Monday, July 21, 2008

One hell of a scribe

I've written a lot lately about my favorite writer, but I'd be remiss if I didn't acknowledge that today would have been the 109th birthday of Ernest Hemingway.

It's difficult to know why one develops attachments to various authors. With Hemingway, I think it's first and foremost because, at his best, he wrote better than anyone else. Period. He's great training for a newspaper writer. Tough, terse prose. Short, declarative sentences. Highly descriptive.

My first contact with him was through "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" in an American Lit class at UT. About that time I also watched an A&E "Biography" on "Papa," narrated by his granddaughter Mariel Hemingway. The following Memorial Day weekend, I sat out on the deck at the cabin, engrossed in "The Sun Also Rises." By then, I was hooked.

Hemingway has been called a lot of things. Overrated, for one, by jealous critics. A genius by others, closer to the mark. No doubt he revolutionized American, indeed world, literature by ushering in the modernist movement -- Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Sherwood Anderson and a few others.

I'm forever haunted by his depression, by his enveloping madness, by the loss of his ability and, of course, the 1961 death by his own hand. I wonder what could have been. I'm grateful for what was.

It's hard to pick a favorite. "The Sun Also Rises" is quite special. So is "A Farewell to Arms" and "The Old Man and the Sea." I can pick a favorite short story. Hands down, "A Clean Well-Lighted Place." Brilliant.

That being said, "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber" will haunt your dreams. Hemingway once wrote that "All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened." Let's just say I felt like I was on that safari, and nearly broke out into a sweat when it finished. I won't say more in case you ever read the piece, which you should, if you haven't.

So happy birthday, Ernie, wherever you are. You were one hell of a scribe, I know that.

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