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Reading the Classics: A Hemingway Choose Your Own Adventure!

Okay.  So it’s not really a Choose Your Own Adventure version of Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, but it does have alternate endings!  The library purchased a special edition of the novel that contains the literary equivalent of a DVD’s Special Features Disc.  Included in this special edition are introductions and forewords by Hemingway’s sons, lists of titles that Hemingway considered, some interesting material from Papa’s early drafts and the 30+ alternative endings that were written but then rejected.  As a writer myself, it’s an interesting study in how this great American novel was produced.  But it’s the lure of checking another “classic” off of my To-Be-Read-List that seems to have been drawing me to Hemingway.  However, in the interest of total transparency I have to admit that reading this novel does not really remove anything from my TBR list as I actually read it in high school…and HATED it.  But I’ve grown a bit since then and feel that I’m ready to give old Ernest another chance on my reading list. 

It turns out that I still find Hemingway’s dialogue a bit trite or forced or something like that but I feel it is anything but natural.  Same goes for the love story.  It is an integral part of the novel.  Yet, like the dialogue, the romance seems forced.  I had a hard time believing that Frederick and Catherine could ever love one another.  Then again, Hemingway was actually a veteran of the Great War and I am not!  Perhaps he witnessed love in war torn Italy.  Maybe love had to be forced in that dire situation.  Maybe the idea of love during war is so completely opposite to everything that participants in war are witnessing that the love comes out this way.  I don’t know.  I can only judge it by my own experiences and my experiences were never this trite!

What Hemingway does do well is description.  His painting of a picturesque, war-torn Italian villa is amazingly vivid!  I say his “painting” because that’s how it strikes me.  It virtually paints a picture in my mind!  Hemingway’s descriptions of menial things…sitting and having a glass of wine, for example…are the reason I’m drawn to his works.  When I read even his simplest descriptive passages, such as the description of a room that a character happens to be sitting in, I seem almost able to feel even the climate of the place described.  I think Hemingway’s knack for that is something special!  I can’t come up with too many authors that can make me truly feel like I’m present in a book but Hemingway is among them.  And as I mentioned above, I am not a veteran of war but Hemingway’s description of war is capable of evoking feelings of proximity to the action. His descriptions of shells exploding in the streets of the village elicit almost gritty feelings as I read them… as if I’m being pelted with dirt thrown up by the blast.  All that’s missing is the shockwave!

Hmm.  Now that I look back on my feelings about this novel, maybe I can handle Hemingway’s tough dialogue!  I think I might add a couple more of his novels to my To-Be-Read-List!  We’ll see what classic gets the nod for next month.  Could I handle two Hemingway novels in a row???

- Dan W., Acquisitions

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