Monday, February 10, 2014

50 Books in a Year Book #5: Hemingway Lives! Why Reading Ernest Hemingway Matters Today

I think I may have a little crush on Ernest Hemingway. And, not just because he was so incredibly good-looking, although he was incredibly good-looking (I mean look at the cover of this book!) and, even at 60, he had that rugged man thing going on. I'm sure he would have been fun to talk to while guzzling daiquiris in Cuba. The crush comes more from the life of the man who wrote one of my favorite books of all time.

I wish I would have learned all about Hemingway, the man, earlier in my life. I would have read more of his books/read more about his personal life/mourned his passing appropriately...

Anyway, it would seem that there are only two kinds of people who talk about Hemingway, those who love him (I think it's those people who 'get' that he was more than this animal killing/Castro loving caricature that's been built up over the years) and those who loathe him (I think you can count all his ex-wives in this category and anyone who only sees Hemingway as a thump your chest, club your women man's man).

Clancy Sigal is all about some deep Hemingway love. He's felt this way since the young age of 15 when he stole a copy of A Farewell to Arms and loved it. Read this book...fall in love with Hemingway the writer and the man, and, if you are like me at all you'll become a little bit obsessed and will then try to make up for lost time by reading all the Hemingway you hadn't yet. By the end of Sigal's book I had hopped on the Hemingway love bus as well.

It was easy.

First Sigal tells you that to understand why Hemingway matters today we must first understand the man, Ernest Hemingway. We have to understand his foundation.


Read the right books:
King Solomon's Mines H. Rider Haggard
The Four Feathers AEW Mason
Just So Stories and The Jungle Book Rudyard Kipling
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer Mark Twain
Westward Ho and Hereward the Wake by Charles Kingsley
Tom Brown's School Days Thomas Hughes
Ernest Hemingway on Writing Larry Phillips

Watch all the movies:

  • Even the Hemingway big screen productions...even though he didn't really like the adaptions and neither does Sigal, concerning A Farewell to Arms he says, "With luck Hollywood won't remake the first two films of this wonderful novel again." He goes on to talk about how Hemingway viewed the whole business, "Hemingway famously said that the best way for a writer to deal with the movie business was to arrange a quick meeting at the California state line: 'You throw them your book, they throw you the money. Then you jump into your car and drive like hell back the way you came'" (138).
  • Charlie Chan
  • Four Feathers (I think he's talking about the old version, but I'm sure the latest one would do)
  • Midnight in Paris
  • Hemingway and Gellhorn
Try to...
Be Teddy Roosevelt
Be white
Be upper middle class
Be able to fish and hunt and survive in the wilderness
Be a devout follower of 'muscular Christianity' 
Be courageous and brave
Be unwavering; practice what you preach
Be on the side that fights for the rights of the individual
Be a journalist
Be an alcoholic
Be the best man
Be a good father

and, above all...

Be a contradiction to those who don't bother to understand you, and don't care if they don't try. I think I believe and emulate this trait most of all.

Then we must understand Hemingway the person who became the writer.

When you...

  • marry, no matter how many times you marry, marry for love. Don't be afraid to cut ties when you realize that 'maybe' it wasn't love after all.
  • write, write simply, "short words, brief paragraphs, few or no adverbs" (62) and honestly about what you know and ignore the critics. Or, should I say try to ignore the critics.
  • love, love all living creatures and love life. These are not contradictions to how Hemingway lived and died. Sigal talks about how each of the women in Hemingway's life, in turn, became a muse for his books and stories. Sigal even used Hemingway's characters as role models for his own foray into adulthood and romance.
  • play, play hard. Hemingway lived his life well and that could be shown by his large amount of injuries and slashes and gashes and aches and pains.
  • speak, speak what you believe is truth and stick by what you say. Hemingway loved his father, hated his mother (more on that in Chapter 6: The Women in His Life) and he made no bones about either.

Finally, we must understand the writer.

So, why does reading Ernest Hemingway matter today?

  • He is one of the pillars of Modern America. Against his will, as Sigal notes, "If Hemingway had known as a young man that his fate would be as a classroom Assigned Great Writer he'd probably have shot himself long before he did in real life" (17).
  • Just typing and retyping his stories help writers get into the flow of his style. Just ask Joan Didion, Salinger, Vonnegut, Gore Vidal, Garcia Marquez, Ann Beatty, Charles Johnson, Terry Tempest Williams, Gordimer, Mailer, Elmore Leonard, Proulx, Russell Banks, Walter Mosley and I'm sure we could find more.

In each of his books, stories and essays we can find a person to emulate, to adhor, to immortalize. And, in true contradictory fashion, I'm just sad that his fourth wife loved him so much that she allowed him to have and be himself to his own peril. Sigal creatively constructs a book that delves into the man, by showing us the people around him and then showing us how those people created the writings that we still cherish and revere to this day. If you need proof read Chapter 7: It's Not Only Men Who are Victims of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder-The Sun Also Rises and get into this "thinly disguised autobiographical travelogue" (110). 

Sigal has such a love for Hemingway that it shows in the way he writes about every aspect of the man.


  1. This is great. Why did you never make us read Hemingway? I have "tried to be" most of those things, including "a good father" and, if this bourbon in my hand is any indication, an alcoholic. BUT ESPECIALLY Teddy Roosevelt. Okay, you've done it, you've inspired me. A Farewell to Arms is going on the short list.

    1. you're gonna have to switch over to daiquiris...yes, Papa was all about them. i believe this is the missing ingredient on your road to Hemingway.
      i know i should have made EVERYONE read Hemingway!!!!!!!
      must. read. the. Hemingway.



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