Monday, April 25, 2011

What have you killed lately, or more about the old Bullfighter...

About one quarter of my libraryDear Reader,
Dear Reader,

I'm going to move soon.  So I have been boxing up my library while simultaneously entering all my volumes into a couple great database programs; Delicious Library for Mac and Collectorz Library.  Collectorz is a far deeper program while Delicious is easier - scan  the bar code through your MacBook camera and boom.  Done.  This helps when you have 4,000 odd volumes.  Collectorz does the same thing but you have to buy the extra barcode scanner.  No thanks.  The nice thing is you can enter everything into Delicious and then import it to Collectorz.  Simple.  Cheaper.  Better.

Inevitably I re-discovered and started reading stuff I had forgot I had, like "The Leather Bound Library of The Complete Works of Ernest Hemingway."  I love Easton Press books, leather bound, heavy, beautiful bindery, acid free nuke-proof paper and sometimes some really interesting forwards and introductions commissioned exclusively for the individual volumes themselves.  Easton Press books are wonderful, they feel solid, they look beautiful and you can actually use them as blocks with which you can build a hurricane proof shelter in the event you need one.

So, Papa.  The Old Man.  The Goddamn Old Bullfighter...

Easton Press Editions of Hemingway
The five volumes I recently tore through are In Our Time - 1925,  The Green Hills of Africa -1935,  To Have and Have Not - 1937,  The Dangerous Summer - 1960, and The Garden of Eden - posthumously 1986.

in our time: (it was originally published without capitals) is a complexly interwoven series of snapshot short stories the chapters of which (each of which is a short story in itself) are bridged with the most evocative and see-it-all by saying-next-to-nothing paragraphs you'll ever read.  It includes three of my favorite short stories of all time, Indian Camp, Big Two-Hearted River: Part I, Big Two-Hearted River: Part II.

Here's the bridge paragraph from CHAPTER VII: "They shot the six cabinet ministers at half-past six in the morning against the all of the hospital.  There were pools of water in the courtyard. There were wet dead leaves on the paving of the courtyard. It rained hard. All the shutters of the hospital were nailed shut. One of the ministers was sick with typhoid. Two soldiers carried him downstairs and out into the rain. They tried to hold him against the wall but he sat down in a puddle of water. The other five stood very quietly against the wall.  Finally the officer told the soldiers it was no good trying to make him stand up. When they fired the first volley he was sitting down in the water with his head on his knees."

That is writing cleanly where the density is all below the surface - a good example of what Hemingway referred to as the Iceberg Theory of writing (this from Wikipedia):

In his writing the facts float above water; the supporting structure and symbolism operate out-of-sight.  Writing in "The Art of the Short Story," he explains: "A few things I have found to be true. If you leave out important things or events that you know about, the story is strengthened. If you leave or skip something because you do not know it, the story will be worthless. The test of any story is how very good the stuff that you, not your editors, omit."

The Green Hills of Africa:  Hemingway goes to Africa.  On safari.  With a big gun.  Hemingway shoots every living thing with four legs and two horns.  And likes it.  Okay so that's what it is on the surface, but beneath all the Kudu tracking, Rhino shooting, Lion hunting it's really about Hemingway examining writing and his life and what it all means.  The introduction in this volume is by Patrick Hemingway, one of Hemingway's sons.  I did not like it.  I do however very much like the forward Hemingway included:

"Unlike many novels, none of the characters or incidents in this book are imaginary. Any one not finding sufficient love interest is at liberty, while reading it, to insert whatever love interest he or she have at the time. The writer has attempted to write an absolutely true book to see whether the shape of a country and the pattern of a month's action can, if truly presented, compete with a work of imagination."

A couple of my favorite excerpts:

"All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn.  If you read it you must stop where the Nigger Jim is stolen from the boys.  That is the real end.  The rest is just cheating.  But it's the best book we've had.  All American writing comes from that.  There was nothing before.  There has been nothing as good since."

"Because there are too many factors.  First, there must be talent, much talent.  Talent such as Kipling had.  Then there must be discipline.  The discipline of Flaubert.  Then there must be the conception of what it can be and an absolute conscience as unchanging as the standard meter in Paris, to prevent faking.  then the writer must be intelligent and disinterested and above all he must survive.  Try to get all these in one person and have him come through all the influences that press on a writer.  the hardest thing, because time is so short, is for him to survive and get his work done.  But I would like us to have such a writer and to read what he would write."

To Have and Have Not:  All about Cuba, Key West, human trafficking, booze, revolution, murder and struggling to make ends meet.  All the famous "Harry's Bars" in the world are named after Hemingway's main character Harry is this book.  Some of the most crisp and clean dialogue you will ever read.

The Dangerous Summer: Hemingway goes back to Spain after many years to spend the summer traveling with two of the greatest bull fighters that ever lived.  The introduction for the volume was written by James Michener, who states that Hemingway was so enraptured by returning to the subject, that he originally turned in a manuscript that was so long more than half of it was cut for the final book, which is hysterical because, get this, Michener's introduction to a book that runs 206 pages is 50 PAGES LONG!  HA!

Michener was originally contacted in a bunker in Korea during the Korean War by a secret Life Magazine correspondent carrying a single (and only, so he represented) copy of a manuscript by Hemingway that Life intended to publish, but because of the disastrous reviews of Hemingway's previous novel, wanted some sort of praise worthy review in order to hedge their big gamble.  Michener obliged.  That copy of Life magazine sold 5,318,650 copies. An absolute impossibility in those days.  What was the manuscript?  The Old Man and The Sea.  Pulitzer Prize. Nobel Prize.

After the success of all that, Life once more asked Hemingway to write them something and conceived the idea of sending him back to Spain (his favorite country) for a series of articles on bullfighting.  that's where the book comes from.  I liked it very much, but even although it's a bit of a "travel writing book" don't expect to find Paul Theroux in the pages anywhere - Hemingway is as much like Theroux as Theroux is like Stephen King. BTW, Theroux abhors Hemingway.

That's okay, Paul, I still love your books. ;)

The Garden of Eden
: Hemingway's examination of love, obsession, sexual loyalty or not, gender roles, and insanity.  There's a very good introduction by John Updike.  The book was begun in 1946 and left incomplete and published by Scribner's in 1986.  From the introduction:

"It is possibly a pity that Hemingway's own inhibitions, if not those of the changing postwar times, prevented him from telling us exactly what the "devil things" are that lead David to call his wife "Devil," and poison their Eden even before Catherine decides, in her rampage of wanting, to introduce another, bisexual woman, Marita, into their honeymoon household."

Updike misses the point, either that or he's hellbent sucked in by the "Iceberg Theory" here, and doesn't realize it.  The 7/8ths of the material that boils below the surface is exactly what makes the obsessive love scenes so explicitly powerful, if not downright lurid.  Trust me, read it, and you'll know every single thing Catherine leads David into, not always willingly, in squirming detail without the author ever having described a single act.  Masterful.

A few parting thoughts:

Hemingway on writing (purloined again from Wikipedia):

"Writing, at its best, is a lonely life. Organizations for writers palliate the writer's loneliness but I doubt if they improve his writing. He grows in public stature as he sheds his loneliness and often his work deteriorates. For he does his work alone and if he is a good enough writer he must face eternity, or the lack of it, each day."

Henry Louis Gates believes Hemingway's style was fundamentally shaped "in reaction to [his] experience of world war". After World War I, he and other modernists "lost faith in the central institutions of Western civilization," by reacting against the "elaborate style" of 19th century writers; and by creating a style "in which meaning is established through dialogue, through action, and silences—a fiction in which nothing crucial—or at least very little—is stated explicitly."

If a writer of prose knows enough of what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an ice-berg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water. A writer who omits things because he does not know them only makes hollow places in his writing.
—Ernest Hemingway in Death in the Afternoon[162

And my favorite thought in counterpoint to anti-Hemingway-ers (again, from Wikipedia):

Hemingway's intent was not to eliminate emotion, but to portray it more scientifically. Hemingway thought it would be easy, and pointless, to describe emotions; he sculpted collages of images in order to grasp "the real thing, the sequence of motion and fact which made the emotion and which would be as valid in a year or in ten years or, with luck and if you stated it purely enough, always."
Although he wandered as he wrote, starting and then continuing and completing books in three, four or five five different locations, here's a picture Hemingway's writing desk from the Key West house.  One day I will steal this desk and then I'll be a real writer.

Hemingway's_writing_desk_in_Key_West.jpg (640×480)
Hemingway's writing desk

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1 comment:

  1. Love it! And love your library... Good Luck on the move and best wishes for a healthy happy life ! Debrah xo