Sunday, June 19, 2011

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

A while back, during a drive to and from Austin, I listened to the audio book, The Paris Wife, about Hemingway's wife in Paris.  That sparked my interest in Hemingway.  After I finished The Paris Wife, I went to Half Price Books and bought a copy of A Moveable Feast, with the intention of reading it right away.  But I got distracted and the book remained on the floor next to the couch for the next two months.

Then I recently started hearing about the new Woody Allen movie, Midnight in Paris, and I kept hearing about how bits of the dialogue were taken from Hemingway's Moveable Feast.  I figured before I watched the movie, maybe I should read the book (though I've been told the movie is completely enjoyable without having read Moveable Feast.) 

Today, I wanted to spend some time out in the sun reading, so I decided to pick up this book off the floor where it has sat since I went out that night and bought it -- so much for having to have it right then.

I've only read one other book by Hemingway, that being A Farewell to Arms.  I love that book, but a lot of people I know do not enjoy Hemingway's work.  But I have to say, I like Moveable Feast quite a bit.

The writing is very sparse, very to the point, which I know is what some of the complaints are with regard to Hemingway's writing.  But it works so well with these stories.

These are his memories of his days in Paris, as a young writer, before he became well known or successful.  (Same time period covered in the book The Paris Wife which is why I initially had wanted to read it.)  In the preface he explains that the stories could very well be fiction.  (They're being written about 40 years after the events happened.)  During the time period this story covers, he was very young and ambitious and very poor.  He was newly married, with a baby.  He spent his days in cafes, working on his writing.  He spent his evenings drinking with other famous writers and artists - the Lost Generation.

Most of all though, it's the story of Paris.  His writing details the streets he walks, the restaurants and parks he visits.  Having been to Paris a few times and being very much in love with the city, I enjoyed remembering these locations and visualizing them as the stories unfolded.  This was after the war, when Paris was rebuilding and people could live there, and live well, for very little money.  He emphasizes that he didn't make much money on his writing as a reporter, but they still had a place to live, money for bread and good wine and time for fun.  They could afford to travel and gamble.  They hiked and skied and they enjoyed their life despite being rather poor financially.

In the end, it was success and the money that came with it that destroyed the happy world of Paris in which he and his wife lived.  "I wish I had died before I ever loved anyone but her," he writes of his first wife, forty something years after he fell in love with someone else. 

There are so many beautiful lines in this book.  Had I not been lying outside in the sun reading, I would have been obnoxiously underlining passages.  From his descriptions of his own writing process, I get the impression he did a lot of self editing, which is probably the result of what is considered his stark prose.  But it's beautiful in this context.

I would recommend this book to anyone interested in writing, because he writes quite a bit about what it took to become a writer, or anyone interested in Paris and especially to anyone interested in the so-called Lost Generation of Paris in the 20s.  This book is full of mentions of people such as Gertrude Stein and Ezra Pound, Sherwood Anderson and Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald.

And on the subject of Fitzgerald, the story about him and Hemingway taking a trip to a from Lyon would make a hilarious movie.  Why hasn't that been done yet?  Hemingway gets on the train, thinking Fitzgerald is on it, only to have the train leave without Fitzgerald.  They finally meet up in Lyon, and go to retrieve the Fitzgerald's car, which has had the top removed because, "Zelda doesn't like tops on cars."  They have to keep stopping because it keeps raining on them, and then Fitzgerald decides he's dying of a fever and expects Ernest to take care of him.  Then he's upset because he's never spent a night away from his wife (except, as Ernest can't help noticing, he wasn't with her the night before because the two of them were in Lyon together.)  Very funny.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Private Patient by P.D. James

I consider P.D. James to be one of my favorite writers.  I started reading her books back when I was in high school and since then I've always known I could depend on her for a quality story.

I bought this as soon as it was released and then set it aside, waiting until I had time to read it.  These are the sort of books to which you want to devote solid, consecutive hours.  There are lots of characters and lots of details. 

Well, I started this book, and then set it aside because I wanted to read something that became available at the library, and then I was reading a book on my Kindle because I took a trip, and point being, it felt like it took me forever to get through this book.  It's easy to put down because it seems to move fairly slow.  Problem was, I found myself at times confused by all the characters and their connections to each other.

This wasn't one of my favorite books by James.  I'm used to her writing and I like her writing style, so all the details and character background didn't bother me, but I wouldn't recommend this to someone who hasn't previously read her work.  I tend to like the way she develops such a complex world for her characters.  But this time, it felt like a little too much. Maybe because I was never able to devote large blocks of time to the book, it didn't flow all that well for me.

Some of the coincidences seemed a little ridiculous.  There were too many side storylines.  Just as I'd get interested in the case and it's progression, the next page would be a different place entirely, another character's dilemna.  I started to find that bothersome.  And as a long time admirer of Adam Dalgliesh, I suppose I should be happy for him now that he's in a relationship.  But the more I learned about the relationship in this book, the more annoyed I became.  It began to sound like he was marrying a naive little girl and that kind of creeped me out. 

Also, the book tries to tie up all the loose ends for everyone in the story.  By the end of the book, I was just thinking, "End already." 

Overall though, I enjoyed the book, but I think it could have benefited from some heavy editing.

Finished reading June 18, 2011, 1 a.m.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

I teach at a high school, and before I downloaded the book, I asked my students if any of them had read it.  The response was very positive.  And it might help to know that my kids are not big readers.  Several kids told me it was the first book they'd ever read for fun. 

I was trying to decide on a book to download to my Kindle on a trip that was going to involve several hours in an airport and on a plane.  It was only $5, and I wanted something quick and interesting that would keep me distracted from the drudgery that is air travel.  This worked quite well.

I knew this was a popular book, and that it was the first of a series and that they are now making a movie about it, but I had no idea what the book was about.
In the beginning, I was startled by how harsh this story was.  I read the first chapter or two and wasn't sure I wanted to continue.  A reality show in which people fight to the death?  And the contestants are forced into it against their will by a tyrannical government?  Oh my.  Wasn't expecting this. 

And then I paused and thought about the things I read when I was a teenager -- books by Christopher Pike - filled with sex and drugs and demons and vampires and zombies and murder, always a murder of some sort - and Joan Lowry Nixon's stories that seemed to always involve someone being stalked or kidnapped and any other book I could find that involved a criminal or supernatural element or preferably both.

So really, I shouldn't be surprised to find that a book for teens is a bit harsh.  Teens need this to stay interested, and they're at a point in their lives where they are just beginning to grasp the concept of "big adult" ideas like death and violence.  Maybe.

I will say this book completely held my interest.  I loved the characters.  As an adult, I found myself sort of wishing for a bit more romance -- but my students told me in advance that I'd find none of that here - nothing more than a few hints.  That was okay though. 

The story is intense.  The main character, Katniss, is such an admirable character.  She's loyal and smart and skilled and she is literally fighting for her life. I don't want to give away too much in describing the book.  Lots of twists and turns in the storyline.  It's nonstop action and I enjoyed it very much.

I didn't finish the book on my trip, and carried my Kindle around in my purse for quite a while and would take it out and read it every chance I got -- between acts at concerts, during halftime at basketball games, my lunch break at school.  I finished the book while I was sick in bed, and immediately downloaded the second book of the series, I liked it that much. (And nothing to do with the book, but I love my Kindle and being able to get a new book without ever leaving my bed or even having to turn on the bedside light.) 

However, I should warn reader, I had some fairly awful nightmares after finishing this book -- trapped at the end of the world and desperate for water - granted I was sick and running a fever and taking all kinds of cold and allergy medicine to try to get through the last week of school, but still, they were some frightening dreams. But it takes a well written story to leave that kind of impression, right?