Reading Ernest Hemingway

That’s Ernest Hemingway. He was a handsome laddie, and he’s been looking at me that way for the longest time now. Hm. I just need to get that out of the way. Anyhoo. I’ve been reading the early stories of Papa Hemingway up there, from, well, The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway. It’s been daunting. I mean, I plucked that book from the shelves when my mom set me loose in a bookstore last Christmas. And I bought it because it was Hemingway, and I’d been thinking for the longest time, “I’m a Creative Writing major, I need this kind of education.”

See, the only Hemingway story I read in college was “Hills Like White Elephants” — a short, stoic, macho story that, during the two [!] weeks we discussed it [in freshman Lit class] I had to fall in love with. The restraint, the ambiguity, that exercise where we tried to imitate Hemingway’s style and me failing terribly augh augh — that was my introduction to the guy. And I think I loved “Hills Like White Elephants” because it was almost exhaustively discussed. The deceptive prose, his spareness: he bears up well under dissection, gets richer by it actually.

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. [I Googled this quote, haha. I like what it says.] [Preach, sir, preach!]

And I haven’t read him since, not really. Either my teachers didn’t believe in Hemingway, or thought Hemingway would complicate things, or, well, this was a serious oversight — I have not read Hemingway since. I peeked at “A Clean, Well-lighted Place,” but fell asleep. Sorry.

So I’m half a dozen stories in, reading the earlier works first. “Up in Michigan” was his first story — written when he was 22. It’s erotic, disquieting. Violent. And unsettling because the violence was so calm. Not what I expected. And I think “The End of Something” is one of the best break-up stories ever. Did I demean Hemingway a little with that description? Yes? Carry on.

I’ve noticed, though, my attitude when reading Hemingway’s stories: I read the first pages politely, stick with it because I can see that the stories are short [a This won’t last long, so suck it up mentality, haha], and then BAM, something turns, and I’m liking the story. And my evaluation of the stories? As with that dissection in college, the shorter and more spare the stories are — the more macho and stoic they get — the more I’m tempted to overread. Oh well.

I keep reading. At least I can sniff and say, “Yeah, Hemingway, I know him.” And I leave you with some writing advice from the man himself, from the preface:

In going where you have to go, and doing what you have to do, and seeing what you have to see, you dull and blunt the instrument you write with. But I would rather have it bent and dull and know I had to put it on the grindstone again and hammer it into shape, and put a whetstone to it, and know that I had something to write about, than to have it bright and shining and nothing to say, or smoothe and well-oiled in the closet, but unused.
Now it is necessary to get to the grindstone again.

Which I am interpreting as: Sulat lang ng sulat. Or, a wonky translation: Just write, demmet. I’ll see what I can do, Boss.


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