Sunday, November 15, 2009

Review of the Day: The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway

How can I review a book that took me 30 years to read? This is not just a book, it is part of my life. I have been working on The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway longer than all my formal education, two marriages, and my law practice.

I read my first Hemingway short story -- "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber" -- when I was a Freshman in high school. In fits and starts since then I have been working my way through the rest. There are some, such as “Hills Like White Elephants” and “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” that I have read several times. Others, like all the bull fighting stories, maybe only feel like I read them over and over.

I know that I had to start this “Finca Vigia” edition several times, including reading the first half dozen or so stories out loud on road trips -- first with my practice husband and later with my keeper hubby. I made a concerted effort this year to finish this book and this project. Hemingway wrote all his short stories in a 38-year span – I did not want it to take me as long to read them. So I started again at the beginning and read the book all the way through. The Nick Adams stories were new to me, as were the boxing stories and the previously unpublished stories at the end of the book.

But I can’t review Hemingway, especially when my attitudes about his writing have changed over the decades. I was unquestionably awed as a teenager, snide as a college English major, a genuine fan as an adult, and now just a little weary. His writing is masterful. He was a genius with spare dialog and creating reality with only a few brush strokes. (Of course, because he taught Americans a new way of writing, reading the original does not pack the wallop it must have before everyone copied him.) What wore me out was the subject matter – the bull fights and the Spanish Civil War in particular. It just got to be a chore for me to get to the end.

Who knows? Maybe I’ll dip into the collection again in the future and have a completely new attitude about Hemingway. But for now, the book is going back on the shelf.


(If you would like your review of this book or related posts about Hemingway or his books, please leave a comment with a link and I will add it here.)

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