Thursday Jul. 21, 2016

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On my way back from the Tabac
two Dutch businessmen stopped to ask
which way and how far to the Metro.
I tell you it felt fine: I felt

Parisian and tried to sound it.
Walking to the Crillon, Caroline
and I were stopped by a chic couple
who asked if they were near the Ritz.

We pointed diagonally toward
place Vendome, then shared our Michelin.
Only in Paris, as they say,
can an American be so French

that Europeans ask directions
and seven strangers wave at you
from cars and waiters read your mind
and offer Chateau Neuf du Pape.

“Directions” by Jim Barnes from Paris. © University of Illinois Press, 1997. Reprinted with permission.  (buy now)

It’s the birthday of American writer Ernest Hemingway (1899) (books by this author), best known for his novels The Sun Also Rises (1926) and A Farewell to Arms (1929), which explored the post-war disillusionment of young people. Hemingway was born Ernest Hemingway Miller in Cicero (now Oak Park), Illinois, a prosperous, conservative suburb of Chicago. Architect Frank Lloyd Wright described Cicero as “So many churches for so many good people to go to.” Hemingway’s father was a physician who taught him to hunt, fish, and camp in the woods. His mother was a musician who forced him to learn the cello, which he hated, but which he later admitted helped him when writing his novel A Farewell to Arms, whose structure he described as “contrapuntal.”

After high school, he headed to Kansas City to work as cub reporter for the Kansas City Star. He soaked up the newspaper’s style guide, which he said advised writers to “Use short sentences. Use short paragraphs. Use vigorous English. Be positive, not negative.” Hemingway later admitted that his journalism training was the reason for his legendarily spare, sharp prose style, 70 percent of which was simple, declarative sentences.

At 18 years old, he responded to a Red Cross recruitment effort in Kansas City and soon found himself in Italy as an ambulance driver during World War I, which began more than 20 years of adventures, wartime reportage, and accidents, some of which found their way into his fiction. In Italy, he was seriously injured by mortar fire after returning from the canteen with chocolate and cigarettes for the men on the front line; he spent over six months in the hospital with shrapnel wounds in his legs. Later in his life, he would have not one, but two serious airplane crashes while on big-game hunts; nearly die of blood poisoning while on African safari; survive his hotel room being destroyed by shells during the Spanish Civil War; and survive a taxi accident in a blackout during World War II. He also married four times and had several children. When an interviewer asked if he wrote better when he was in love, Hemingway agreed, responding, “But the best writing is certainly when you are in love. If it is all the same to you, I would rather not expound on that.”

During his lifetime, Hemingway published seven novels, including The Sun Also Rises (1926), A Farewell to Arms (1929), To Have and Have Not (1937), For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940), and The Old Man and the Sea (1951). He wrote the first draft of The Sun Also Rises in eight weeks after being inspired by the bullfighting he witnessed at the Festival of San Fermín in Pamplona (1923). He said that A Farewell to Arms was inspired by his failed romance with Red Cross nurse Agnes von Kurowsky, with whom he fell hopelessly in love, and who spurned him for another man.

Hemingway’s novel To Have and Have Not (1937) has been adapted for film four times. It was first filmed in 1944 and starred Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. John Garfield starred in the 1950 version, which was titled The Breaking Point. In 1958, it was called The Gun Runners and starred Audie Murphy. In 1987, it was made into an Iranian film titled Captain Khorshid. Many people also feel that the 1977 film The Deep, starring Jacqueline Bisset in a very thin white T-shirt, also reused plot elements and characters from Hemingway’s novel, though it is mostly based on Peter Benchley’s novel of the same name.

After he finished writing his novel The Old Man and the Sea, which won the Pulitzer Prize for literature (1952), Hemingway said the book was “the best I can write ever for all of my life.” He won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1954, and in his acceptance letter, he wrote: “Writing, at its best, is a lonely life. Organizations for writers palliate the writer’s loneliness but I doubt if they improve his writing. He grows in public stature as he sheds his loneliness and often his work deteriorates. For he does his work alone and if he is a good enough writer he must face eternity, or the lack of it, each day.”

Hemingway preferred to begin his stories and novels in pencil. He said: “If you write with a pencil you get three different sights at it to see if the reader is getting what you want him to. First when you read it over; then when it is typed you get another chance to improve it, and again in the proof. Writing it first in pencil gives you one-third more chance to improve it. That is .333, which is a damned good average for a hitter.” Once he was ready to type the manuscript, he typed standing up, with his typewrite on top of a bookcase, preferably by a window. He used chunks of copper ore to keep his papers from blowing and he had a big chart on the wall to keep track of his daily word count.

On writing, Hemingway said: “From things that have happened and from things as they exist and from all things that you know and all those you cannot know, you make something through your invention that is not a representation but a whole new thing truer than anything true and alive, and you make it alive, and if you make it well enough, you give it immortality.”

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®