I have finally started reading the big and the scary Ernest Hemingway. I try to ignore my little stint with the guy last year, because it was only a brief encounter through The Old Man and the Sea. And who hasn’t read that? I think everyone must start with The Old Man when they first try Hemingway – after all it is probably the least intimidating piece in all of his oeuvre. I never would have even found the courage to pick the next book up, if it wasn’t for the people at 1001 Books club and their monthly attempts to read through the entire list of greatest novel of all time. Their December pick fell on For Whom the Bell Tolls and so I put a copy on hold at the library.
After about the first hundred pages in I see the familiar hand spreading words across the page like butter with the same reserve, yet generosity so characteristic of Hemingway. Why generosity? Well, everyone in the literary world knows that Hemingway was famous for his minimalist prose, and that I found true in this book as well. There are no lengthy detours to paint a beautiful landscape, no pause in the dialogue for unnecessary ‘he said/she said’. There are only the characters on the blank canvas and the truth that exists between them. However, Hemingway takes all the time in the world to develop those characters through short glimpses at their pasts, occasional careless phrases, or their reactions to the change in the relationships dynamics. In other words, it’s been over a hundred pages and not much plot has advanced.
But how does Hemingway manage to transport me so easily into the remote mountainous Spain, if his descriptions are so limited? Because I am able to see the setting more brightly than those in much more descriptive novels. Perhaps it’s the paragraphs like this:
‘Aren’t you tired of the pines, guapa?’
‘I like the odor and the feel of the needles under foot. I like the wind in the high trees and the creaking they make against each other.’
‘You like anything […] But the pine tree makes a forest of boredom. Thou hast never known a forest of beech, nor of oak, nor of chestnut. Those are forests. In such forests each tree differs and there is character and beauty. A forest of pine trees is boredom.’
I am also trying out a new note-taking system with this book. Basically I keep a thin stack on post-its inside the back cover and a pen handy, and whenever I need to make a comment, or jot down a quote I stick a sheet on the page and do it on the spot without the need to carry an extra notebook or to vandalize the book. I also make sure to note the page number, so when it’s time to return the book to the library I can pull all my post-its out and sort them by chronological order. Later on I can transfer my organized notes to my reading journal and have that done all neat and pretty, or weed out unnecessary scribbles and use the rest for a mind map. I think this kind of system should work a little better for me than my regular routine of bringing a notebook around.
Do you have any way of keeping reading notes? How about an advice or a comment on reading Hemingway for the first time? I would love to learn about your experiences.