in high school and college, who hated his writing. His terse prose and mastery of understatement make him a standout, both among his contemporaries and in “modern” times. But make no mistake, Hemingway was a master of his craft, a writer who was capable of saying more by saying less than anyone else I’ve ever encountered. His short stories, with their halting, at times uncomfortable prose, his novels, that shine a penetrating light into the often times cruel, callous nature of humanity; these are literary treasures that more than stand the test of time. They have as much to teach us about each other as they do about writing, especially now, mired as we are in the midst of a pointless, seemingly neverending war begun under false pretenses.

For the first Hemingway reader, I might suggest A Moveable Feast, a collection of short stories dealing with war, nature, and drunken reprobates, the usual fare for this particular writer. Hemingway felt a powerful connection with nature, and his love of fishing, hunting, and outdoor adventuring predominates much of his work. His opus, The Old Man and The Sea, might be another good choice; he won a Pulitzer for it in 1953, despite the fact that this was probably the most complained about assignment for my high school English class. I was one of the few who found it a rare treat, rather than a chore. Other selections I’d recommend are For Whom The Bell Tolls, which takes place during the Spanish civil war in the late 1930’s and is based in part on Hemingway’s experiences there covering the war as a journalist, and The Sun Also Rises, a bullfighting epic set mostly in Pamplona that brings to life in gruesome detail that cruel pseudo-sport, (as it was referred to by Lisa Simpson.)  Others equally good are the short story collections Men Without Women, and In Our Time, if you don’t feel like tackling one of the meatier novels.

Hemingway is the writer I find myself turning to, time and time again, when I want to read from the perspective of a man who found comfort in the earthy, eminently satisfying pleasures of the flesh: food, drink, women, a walk in the woods, and the spilling of an animal’s blood. A man among men, a heavy drinker, a womanizer…all those things Hemingway was, but his sight was always clear and steady. His body of work serves as a testament to those who seek for answers and find those answers all around them, constantly and conveniently near at hand.   

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