Friday, April 16, 2010

A Farewell to Pride

During 8th grade, one of the required readings for my literature class was The Old Man and the Sea by Hemingway. I hated it. I dreaded reading it, writing about it and (to be completely honest) am not entire sure I even finished the book. If you know me and know anything about my literature consumption habits, you know that refusing to finish a book is a rare thing indeed.

Since that 8th grade misfortune, I've refused to have anything to do with Hemingway. Flat out refused to read any of his novels or show any real interest in his life as a historical figure. In fact, I'd go so far to say that I purposely have been openly critical and hateful toward Hemingway and his writings (all based on one novel read when I was 14).

Weirdly, my life has paralleled his in many ways--at least in travel experiences. I've been to Havana (and am sure I insulted many a Cubano by telling them I was not interested in "Papa," and no, I didn't care about his damn six-toed cats), I've lived abroad in Spain (but refused to watch a bullfight), I've traveled to Kilimanjaro (though I failed to take home any big game animal heads).

Yet, the entire time, I adamantly maintained that Hemingway was an author I'd never read again.

And then a coworker and I started a conversation about books. His preferences tend more toward what I think of as *man-lit*--a combination of nonfiction and novels that appeal to men. But he mentioned Hemingway as one of his favorite authors. I laughed and told him I'd never touch a Hemingway book thanks to my 8th grade experience The Old Man and the Sea.

What a smug person I am. A day or two later, I found myself wandering the fiction section of the library again. I routinely do this--go to the library needing something to read but with no concrete ideas of actual books to take home. And then the idea occurred to me. I *could* check out a Hemingway novel.

After browsing the new releases but not finding anything inspiring, I settled for The Sun Also Rises. Short. Not too intimidating. I checked it out with low expectations.

I am a jerk. Clearly. I am willing to admit this publicly and openly.

All these years of my life, I've spent hating Hemingway, publicly denouncing my dislike for his writing and one novel, one short novel of his that took all of two days to read, felled me like a tree. I loved the story. Loved it.

I don't know if I was too young to appreciate his writing style, too immature to understand such adult themes in literature or maybe I've been a jerk my whole life. Who knows (although, I suspect the latter)? His descriptions of Spain's countryside had me reminiscing about riding through the countryside. The aimlessness of the characters floating through life abroad, the lost innocence, the effects of war on an entire generation, the drinking to suppress feeling the emasculation just resonated with me in a way I didn't expect.

All I know is this: I have given Hemingway another chance and I suspect it's a relationship that will last a lifetime.

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