1 book finished in 2014: For Whom the Bell Tolls

I bought this in an Alabama bookstore, back in June 2013 when I RAN OUT OF BOOKS TO READ while on vacation. All frivolity had to stop while I hunted down a bookstore, and then I wandered aimlessly for an hour, trying to figure out how to judge a book by its cover. (This is, I believe, why Dad gave me a kindle for my birthday in September.)

[Sidebar: I remember, growing up with a library card (and a library that was merely a walk or bike ride away from home), how I used to choose new books exclusively because of their cover. I’d often wander through the front section, where the librarians set out a small selection of novels – most likely new additions, since I definitely didn’t encounter many classics at this stage – and I’d pick one or two based on size and cover alone. It was always an adventure, reading those library books, but I don’t remember much of what I read.]

So, I’m wandering around this Books-A-Million, not having any idea what to pick up, but knowing that I needed a large stack, since it was the middle of the week at the beach and I HAD RUN OUT OF BOOKS, so I went for a mix of hilarious picks in the sale section and classics which I’d previously avoided. This fell into the second category.

Have you seen Midnight in Paris? If you haven’t, it’s about a man who somehow finds himself thrown back in time to Paris in the 20s, and he gets caught up with the celebrated creative party set of that time – Cole Porter, the Fitzgeralds, Gertrude Stein, Salvador Dali, etc. Hemingway was also in that set, and he was portrayed as so over-the-top and emotional and fixated on blood and guts and sex and love and war and honor that I couldn’t stop laughing.

Before that, I’d pictured Hemingway as an old man, fixated on history, and on war, and I worried that his books would be dull and procedural. (Never will I be a war historian.)

But now, knowing that Hemingway’s books were probably going to be man-drama in addition to incredibly long war stories, and after surviving Victor Hugo, who could probably be portrayed similarly in a Woody Allen movie (equally over-the-top, but probably more serious and hopeful), I was game.

OH HELLO LONGEST INTRODUCTION EVER.

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I didn’t love this book, and don’t think I enjoyed it either – there were a few high points, poignant instances of humanity and kindness and striving and hopefulness in this bleak, desperate setting. And I acknowledge that those moments wouldn’t exist without the struggle, so I can appreciate the larger experience for the smaller gems. BUT, if I’m honest, I fell asleep every time I picked up this book – not just because it was commonly read at bedtime, but because it was so depressing.

The one thing that I’m curious about is how heavily Hemingway’s books were censored – he uses the word “obscenity” consistently through the text, presumably as a translation from Spanish, but it seemed over-used, as if he was drawing attention to it. He also had multiple sex scenes which were written so confusingly that I didn’t realize what had happened until it was over. I couldn’t help but imagine Hemingway as a schoolboy, reading the paragraph out loud, gleeful about slipping it past the teacher.

Have you read any Hemingway? Would you recommend I try again?

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2 thoughts on “1 book finished in 2014: For Whom the Bell Tolls

  1. for me, the best Hemingway are the short stories. I have a big collection but if you can find a smaller collection like “Men Without Women” that’s got some good stories in it.

    I think that’s a fairly late book. The ones that made him, so to speak, were really “The Sun Also Rises” and “Farewell to Arms”. Maybe peruse them at the bookstore (or library) and see if they seem different to you.

    But I think a LOT of Hemingway is very bleak — he’s a bleak suicidal dude from a bleak suicidal family, after all.

    Also this is kind of a cool story about him: http://www.openculture.com/2013/05/ernest_hemingways_reading_list_for_a_young_writer_1934.html

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