I often joke in our Brown Baggers Book Group here at the Central Library of how, in typical fashion, I learned American Literary history backwards. I went from Bukowski, Burroughs and Kerouac back through time to the writers who had initially influenced them, American and otherwise. Thus I didn’t truly appreciate the Post WWI “Lost Generation” (a characterization disputed by Ernest Hemingway, by the way. Come find out why!) of American Writers like Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald until I studied English Lit. at the University of Pittsburgh. I’m still working backwards towards Hawthorne and company.
It was there in Dr. Petesch’s “Roaring Twenties” class that I was introduced to Hemingway’s Nick Adams Stories (also called In Our Time), the stark power of which left a lasting impression on me. I still recall the strangely beautiful image of Nick wading in the river and fishing with a jar of grasshoppers fastened around his neck to use as bait.
My very first introduction to Hemingway was The Old Man and the Sea, assigned in 11th Grade English. Unlike the Nobel Prize committee, my 16 year old sensibilities found the book boring and I spent the majority of those classes dozing off. I have since revised my opinion of book and author. It was crystal clear to me even then, the enormous impact that Hemingway’s short, deceptively simple sentences had on the generations of writers who would follow in his footsteps, not to mention the considerable shadow cast by his outsize persona, but it took some time and life experience for the emotional weight of Hemingway’s work to resonate with this particular reader.
I can hear echoes of Hemingway’s stylistic voice in writers ranging from Raymond Chandler to Raymond Carver. I can actually hear Charles Bukowski’s voice when I read certain pieces of Jake Barnes’s dialogue in The Sun Also Rises. Bukowksi actually wrote a short story, collected in South of No North, wherein he boxes Papa. Such was the affection and gratitude many subsequent American writers had for Ernest Hemingway. We’ll be reading Hemingway’s first novel, The Sun Also Rises which I purchased a decade ago in my Borders days and still embarrassingly had not read until preparing for our discussion. This is one of the many things I love about book groups, and ours here at JMRL in particular: they force you to make time to read that classic that you constantly had said to yourself “I’ll get to it someday.” It’s a beautiful thing. Now I know about the Parisian trials and tribulations of Jake, Lady Brett, Robert Cohn and the whole gang. I anticipate a very lively, entertaining and interesting discussion (as always!), so please join us this Thursday, May 20th at 12 in the McIntire Room.