Giving Up On Hemingway

OK, I give up. “Screw it,” as I’ve been yelled at for saying. Life is too short. 2000 books, that’s what I think I have left to read in my life. One a week; ambitious for sure but I’m trying. It’s why I rarely do book reviews when asked, wasting one of my precious weeks to wade through garbage. Sure, I do get surprised sometimes – “Pacific Viking” comes to mind – the exception that proves the rule. If I were paid for it, I’d do it. But I’m not. 

Nor am I paid to read Hemingway, instead manipulated by name recognition. Group-think does not only occur on social media; echo chambers as self-licking ice cream cones until everything is viscous and sticky. It also occurs in “art” – remember the story of the banana duck taped to a wall that sold for $120,000; the joyous prank of a mean-spirited ‘artist’ in his final mockery of his own trade; proving that art is less about “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” and more “art as a positional good”. Positional good being the idea in economics that something has value only in relation to is possession by others; others who others have said are genius. Isn’t the Nobel committee the end all, judges of what is good and true – and beautiful? Lets forget they once gave the Nobel Prize in Peace to Arafat, the world’s greatest terrorist. And the Nobel Prize in Literature once to Bob Dylan, a musician whose little limericks absent the catchy tunes are basically drivel. Hemingway won the Nobel Prize in literature. He must be good!!!

I have recently tried to read “To Have and Have Not” – my fault, I know. I keep picking up Hemingway, long after I knew that his writing is grating. I have no idea what this ‘novel’ is about, beyond its crass dialogue, insulting language, and lack whatsoever of any descriptions which would make it beautiful or meaningful. Pointedly, for this novel – like all his others – I can’t find a way to care about the characters; there is virtually no beauty to be found; the plots are humdrum; and his style is grating. What could go wrong?

So there you have it, a final judgement upon Hemingway. But who cares, right? He is a novelist upon the lips of everybody who think that saying something insightful about him ushers them into a special club of those who “get it”, somehow giving them the keys to the kingdom. And me, just a washed up novelist who nobody has heard of; a traveler of the lost places who thinks for himself and stands alone. What could be more insulting than that?

About Joel D. Hirst

Joel D. Hirst is a novelist and a playwright. His most recently released work is "Dreams of the Defeated: A Play in Two Acts" about a political prisoner in a dystopian regime. His novels include "I, Charles, From the Camps" about the life of a young man in the African camps and "Lords of Misrule" about the making and unmaking of a jihadist in the Sahara. "The Lieutenant of San Porfirio" and its sequel "The Burning of San Porfirio" are about the rise and fall of socialist Venezuela (with magic).
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7 Responses to Giving Up On Hemingway

  1. MishaBurnett says:

    I like his short fiction, but I’ve never gotten through any of his novels.


  2. charles w abbott says:

    LIke the commenter above, I like his short fiction. We read _The old man and the sea_ in 8th grade at my demanding public middle school. After that I lost my way and nothing else was on the syllabus in my coursework. I read much of his short fiction voluntarily in high school.

    Additionally, there is the writer, there is the man, and there is the mystique. For example, Hemmingway is still a household name (and on the high school curriculum) while many of the foreign idealists with him during the Spanish Civil War and mostly unknown to the public. A topic for another time.

    Life is short.


    • I read “a movable feast” hoping it would improve my understanding and appreciation of his works. A little bit like “memories of my sad whores” from Gabo did (Gabo I like more than hemingway, though 100 years is not my favorite). But it didn’t help. “Never meet your heros” comes to mind. As you say, life is short.


  3. Mark Gomes says:

    The Sun Also Rises is a masterpiece!!


  4. Mark Gomes says:

    Whoops..sorry for the double post


  5. Pingback: Adios Hemingway | Joel D. Hirst's Blog

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