He was an old man who fished alone […]
I am a sentimental fool. Yes, a fool.
I tend to attribute sentimental value to certain trinkets. It’s both a blessing and a curse. The champagne bottle reminds me of a good night with friends. All those notebooks from high school are full of memories, both good and gruesome. And don’t even get me started with birthday cards, bead necklaces and newspapers. My room is a nostalgia store: a compilation of separate, bittersweet memories, collected through time to come together as a whole.
There is a certain charm to keeping treasures. Deep down, it may be due to an innate fear of losing a memory, forgetting an event or suppressing an emotion. It is not rational. It is nonsensical. Then why do we do it? Why do I do it? To find comfort in emotion or perhaps to heighten an experience. At least that is the way I see it. Some people might call it hoarding. I prefer to think of it as an subtle expression of my romanticism.
As a pathological collector, I’m most challenged when I give or throw away books. Once I read a book, I form a bond with it. It becomes mine. I appropriate them, one by one, as I live through them and enjoy watching them stack up: what is possibly—probably—complete chaos to some, soothes and provides solace for me.
Hemingway once mentioned that there is no friend as loyal as a book. A book has many functional uses: it preserves and conveys knowledge and extends a reader’s imagination and takes them on a fictional (or non-fictional, if you are into that) roller-coaster ride. It’s not a fair comparison. Despite how great my best friend is, she is not a classic novel. But I find a similar kind of comfort with both of them. More than anything else, a book reveals a piece of our identity. The books we choose to buy, to keep, to read once, twice, three or ten times become portholes to our personalities. The works I cherish remind me who I am, and they teach me about others. I consider literature an anchor in time, and every glance at the many titles on my shelf, desk and floor is an opportunity to reminisce.
Often people refuse to admire him because his prose is simple, his grammar plain and his language accessible to all. Yet Hemingway is capable of transmitting the complexity of humankind in the simplest of ways, directly and eloquently. He constantly revised his work to be as concise as possible, emphasizing sequences of actions and dialogues. He was a literary genius, creating countless melodies in staccato; short and sweet. He was a minimalist. He mastered the art of narrative. He wrote from experience and from the heart; he wrote personally. Usually I relate to literature that is explicitly emotional, but I am constantly challenged by this one man’s work. To many of his followers, Ernest eliminated emotion. Perhaps he thought that emotions were pointless if described, or perhaps he didn’t believe that describing them was an effective way to share them. He has the unparalleled power of transmitting emotion without embellishing his work. The words you read are his, and he doesn’t need to hide behind a blanket of adjectives to provoke a certain reaction: he “sat at a typewriter and [bled].” His countless experiences led him to write some of the greatest works in the 20th century: He wrote about Paris, about wars, bullfighting, Cuba, fishing, Mount Kilimanjaro. Hemingway documents his life by writing his experience, down to the detail of events, places and people he knew.
First impressions are often misleading; the same is true with Hemingway’s prose. While initially his writing may feel foreign in its abruptness, his characters set the text in motion, inviting us—inviting me—to come closer to the author himself. Santiago may be a character in a novel, but he is full of life in The Old Man and the Sea: “Everything about him was old except his eyes and they were the same color as the sea and were cheerful and undefeated.” Despite his old age and his apparent failure to catch fish, Santiago possesses inner success. He is a fighter. He suffers throughout the novel, yet transforms his failure into triumph: more than a caricature, Santiago is a character whose spirit will live long after his death and who will resonate with all readers. Hemingway’s intricate intermingling of expressive dialogue and living characters creates a multi-sensory experience that can rarely be found in other literary works.
I admire how with few and simple words, Hemingway succeeds in opening himself completely to his audience. He stays true to himself, to his profession and to society: he puts down on paper how he feels, no more, no less. In some ways, Hemingway writes with a photographic sensibility: he captures experiences, turns them into textual stills.
My admiration for Hemingway could be seen as excessive, and probably unhealthy. I own more Hemingway novels and novellas and short stories than I could count. I read them regularly, always deriving the same amount of pleasure at the end, always wondering what it would be like to meet the man behind the brilliant words. What does this tell you about me? I am a romantic, but in the least conventional way possible. In reading and in living, I forego the sugarcoated and overdone for the true and emotionally invigorating. I enjoy charm and warmth, but I admire Hemingway’s aggression and self-parody. And with every short sentence of his that I read, I acknowledge and aim to embody how genuine—and holistic—he is being.
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