Each year I make a list of new things I want to try. Some of them are easy, some are hard, some are shockingly mundane. You can read about past adventures here.
If you’re a recovering English Major, a book nerd, or a writer of any sort, there are certain books you really should read.
(Or rather, books you feel like you really should read.)
And somehow, I managed to make it through two university degrees and 33 years of life without reading The Sun Also Rises. Shock! Horror! Literary pearl clutching!
There are piles of ‘Important’ books I have no desire to read (I’m looking at you, Crime and Punishment) but I suspected I’d really, actually like this book. I like succinct writers. Like the good Mr. Hemingtway, I appreciate the outdoors and adventure and shenanigans and travel. I know what it is to trundle through a foreign country with your overly-gregarious expat friends, enjoying food and drink and festivals and batting your eyelashes at the locals.
And that’s basically what The Sun Also Rises is about. Jake is an American newspaper reporter, working in Paris. He’s been rendered impotent by a war injury and spends his time drinking with other expats writers and interesting/misdirected rich people. He’s in love with Bret Ashley, a charming woman who struggles with, um, commitment issues and has romantic entanglements with most of the men in her social circle. Jake, Bret, her fiance Mike, and Robert (who Bret also slept with) all travel to Spain together to watch the bullfights and things go awry when everyone starts drinking and 34-year-old Bret seduces a 19-year-old matador.
Of course, Hemingway is known for his incredibly tight, clean prose. I liked it. I didn’t, however, get that chest-aching “someday if I do my best maybe I’ll be able to craft one sentence as good as this” feeling that writers like Tim Winton and Annie Proulx bring on.
Occasionally, his paragraphs seemed to march like unpleasant little soldiers across the page:
The road came out of the shadow of the woods into the hot sun. Ahead was a river valley. Beyond the river was a steep hill. There was a field of buckwheat on the hill. We saw a white house under some trees on the hillside.
But sometimes I found him hilarious and snarky and wonderful.
I have never seen a man in civil life as nervous as Robert Cohn – nor as eager. I was enjoying it. It was lousy to enjoy it, but I felt lousy. Cohn had a wonderful quality of bringing out the worst in anybody.
“The funny thing is he’s nice, too. I like him. But he’s just so awful.”
“He can be damn nice.”
“I know it. That’s the terrible part.”
The steps were very intricate and their faces were intent and concentrated. They all looked down while they danced. Their rope-soled shoes tapped and spatted on the pavement. The toes touched. The heels touched. The balls of the feet touched. Then the music broke wildly and the step was finished and they were all dancing on up the street.
“It’s a good hand,” Brett said. “I think he’ll live a long time.”
“Say it to me. Not to your friend.”
“I said you’ll live a long time.”
“I know it,” Romero said. “I’m never going to die.”
Everything is on such a clear financial basis in France. It is the simplest country to live in. No one makes things complicated by becoming your friend for any obscure reason. If you want people to like you you only have to spend a little money. I spent a little money and the waiter liked me. He appreciated my valuable qualities.
That seemed to handle it. That was it. Send a girl off with one man. Introduce her to another to go off with him. Now go and bring her back. And sign the wire with love. That was it all right. I went in to lunch.
“Oh, Jake,” Brett said, “we could have had such a damned good time together.”
Ahead was a mounted policeman in khaki directing traffic. He raised his baton. The car slowed suddenly pressing Brett against me.
“Yes,” I said. “Isn’t it pretty to think to?”
Have you ever read any Hemingway? How did you feel about his writing style? In your opinion, which classics live up to their reputations?