Reading Hemingway for the First Time, Part 2
In celebration of The Letters of Ernest Hemingway, Volume 1, we asked Hemingway enthusiasts and scholars what their first experience with Hemingway was, and how he came to make a place in their hearts and minds. Our series on first Hemingway experiences continues with a film lover, an English student, a library lover, and a recuperating reader.
“I used to love to stay up late and watch movies, and it didn’t take long to figure out that many of the best ones were taken from books – The Maltese Falcon, The Fountainhead, Gatsby, *and* For Whom the Bell Tolls. So I started watching the credits and jotting down titles and authors. This led me to reading many of Hemingway’s novels in about 1967 but didn’t take much notice of him after that. (I think this may be why I never read much of Faulkner – no films). On my very first trip to Key West in 1994 we took the tour of the Hemingway House and I bought a copy of The Snows of Kilimanjaro and other stories; then, on the last day there, picked up a copy of James Mellow’s bio, A Life without Consequences. I almost finished it on the plane coming home and was enthralled by not only the descriptions of his writing success but by the places he had been – Paris in the ‘20s, Spain to follow the bullfights and to cover the Civil War, Key West to fish and to write, Cuba, covering the D-Day landings and the Hurtgen, Africa. This lead me to read more about these places and events, anywhere he went and things he experienced I wanted to visit and experience, even if it was only through books. Additionally, it lead me to the many -isms which people wrote that affected his writing – Cubism, Imagism, Fururism, what have you. It’s an endless journey of exploration. But the best part was finally going to one of the Hemingway Conferences and actually meeting and taking to many of the people who write about Hemingway, and to visit such places as Ronda, Laussanne, and God willing, Michigan. (And I got to meet Mariel once)”
“About 1948-49 in freshman English at Pitt, Hemingway happened to me, on assignment to do a short paper on Brett – about 200 words. I discovered quickly it was not easy, near impossible to do a SHORT paper on Brett or most of the leading characters in his long works of fiction. But I was hooked! And it has become more challenging and consuming over the years.”
Robert M. Myers
“There were very few books in the household where I grew up, yet I was attracted to books and reading at an early age. I discovered the local library and would often go there of an evening, just to be among books. The librarian directed me to the children’s section and I did find Treasure Island and Kidnapped and later American Westerns, Zane Grey et al. But in my early teens an adult wing was added to the library and I found myself wandering its stacks, sensing there was something here I craved. The librarian referred me again to the children’s section. In grade 11 I joined a book club, Doubleday probably, and got 6 books for 99 cents as an introductory offer. I had ordered Morley Callaghan’s That Summer in Paris because I knew he was a Canadian writer from English class, and a summer in Paris sure sounded exotic to me, growing up as I was in small town Ontario. Callaghan kept mentioning two other writers called Fitzgerald and Hemingway. Back I went to the adult section of the library and picked up a copy of The Sun Also Rises (it was set in Paris, too). I read it, very puzzled, for I didn’t understand everything that was going on in its pages, but I did know I liked it, was intrigued by the characters’ way of living and speaking, and most importantly, I wanted to know more about this kind of writing. It was definitely different from anything I had encountered thus far. From that reading of The Sun Also Rises, I fell in love with Hemingway and with reading. Neither affair is over yet.”
“I was in my late 30s and had recently had some major foot surgeries. I kept working a full schedule despite being on crutches and if anyone has had to use crutches for months on end, even on the snow and ice, you know how taxing it can be. I became physically exhausted at the end of each day and soon I was emotionally exhausted too. I sunk into a deep depression the likes I had never experienced before or since. I picked up The Old Man and The Sea and it spoke to the joys and sorrows of life, of catching the biggest fish this village had ever seen, and then to see the sharks come and gobble it all away. There was such power in helplessness; such honesty in failure. It was as if each of Hemingway’s words were lifted high above the ground by a crane, then released with such precision and power that they were permanently planted on the page. I started reading more of his works and appreciated how he doesn’t back away from life…or death.”
For more Hemingway happenings, check out the Cambridge Book Club.