The Importance Of Reading Ernest is a list of some of my reviews and my top 6 picks of the best Hemingway novels to include in your Bucket List for reading.
Before I start, let me just say that I wonder aloud here why so many are predisposed to disliking the man or his works. Perhaps many dismiss his work all too quickly–with tags like boring dense literature, sexism (being a woman yet I disagree and fail to see this evidence), themes far too depressing, or perhaps a disrespect for his penchant for lashing out at his contemporaries.
Whether you’re acquainted with Hemingway or not, there’s no denying his immortal legacy in literature and history today. To best understand him as a writer is to appreciate his simplicity for words. His magnificent way with prose is second to none–describing people and life as he lived and saw with every meticulous detail brought to life.
He’s also a great inspiration to me as a writer, and here’re my best loved Ernest Hemingway quotes:
“All good books have one thing in common—They are truer than if they had really happened”.
“Any man’s life, told truly, is a novel”.
“The best people possess a feeling for beauty, the courage to take risks, the discipline to tell the truth, the capacity for sacrifice. Ironically, their virtues make them vulnerable; they are often wounded, sometimes destroyed.
“If a writer knows enough of what he is writing about, he may omit things he knows. The dignity of the movement of an iceberg is due to only a ninth of it being above water.”
And here I present, my top 6 picks on Hemingway. Worth every ounce of your reading stamina and time.
#1. A Moveable Feast
I first wanted to read A Moveable Feast after becoming besotted with the whimsical Woody Allen film, ‘A Midnight In Paris’, starring Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Marion Cotillard, Kathy Bates, and Italian-French singer Carla Bruni. A charming romantic comedy set in Paris , a young Hollywood screenwriter finds himself lost in a time warp at the stroke of midnight where his fantasy of meeting his literary deities come true. Perhaps none of us care as much about the film’s moral: essentially embodying a plot to debunk ‘the-grass-is-always-greener’ myth—where like real life, people tend to think the life of others would be one better than their own. Rather, what really fascinated me was the intriguing portrayal of Hemingway and other iconic legends in the Jazz Age set in the 1920s.
A Moveable Feast is Hemingway’s classic memoir of Paris in the 1920s and remains one of his most revered works. Painting such disparaging portraits of other expatriate luminaries such as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein (as seen in Midnight In Paris); it may well be the post-world war one era’s ‘literary elite’s shaming tabloids’. There are invaluable details of his time in Paris including the names and locations of bars, cafés and hotels, as well as details of the locations in which Hemingway and his contemporaries lived. Hemingway also immortalises sentimental, deep affectionate memories of his first wife, Hadley; and details some insightful recollections of his own early self-analysis of himself as a writer finding his way in his craft.
I can’t help but fall in love as a result of the dubious quote:
“If the reader prefers,” Hemingway suggests at the end of a preface date a year or so before his death in 1961–“this book may be regarded as fiction. But there is always the chance that such a book of fiction may throw some light on what has been written as fact.”
Other Must-Read works of Hemingway:
#2. The Old Man & the Sea
I loved The Old Man & the Sea, what must be Hemingway’s best work that not only revived his fledging career at that point, but won him the 1954 Nobel Prize. An award he reportedly gladly accepted but was wrought with the irony of his noteworthy quip that “no son of a bitch that ever won the Nobel Prize ever wrote anything worth reading afterwards”.
Shortly after the publication of The Old Man and the Sea in 1952, Hemingway went on safari to Africa, where he was almost killed in two plane crashes that left him in pain or ill-health for much of the rest of his life. This makes The Old Man & the Sea effectively the last major work of fiction to be produced by the great writer in his lifetime, another reason it should make your bucket list of best reads. An intriguing, slow-moving story of an elderly fisherman Santiago who struggles with a giant marlin far out in the Gulf Stream for 87 days at sea, it also won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1953.
Perhaps the best moral encapsulated here is the reality that success is at best transient and fleeting—such as when Santiago’s prized mammoth of a marlin becomes eventually ravaged by the sharks, leaving him with nothing to show for except its bloodied carcass and the skeletal remains of his prized catch. Yet the tone Hemingway takes is that of one who should not despair, for the highest virtue lies in the journey one embarks on in search not for its reward but rather its worth, hence the justification for every effort we make to attain excellence.
In 1918, after Hemingway went to war, he was seriously wounded and returned home. His own personal wartime experiences formed the basis for the novel ‘A Farewell to Arms’. Hemingway’s description of what war is—terrorises and recreates the fear, glorifies the comradeship, courage and steadfast spirits of his young American volunteer and the men and women he meets in Italy with absolute conviction. Less we be fooled— A Farewell to Arms is not simply a novel of war. Hemingway manages to weave a love story of immense drama and fiery love and passion. Frederick Henry is a memorable American ambulance driver for the Italian army (the same vocation held by Hemingway himself) who falls head over heels for a beautiful long-maned British nurse Catherine Barkley.
A Farewell to Arms clearly invites us to imagine the courageous military men and women in search of glory at war only to find there is none except the stalemate and hideous face of war violence, tragedy and senseless bloodshed.
My final analysis—a piece of ‘unputdownable’ exquisitely depressing literature.
Not to be confused with the chart-topping single by Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton from 1983 written by the Bee Gees!
Described as quintessential Hemingway, a classic and a must-read, be forewarned that you will weep so much you might not be fit for the world for days. Also the first of the posthumously published works of Hemingway, it’s been his series of a ‘sea trilogy’, consisting of three episodes in the life and loves (as lover, father, husband, artist, friend, homeland,self and duty) of the protagonist. The narrative voice of Hemingway’s thoughts resonates through Thomas Hudson, an American marine painter living and working in the Caribbean. He is twice divorced and prominent in Europe and America. When we meet Mr. Hudson he is eagerly awaiting the arrival of his children to the island. Some of the most heartfelt parental virtues and emotions are extolled in this novel between Hudson and his sons and will become the most moving you have ever read in a piece of literature. Hemingway’s trademark poignant outlook on the reality of life is evident here as is his legendary masterful storytelling.
“He thought that on the ship he could come to some terms with his sorrow, not knowing, yet, that there are no terms to be made with sorrow. It can be cured by death and it can be blunted or anaesthetised by various things. Time is supposed to cure it, too. But if it is cured by anything less than death, the chances are that it was not true sorrow.”
In 1937 Ernest Hemingway traveled to Spain to cover the civil war there for the North American Newspaper Alliance. Three years later he completed the greatest novel to emerge from “the good fight,” For Whom the Bell Tolls. The story of Robert Jordan, a young American in the International Brigades attached to an antifascist guerrilla unit in the mountains of Spain.
Not another war novel, I hear you lament. But it would be a mistake to dismiss For Whom The Bell Tolls—woven in typical masterful Hemingway style; which other writer can best evoke a macabre mood for violence and death? Death is a primary preoccupation here alongside camaraderie and sacrifice in the face of death—themes abound throughout the book.
Hemingway paints the fearsomeness of war and how the employment of modern arms destroy any romantic conceptions of the ancient art of war: the heroism of combat, sportsmanlike competition and the aspect of hunting is marginalised by the brute force of advanced weaponry. Gone is the glory in ‘the best soldier wins’ but the one with the largest ammunition source and all hope is lost along with one’s abilities which are rendered powerless and devoid of meaning.
Heroism becomes butchery and the ‘disillusionment’ theme of A Farewell To Arms is evident and well adapted here. Some say it is a bittersweet tale and a treatise on morality and courage, exploring the themes of passion, love, loneliness and connection between the characters lived in the life of Robert Jordan, an American volunteer from the International Brigades who fights with local partisans for the Republic against Franco’s fascist forces in the Spanish Civil War. In addition to the endurance of an Olympic athlete (only in the form of a literature major), prepare for this emotional roller coaster ride that takes you from compassionate to brutal in the turn of a page.
6#. The Sun Also Rises
A play in London—FIESTA (The Sun Also Rises) is a live-jazz adaptation of this famous Hemingway novel today. The title of the book portrays a world of expats pouring into Paris after the first world war attracted by its glitz, glamour, and hope. Hemingway and his luminaries were part of a community of writers, fearless artists and beautiful socialites who made 1920s Paris a glittering centre of all that was bold, fresh and exciting.
When he wrote The Sun Also Rises, Hemingway was working as a journo for the Toronto Star when he lived in 1920s Paris, the perfect setting for the novel. A tale spun in the age of moral bankruptcy and spiritual desolation, in a biographical manner, Hemingway introduces us to the angsts, no doubt some of his own, of some of his two most memorable characters ever who lived in the era of post-world war one, the luckless Jake Barnes and his love interest, the both flirtatious and ostentatious Lady Brett Ashley—as both venture from their wild seedy nightlife excesses of 1920s Paris to the brutal Spanish bullfighting rings of Pamplona with a motley group of expatriates—American and British included. Hemingway was said to believe that a story could be based on real events when distilled by its writer in a way that “what he made up was truer than what he remembered”.
Originally coined as ‘The Lost Generation’ (borrowed from a term Gertrude Stein quoted out of a biblical chapter in Ecclesiastes), Hemingway however told his editor his view of the flawed characters was that of a post-war generation battered and haunted by the experience of war horrors rather than ‘lost’. While flamboyant and promiscuous Brett looks for the love she’s starved of in the the wrong places for reassurance and validation, Jake is sexually maimed and rendered impotent by the war—a tragic wound of ripped manhood that symbolised the disillusionment, disability and frustrations felt by his entire generation.
The tragic love triangle destroys Jake’s friendship with Robert Cohn—who is the substitute for Jake’s impotence and supplies the consummation to Brett that Jake is unable to offer, while Jake in turn is the only one who can offer the true love Brett craves which Robert can’t give because the man Brett loves is Jake.
The contrast between the worlds of the inauthentic expats played by the Parisian bohemians and what Hemingway tries to paint as ‘authentic Spaniards’—in the form of heroic matadors, is fascinating. Jake is essentially a character in search of integrity and ‘authenticity’ in an age and generation of decadence and corruption.