JC: Two coinciding events led me to Hemingway recently.

A couple of weeks ago, we posted Greg Olear’s essay for the When We Fell In Love series, in which he wrote about The Sun Also Rises. Around the same time, we posted D. R. Haney’s WWFIL about William Faulkner. Over at The Nervous Breakdown, we had quite a few comments preferring one author or the other for various reasons; I fell in behind Uncle Bill, but admittedly hadn’t read any Hemingway since high school, aside from the stray short story.

About the same time, the broadcast of the Academy Awards drove me to the local library, when, seeing that the Coen Bros. had a film that I missed this year, I followed a whim or two. Searching for more information online, I discovered that their next film is True Grit. So I went looking for Charles Portis, which was kindly shelved where it oughtto have been. Perusing the fiction section, I uncovered an old Ron Rash, and eventually found myself in front of Hemingway, TSAR in my hand. A pretty good haul.

It takes about two pages to learn two things. Hemingway is a hell of a writer and Norman Mailer owes him a fair chunk of his royalties. Or did, anyway. I’m a big Mailer fan, read all the fiction, and some of the nonfiction, and I knew that he owed Hemingway a debt, but never realized how much. The resemblance is uncanny. EH’s prose is tighter, and NM’s lewder, but it’s there.

Hemingway’s funny too. I didn’t recall that from any previous readings.  The dialogue in the Parisian section is sharp, the repartee cutting. It’s reminescent of FSF in a lot of ways. The empty-headed, self-congratulatory celebration of Jake, Brett and the gang.

As the partiers move from Paris to Pamplona, their temperature rises along with the feverish pace of the fiesta. Fueled by booze and the blood of bulls and matadors, Jake and company devolve into jealousy and violence. They are torn alternately by passion and disillusionment.

I can see why Greg wrote that he’s read it many times over the years. I like the book more after thinking about it for a week than I did immediately upon finishing it, and I liked it then. I’m reminded of EH’s Iceberg Theory on writing, which I’ve heard paraphrased often enough, but here it is as he put it:

If a writer of a prose knows enough about what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of the iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water. The writer who omits things because he does not know them only makes hollow places in his writing.

—Ernest Hemingway, Death in the Afternoon

That fits. Hemingway leaves a lot unsaid in TSAR, which the reader interprets. That’s good, because it keeps the critics busy and out of the bars. It also leaves a lot for the rest of us to think about. How much of the treatment of Cohn is anti-semitism, how much is his inattendance at the war, and how much is because he’s a lovesick loser? How far does the postwar disillusionment extend? What’s the significance of Jake essentially pimping the matador? Lots more.

I had one problem, and it’s not Hemingway’s fault. It’s television’s fault. You see, the running of the bulls in Pamplona is an iconic scene in the novel – raw, bloody – and it ought to be meteoric and shocking. But it’s not, because every year every news channel shows 20 seconds of the running of the bulls, hoping to catch some dope being trampled or tossed on a horn, accompanied by a jackass newsreader making a joke. Of course, the only reason they cover it at all is because of Hemingway’s novel. A paradox. I can’t remember having that sensation before – that my prior knowledge of a scene made me disappointed in it.

It’s odd to say that someone as well known and read as EH might be underrated, but that might be the case, because he seems quite out of favor. I still prefer Faulkner, but I want to read something from the more mature Hemingway, so this week I’m planning to pick up a copy of either For Whom The Bell Tolls or A Farewell to Arms.

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3G1B is the collaboration of four friends and colleagues in the book business. Together, they review books and stories, interview authors, and maintain an ongoing conversation about publishing, bookselling, writing, pr, and nearly anything else.

JONATHAN EVISON is the author of All About Lulu and West of Here and TNB's Executive Editor. He likes rabbits. He also likes being the ambiguous fourth guy in the “Three Guys” triumvirate. He is the founder of the secret society, The Fiction Files (if he told, he’d have to kill you). He has a website, but it’s old. Just google him.

DENNIS HARITOU has bought books for Barnes and Noble for seven years, for warehouse clubs for five, and has led a book club. He is currently Director of Merchandise at Bookazine.

JASON CHAMBERS has been in the book business for over fifteen years, including tenures as General Manager/Buyer at Book Peddlers in Athens, GA, and seven years as a Buyer and Merchandise Manager at Bookazine. He now works as an bookstore consultant and occasional web designer.

JASON RICE has worked in the book business for ten years at Random House in sales and marketing and Barnes & Noble as a community relations manager. Currently he is an Assistant Sales Manager and Buyer at Bookazine. His fiction has appeared in several literary magazines online and in print. He was once the pseudonymous book reviewer Frank Bascombe for Ain’t It Cool News. He’s taught photography to American students in the South of France, worked as a bicycle messenger in New York City, and for a long time worked very hard in the film & television business in NYC. Production experience includes the television shows Pete & Pete, Can We Shop ( Joan Rivers' old shopping show), and the films The Pallbearer, Flirting With Disaster, and countless commercials---even a Christina Applegate movie that went straight to video.

8 responses to “The Sun Also Rises”

  1. D.R. Haney says:

    I’m going to comment also over at 3G, but I’m glad to see that you’re a Mailer fan, Jason. I don’t care much for his fiction, as a rule, but he was unsurpassed as a journalist. I consider myself tremendously influenced by him, and I hate that he’s increasingly ignored.

    Have you seen this clip? It’s amazing, in my opinion:


    • I’ve seen a short clip from that before, Duke, but never in it’s entirety. I love his fiction, though he does occasionally lose his way, going so over the top, that I have to set the book down and laugh. He’s funny and outrageous, and has absolutely no shame. As for the nonfiction, I like a lot of the shorter stuff, as in Ads for Myself, but not so much the longer Marilyn/Oswald stuff, where i feel like he gets bogged down.

    • Andy Johnson says:

      Wow… Thanks for that. My life is definitely richer for watching that. Not sure if Mailer’s was for having gone through it – it seemed like a psychotherapy session for him chaired by the presenter and McLuhan. Totally fascinating.

      • D.R. Haney says:

        It’s only just returned to me that you once mentioned McLuhan in one of our exchanges, so I can see why this would be of interest to you.

        I haven’t watched the clip in a while, but my impression, when I first saw it, was that McLuhan seemed pretty smug, and that Mailer’s argument only became persuasive toward the end. I rewatched the first ten minutes of it, after reading your comment, and I don’t think McLuhan seems quite so smug now. I’ll have make it all the way through, when time allows, to see how I now think Mailer holds up.

        • Andy Johnson says:

          McLuhan is not so much smug, as almost not there, a bit like David Bowie’s character in ‘The Man Who Fell To Earth’. The idea that someone could make a value judgement on the subject technology (and overwhelmingly in the negative), as Mailer tries so valiantly to do, is so anathema to him as to be incomprehensible. He sounds disconnected from reality. He is disconnected from reality. We are disconnected from reality. I’m just not sure that the ‘reality’ that Mailer puts forward – i.e. the one that is going on inside his own head (the alienation of ‘man’) is any more relevant on a societal scale. It’s like there’s a massive gulf in perspective between their two equally bizarre poles, and I’m not sure if the intervening years of cultural ‘progress’ have filled it in.

  2. Simon Smithson says:

    It took me years to find my way to Hemingway, and when I did, I finally – and instantly – understood what all the fuss was about.

  3. Becky says:

    Never been a big fan of Hemingway personally. I can appreciate the value of things left unsaid, but at the end of the day, I prefer busier prose.

    That said, I’m not so sure about him being out of favor. As a non-traditional student walking the halls of undergraduate academia the last few (lots of) years, I’ve noticed an uptick in appreciation for him among “the kids.”

    He may be due for a resurgence.

  4. Tom Hansen says:

    I really like Hemingway esp A Farewell to Arms. I see his thing as a major shift from form over function to function over form. It’s become part of my writing philosophy, viewing as I do writing a an act of communication first and foremost. The bummer is that when function over form becomes a part of your personal life philosophy, as I suspect it did with old Ernst, when you can’t write or fuck or go on safari anymore you blow yourself away.

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