One of my goals this year was to read more classics and particularly more American authors who fit into that category (well, more American authors period, as I seem to not reach for them as often as I do their British counterparts). One famous American author I've avoided since high school is Ernest Hemingway (we read The Old Man and the Sea). I didn't set out to avoid him, it just worked out that way. I'm not entirely familiar with his biography, but I am familiar with his reputation as being a man's man and a womanizer, and I know he can elicit strong opinions from readers due to this fact. While I like to know something about the authors I'm reading, I also wonder if it's necessarily fair to judge their work based on how they lived their lives. Sometimes, though, their lives and work can be inextricably linked and it's hard to avoid knowing something about them. And in some cases knowing something more about their lives can also shed light on their work, so I guess it's a matter of finding a balance between knowing just a little and knowing too much.
One of the books I want to read this summer is Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises. As I slowly make my way through my stack of current reads, I am going to be optimistic that I will indeed get to it eventually. Litlove's insightful post on Hemingway made me want to read him sooner rather than later. So as a small teaser I chose one of his short stories, "The Three Day Blow", to read this weekend, which appears in 50 Great Short Stories. Apparently Hemingway wrote a series of stories featuring a character called Nick Adams. I get the feeling they are coming of age stories and somewhat autobiographical.
"The Three Day Blow" refers to the wind, "just like when the three-day blows come now and rip all the leaves off the trees". It's during one of these periods that Nick visits his friend Bill in a cottage where he lives with his father. Bill's father is out hunting, and the two young men pull out an open bottle of whiskey and start drinking. Their conversation meanders over a variety of topics, from baseball to books to what makes a drunkard. Finally they discuss Nick's recently dumped girlfriend, Margery. Although Bill thinks Nick made the right choice, Nick becomes serious and slightly morose over the topic. In the end they think it's worthless getting drunk and go out looking for Bill's father. Nick becomes suddenly optimistic.
"Outside now the Marge business was no longer so tragic. It was not even very important. The wind blew everything like that away."
And then he thinks he could always go into town on the weekend, perhaps to patch things up with her.
Hemingway has a very simple, pared down writing style. I've read that this story is a good example of his Iceberg Theory.
"If a writer of prose knows enough about 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 the iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water. The writer who omits things because he does not know them only makes hollow places in his writing."
I guess this means less is more?
To be honest I'm not always quite sure how to feel about short stories. Most often they seem to be a snapshot of a moment in life. I've enjoyed just about everything I've read when I think of stories this way and on a few occasions I've been really impressed by an author's cleverness when writing a really good short story. While I enjoyed "The Three Day Blow", I think it will be a fairer determinant as to how I'll like Hemingway's work when I finally get around to reading his longer fiction. Still this was an interesting glimpse into Hemingway's style and the subjects (in some small way) he writes about.