70 Days With Hemingway And Me

Every Novel, Back to Back, Starting With the First

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“Losing It”

July 27th, 2009 · Rush

Rush is one of my favorite bands, and has been since the mid 70s.

Their song “Losing It,” from the 1982 album Signals, is incredibly profound, and very sad. Some of the lyrics are, I think, about Ernest Hemingway. The song is about creative/artistic people losing their talent. Here are the lyrics:

The dancer slows her frantic pace
In pain and desperation
Her aching limbs and downcast face
Aglow with persperation

Stiff as wire, her lungs on fire
With just the briefest pause -
Then flooding through her memories,
The echoes of old applause

She limps across the floor
And closes her bedroom door…

The writer stares with glassy eyes -
Defies the empty page,
His beard is white, his face is lined
And streaked with tears of rage.

Thirty years ago, how the words would flow
With passion and precision,
But now his mind is dark and dulled
By sickness and indecision.

And he stars out the kitchen door
Where the sun will rise no more -

Some are born to move the wold -
To live their fantasties
But more of us just dream about
The things we’d like to be

Sadder still to watch it die
Than never to have known it
For you – the blind who once could see -
The bell tolls for thee…

It’s an incredibly sad song. Lyricist Neil Peart must really have tapped the ethos to pull that one out. It perfectly captures what must have been Ernest Hemingway’s thoughts in his final moments.

I’ve always loved “Losing It.” It brings tears to my eyes now just as it did when I first heard it. Perhaps more so now that I’ve read Hemingway at length. I highly recommend “Losing It” for anyone who wants to feel what Hemingway might have felt in the final weeks of his life.

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In The Immortal Words Of David Coverdale, “Here I Go Again On My Own…”

July 22nd, 2009 · The Old Man and the Sea, The Old Man and the Sea (Audio Book), The Old Man and the Sea (Movie)

The Old Man and the Sea Now this book – Hemingway’s classic The Old Man and the Sea – I’ve read before. And loved. So much so that I used parts of it when I taught classes in Communication at a nearby university. There are lines in this book that are among the finest I’ve ever read in my life. For example:

He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish.

I love that opening sentence. It is as concise as any Hemingway ever penned. Yet it says more in 27 words than many books today do in their entirety. Screenwriting guru Robert McKee writes in his book Story that if the greatest prose writers today took a single frame from the movie Blade Runner it would take pages and pages to capture it’s visual elements and yet [Read more →]

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A Raised Glass to Richard Cantwell, Col. Infantry, USA.

July 20th, 2009 · Across the River and Into the Trees

Sometimes I can’t believe my life.

Here I sit, listening to Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos 1-2-3, enjoying a Partagas cigar, sipping a dry martini (made with ice-cold Boodles gin), and feeling a gentle breeze blowing off the lake virtually at my feet.

Does any human being deserve to live so royally?

Nope. In fact, if this was a Hemingway novel, the other shoe would drop and either I or Elisabeth would keel over dead in the next 10 minutes.

Better enjoy it while I can.

(The CD changer just clicked over to Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro K. 492Overture. Sublime.)

CAUTION: Spoilers ahead.

Across the River and into the Trees is another Hemingway book about war, an American living in a foreign country, and death. Only this time, the story is about a May-December romance between [Read more →]

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This Movie Has It

July 18th, 2009 · To Have and Have Not (Movie)

To Have and Have Not, Hemingway’s fourth novel (published in 1937), is a terrible book. It’s about a failed rum runner in Cuba who has a loving wife, two daughters, and a rummy for a first mate. He loses his arm in a gun fight, later gets involved with bank robbers, and eventually loses his life.

It’s one depressing incident after another, told from a constantly-shifting narrative perspective. So it’s as confusing as it is desparing.

Supposedly, director Howard Hawks boasted that he could make a great movie out of Hemingway’s worst book, which he thought was To Have and Have Not. The film he made, released in 1944 and co-written by author William Faulkner, jettisons most of Hemingway’s novel. In the movie, Harry Morgan (Humphrey Bogart) doesn’t have a wife and he doesn’t have two daughters. He’s not a rum runner. He’s a reputable charter-boat captain. However, he still has a rummy for a first mate (played perfectly by character actor Walter Brennan), probably for comedic relief.

In Casablanca, Bogie’s character boasted he sticks his neck out for no man. But in To Have and Have Not his character, who also possesses a [Read more →]

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A Farewell to Quality

July 18th, 2009 · A Farewell to Arms (Movie)

A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway’s third novel (published in 1929), is a great book, full of interesting characters, unpredictable events, and snappy dialog — set against a backdrop of World War I.

A Farewell to Arms, the 1932 movie based on Hemingway’s book, is a terrible adaptation, largely because the film fell into public domain and has been released by everyone and his brother, with predictably uneven results.

In other words, the film is grainy, dark, and looks like it was made from an old video or TV broadcast. What’s more, this particular studio (Delta) superimposes its logo in the lower right corner of the screen every so often. I’ve never seen that before with a movie studio. On TV, yes. And it’s bad enough there. But on a movie? Very little is as distracting — or unnecessary.

It’s a shame, too. The cast includes Gary Cooper, Helen Hayes, and Adolphe Menjou (as Major Rinaldi, Coop’s sidekick). With a good cast and a good book, you’d think the movie would follow suit, right?

Not always. In fact, that would be the exception to the rule.

Liberties were taken with the movie adaptation, including how Catherine Barkley (Hayes) and Frederick Henry (Cooper) meet, their “marriage” (which, in the book, is — at best — a common-law marriage; but in the movie a Priest actually marries them), and the ending. Ah, the ending. In the book, the ending is typical Hemingway: morose, melancholy, and bleak. In the movie, well, let’s just say it’s a Hollywood ending, not at all a Hemingway ending.

My rating for the movie version of A Fairewell To Arms? On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the best, I’d give this movie a 2. On a good day.

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I Begin Again. Once Again.

July 15th, 2009 · Across the River and Into the Trees

Across the River Today, I start Ernest Hemingway’s sixth novel Across the River and Into the Trees, published in 1950.

I know I risk being labeled a mouth-breather. But I have to be honest. I know absolutely nothing about this novel, other than the fact that it boasts 308 pages in my leather-bound edition.

Embarrassing, isn’t it? I’ve never even heard of this novel. I have, however, heard of Ernest Hemingway. And 1950. So I’m not a lost cause, right?

Oh. I do know one other thing. Hemingway, by this point in time, was about 51 years of age. He only had 11 years left to live. It’ll be interesting to see how he spends those 11 years.

First, it’s across that river I go.

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Oh, Ernie, I Failed Ye! Let Me Buy Ye An Absinthe to Make it Up to Ye!

July 15th, 2009 · For Whom the Bell Tolls, For Whom the Bell Tolls (Movie)

Arturo Fuente and AbsintheOne of the things I had hoped would come of my trip through the psyche of one Ernest Miller Hemingway was a better understanding of myself.

Lo and behold! It worked.

I’ve discovered I have less time than I thought I had. I couldn’t finish For Whom the Bell Tolls. I couldn’t even get half-way through. Not even when I had a week to do it.

I failed ye, Ernie.

It’s not that I didn’t try. (Or maybe it is. I don’t know.) I had the week from hell. So many unexpected people popped into my life. A few odd turns of event. Stuff happened. I was constantly in react mode. Busy. Pissed off. Pressed for time. So it’s not like I didn’t enjoy the book. On the contrary, [Read more →]

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Once Again I Begin. Again.

July 8th, 2009 · For Whom the Bell Tolls, For Whom the Bell Tolls (Movie), John Donne

For Whom the Bell Tolls Today I being Hemingway’s sixth novel, the incomparable For Whom the Bell Tolls, which is arguably his most famous novel. In 1943 it was made into a movie that starred Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman.

For Whom the Bell Tolls was published in 1940. Hemingway was 41. America was not yet involved in World War II. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was re-elected for a third term. Big Band was in full swing (no pun intended). And the Oscar-winning movie was Rebecca, Daphne Du Maurier’s novel adapted for the big screen, starring Joan Fontaine and Laurence Olivier.

I do not know what For Whom the Bell Tolls is about. I only know that the title is taken from Renaissance-era poet John Donne’s classic Meditation XVII (1624), which says (in part):

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were. Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

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I Have Not the Slightest Desire to Read To Have and Have Not Again

July 8th, 2009 · Public Enemies (Movie), To Have and Have Not

Public Enemies MovieIt was interesting that I finished To Have and Have Not last night, immediately after seeing the new Johnny Depp movie Public Enemies, a movie about John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson, and Pretty Boy Floyd. The web site Rotten Tomatoes gives Depp’s movie a 65% fresh rating, which is about right. Maybe even a little generous.

What is it with directors these days who use much-too-close shots, jerky, hand-held cinematography, and kinetics in place of characters? Michael Mann has been around long enough to know better. Yet, he fell into the same trap The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3 director Tony Scott fell into (head first!) when he re-made the classic 1974 original. The 2009 version was nearly unwatchable it was so hyper-kinetic. I hate movies like that.

Anyway, back to Hemingway…

I knew the Johnny Depp movie was about a 1930s gangster and bank robberies. I knew Dillinger met his end outside the Biograph Theater in Chicago after watching the Clark Gable movie Manhattan Melodrama. I knew there would be lots of Thompson machine gun action in the Dillinger movie. And I knew the dramatic irony of knowing Dillinger’s end (when he did not) would result in me leaving the theater somewhat sad.

What I didn’t know was [Read more →]

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NyQuil, Anyone?

July 6th, 2009 · Abinsthe

I just prepared and drank my first absinthe.

I’ve heard people who smoke describe “the process” as something they enjoy. Since I occasionally enjoy a premium cigar, I understand what they mean.

Absinthe is the same way. There’s a process to it. And we have all the accoutrements – absinthe glasses, saucers, a carafe to hold and pour cold water, wide, porous sugar cubes, a spoon, and a bottle of genuine absinthe.

La Maison d'AbsintheWe bought all this wonderful stuff (minus the bottle of absinthe) from La Maison d’Absinthe, one of the greatest resources for absinthe materials in the world – located right here in the United States. Their products are very high quality. Their prices are extremely reasonable. And their service is remarkable. We can purchase something and have it in our hands within a few days.

If you, like me, are interested in trying the drink Hemingway wrote about so often, I suggest you start by visiting La Maison d’Absinthe.

Just so you know, absinthe tastes like NyQuil – sort of like an alcoholic licorice. It’s green, too.

It’ll take some getting used to.

But, by gum, it’s the process that’s fun!

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