To Dabble in Modernism.

The first few days of my summers are always very promising. I’m early to bed and early to rise, I maintain a productive schedule, and I actually get work done on my summer plans. Then, a week or so into break, everything degenerates, and before I know it I’m eating breakfast at noon and spending unhealthy amounts of time inside.

It’s still only been a few days since the end of school, so I’m on the good part of that cycle right now. One of my early summer plans was to enter this newspaper contest where you write and submit reviews of certain books, and they select the best ones for prizes. I review stuff as a hobby, so this is basically like asking Michael Phelps to compete in a contest where you swim and the best swimmer gets a prize. Except those contests actually occur on a regular basis, with fancy names like the Summer Olympics or the World Aquatics Championships. And he actually wins them.

Anyway, I looked at the list of books and I had never heard of any of them before, with the exception of Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. Unfortunately, for me the only difference between this and the other books was… that I had heard of it before. Somewhat more fortunately, The Old Man and the Sea (I’m going to abbreviate and say TOMatS from now on. I considered TOMS and OMaS and a couple other variations, but I’m not one to sacrifice titular integrity for ease of writing. I mean, clearly. Why would you think otherwise?) is a novella, only ninety-odd pages long. So I grabbed a copy from the library and have been sitting on it until school got out and the whole graduation rush ended.

I consider myself decently well-read, but I’m comparatively weak when it comes to modern literature. Once we pass the early 1900s, the number of classics that I’ve digested decreases at an alarming rate. The Grapes of Wrath? Haven’t had the pleasure. The Outsiders? Nope. The Catcher in the Rye? Uhh, a friend got me interested in it, so I’m getting to it! Seriously! Catch-22? Well, you see, I almost read that for my AP Literature class this past year…

You get the idea. Ernest Hemingway was no exception, and TOMatS was actually my first taste of the man’s work. I had heard a lot about how he wrote, though. “Lyrical, flowing style”. “Rejection of excessive commas”. “Avoidance of unnecessary adjectives”. “Words sharp enough to cut”. “Mastery of powerful narration”. “…knowing how exactly Hemingway wrote”. So I had high expectations going into this novella. I’m a fan of both minimalism and realism when they’re done right, and that’s certainly what these comments made his writing sound like.

If you’ve read this already, you know that that’s not exactly how it is. If not, I just spoiled it for you. Sorry. I promise I won’t spoil the story or anything. It’s still pretty sparse on the wordy embellishments, and the lack-of-excessive-commas thing is intact. But as I read, I didn’t notice any groundbreakingly  (on a tangent, Firefox spellcheck thinks you can’t make “groundbreaking” into an adverb. I say otherwise.) austere diction, nor did I think the words had a particularly remarkable edge to them. Maybe I just wasn’t paying close enough attention. And that’s certainly more than likely–I do it all the time. But I did some quick research on the book afterwards, and Wikipedia suggests that TOMatS was a departure from regular Hemingway–more mythical and allegorical than realistic. Apparently contemporary critics thought the same thing, some calling the novella “failed”.

I’m not disappointed, though. TOMatS was still powerful as it was refreshing, and it wasn’t a bad way to spend two hours. I do see what people meant when they called the guy’s writing “flowing” and “powerful narration”. I think my review is going to be very, very positive, and I suppose I’m grateful to the newspaper people for selecting fifteen thousand books that I’d never heard of before so that I could eventually settle with this one.

I hope my early-summer productivity/vibrancy streak lasts for a while, because another thing I planned for the summer was to become generally better read as I prepare for college in the fall. Discovering Hemingway one book at a time is going to be part of that, it looks like. And Fitzgerald. And Morrison. And Faulkner. And…