The Importance of Hating Ernest
"Reading Hemingway in Cupertino" is not as evocative a title as “Reading Lolita in Tehran,” but it nevertheless conveys my last lunchtime window shop excursion to a bookstore.
To begin with, I must state upfront that I am not a fan of Hemingway; neither his writing nor his plots. I know, I know, I’m a Philistine. But I’m a Philistine with an open mind, at least where books are concerned. When I say “I don’t like Hemingway,” it is as a college student forced to read “For Whom the Bell Tolls” for a class taught by a teacher whose name I will never recall, in spite of the fact that I have perfect recollection of his purple cardigan sweater and eternal licorice-breath.
But I’ve aged since then, and I thought it was time I give Hemingway another try. (I am discounting the “Moveable Feast” episode where I thought it would be “artistic” to actually take with me to Paris. It wasn’t.) So off I go to a bookstore to browse through their selection. I was intrigued by “To Have and Have Not,” because I love the movie so much – but I know the book is different from the movie and I decide against it for fear it would taint a great popcorn flick. “The Old Man and the Sea” has the element of brevity going for it, but I know the plot and I have no interest in either old men or the sea. (Apologies to Melville.)
I pick up “The Sun Also Rises,” and quickly put it down again, deciding I’m not really in the mood for a book filled with unpleasant drunk people doing unpleasant things to other unpleasant drunk people.
“Hemingway on Fishing?” Shoot me now.
Ah…”The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories.” Now there’s a possibility. I love Africa. Short stories take far less commitment than a novel, and I can get more plot variety.
I’m halfway to the check-out counter before I turn around and put it back on the shelf. I had one of those pre-buy epiphanies that so often save us from bad purchases. There amid the faceouts of "Dummies" guides, I realize that it’s ok not to like Hemingway. Maybe it’s because he’s a so-called “man’s writer” and I am happily penis-free. Maybe it’s because hating his short, staccato writing style that makes every sentence sound like a cough, is a perfect reasonable assessment of his skill as a writer. Maybe because I’m not in college anymore and I don’t have to read anything that I’m not genuinely interested in. Whatever the reason, I put Ernest back and happily wander over to the History section.