Reading Hemingway using five magic keys

Hearing a voice from the Jazz Age for the first time

For me, the world of classic literature is like an old locked cupboard in the attic, I’m keen to break it open to see what’s inside. I’ve heard there’s some wonderful experiences waiting for me if I could just find the key. Recently I did just that, I found a key, well five actually and accessed a classic written by Ernest Hemingway, a voice from The Jazz Age.

Why did I need a key, why not just open the book and read it? Oh, if only reading “old” books were that simple. You see, I have a classics-block. Many of you who follow my blog will know it’s an ongoing problem for me. My attitude towards works stamped with “classic” blocks me from accessing the words between the covers.  I try and I try to break through the block but eventually, after only a couple of chapters, I close the book, often as a result of boredom, confusion and a self-effacing attitude toward new voices, dense narration and a personal need for a plot driven story.

Densely written books often have many characters, too many to keep track of, some with unpronounceable names, strange locations, mind shifts, intricate descriptions and some don’t have a plot. Books without a plot confuse me, I need to know where the story will lead. Every book I choose to read, presents a question: Why would I, should I, do I, care to know what the book will give me?

Before we go any further I should clearly define my personal view of what a classic work of literature is.  Here, in this blog, when I coin the term “classic” I’m referring to any written work published before 1960, available in English and written by an author whose work is considered, by prolific readers, still worth reading.

I’ve heard that the authors of classic literature write at a deep level, a level that can change the way the reader thinks about things. It’s intriguing, the idea of changing the way one thinks about things, possibly approaching things in a lateral and, hope upon hope, a wiser way.

Prolific readers know, one book can lead to another and to another and then to another, and so on to infinity. This progression was my key to gaining access to Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises.  However, it was not a book that started me off on my journey, it was a set of blog posts about books. The bloggers were participating in a challenge of reading and reviewing literature from “The Jazz Age”.  Their blogs were the first and primary key to the Jazz Age world of Ernest Hemingway in 1920s France.  I found five magic keys:

  • Key 1) Reading the Book Blogs related to The Jazz Age Reading Challenge 2014
  • Key 2) Reading The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
  • Key 3) Reading A Moveable Feast – Sketches of the Author’s Life in Paris in the Twenties by Ernest Hemingway published posthumously in 1964
  • Key 4) Softening my attitude to Ernest Hemingway’s public persona
  • Key 5) Gaining confidence

The Jazz Age Reading Challenge was hosted by one of my favourite book bloggers, Leah Mosher of “Books Speak Volumes”.  She invited participants to read books related to the Jazz Age during the month of January 2014. Participants in the challenge were encouraged to read at least one book set in or about the Jazz Age or its characters and write about it!

I can’t say I was a by Paula McLain.  So I read it and enjoyed it and it led me to another book, The Moveable Feast.

At this point I could not say I was “reading Hemingway” because The Moveable Feast was a series of sketches of  Hemingway’s life in Paris written over the years by Ernest Hemingway and published posthumously in 1964. I don’t consider this book fits into the definition of a “classic” as defined in this blog.  It certainly was a stepping stone for me. It gave me another access key. (If you want to know more about A Moveable Feast read Leah Mosher’s excellent blog-post at her website “Books Speak Volumes”.)

Reading The Paris Wife and A Moveable Feast made me a bit better informed than I was before I read the books.  The books broke down a block I had about Hemingway, the man. Previous to reading the books I had an image in my mind of Hemingway the misogynist alpha male and I envisaged his writing about fishing, drinking, brawling and bull fights to be of no interest to me.

After reading The Paris Wife and A Moveable Feast my attitude toward Hemingway and his work softened.  He loved women, many women, so he wasn’t a misogynist, he was a mysogonist on the other hand is unforgivably cruel. (If you want to know more about The Paris Wife read Leah Mosher’s excellent blog-post at her website “Books Speak Volumes”.)

I became curious about the stories the man wrote. My reading muscle had strengthened, I felt enthusiastic, I felt keen, I was ready for the big one, the real book, his first novel, The Sun Also Rises. (Drum roll required here!)

I broke into that dusty cupboard in the attic with my bunch of keys and found my way to where Hemingway’s book waited for me.

Surprisingly, the book could fit nicely into the Travel Adventure genre and sit comfortably next to the excellent work of Paul Theroux and Bill Bryson except Hemingway’s book is fiction and lacks authors who followed him, stood. The descriptions of the fishing trip, the Spanish fiesta, the towns and villages and the bull fight were perfect.

It was good to read Hemingway at last and the book was very readable. I can’t say I loved it but I certainly enjoyed it on several levels. I’m sure I’ll read another of his books soon.

This blog was written by Diane Challenor 2014
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