I Guess You Had To Be There

I did not love Ernest Hemingway’s memoir A Moveable Feast. Overall, it made Hemingway seem like a self-important jerk and a misogynist.  In the book he recounts his memories of living in Paris with his first wife and his impressions of other famous writers he interacted with there.  Some of the recollections were interesting, and some of the descriptions were quite well done, but I’m afraid my distaste for the general tone and tenor of the book overcame me.

I did find one of Hemingway’s observations about writing to be incredibly helpful.  He writes of that moment when you don’t know what to write or why you’re writing and you find yourself immobilized, and says, “just write one true sentence.”  In this month of NaNoWriMo, when lots of people are churning out thousands of words, it might be worth considering whether each of the sentences you write are true–that is, are you writing the absolute soul of the idea, the unadorned kernel of the story, the really unique turn of phrase?

Hemingway’s description of F. Scott Fitzgerald made me laugh, “the mouth worried you until you knew him and then it worried you more.”  Now THAT is a really unique and interesting description, isn’t it?

If you’re a Hemingway fan, or like post World War I literature in general, you might really enjoy this book, but if not, I might recommend skipping it in favor of something else.


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2 thoughts on “I Guess You Had To Be There

  1. There were a few lines that I loved, and a couple of the stories that I enjoyed a bit because of the feel. But overall I didn’t really like it, and am glad that I didn’t spend a lot of my reading time on it. What a ringing endorsement – “at least it was quick to read!”

    I’m curious how the book would have been if he’d really been able to finish it himself; would the tone have improved? Would the tone have been better if he hadn’t written much of it while old and ill?

    Fitzgerald did not come off well at all in Hemingway’s tales. Neither did Zelda, but I don’t think anything I’ve read paints her in a positive light.

  2. There are not cphtaers and cphtaers of background. You don’t necessarily know how those characters ended up together–nor does it matter–the conflict at hand is what you have…a snapshot into their lives. Yes. Literary love.

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