Wednesday, April 5, 2017

My review of A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway’s memoir of his time in Paris in the 1920s, is nostalgic for people interested in Paris or literature. Hemingway’s short chapters contain accounts of daily habits, anecdotes, vignettes, conversations, relationships, and observations. The edition I read also contains some photos. The book includes some skiing trips to Austria, too.

A reader of A Moveable Feast glimpses Gertrude Stein’s hospitality, quirks, and opinions, Ezra Pound’s kindness and generosity, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s struggles, Sylvia Beach’s (whom Hemingway’s little son called Silver Beach) bookstore and editing/publishing roles, James Joyce, Ford Madox Ford, and others from that era. Hemingway also tells his opinions of these colleagues, and he even shares how the nickname “the lost generation” really was created. He calls the term an “easy, dirty label.”

As a Francophile, I of course enjoyed picturing Parisian cafes and life there in the 1920s. In one story about hunger being good discipline, Hemingway describes the route he would walk in order to not smell food he could not afford. While reading A Moveable Feast, I liked being “in” Paris.

As I writer, I was especially interested in his disciplines. He often wrote in cafés over a café crème or an eau de vie. I could see how this venue could inspire his descriptions as he watched the world go by. I could not see how he could concentrate for hours on end in a café setting. He jumped over writer’s block by the practice of writing “one true sentence.” Hmmm. I could try that. He discussed egotism and mental laziness. Good to be aware of those tendencies and guard against both. When he was writing fiction, he had a method for tricking his subconscious at the end of a workday and being fresh to pick up the story the next day. I could try that, too. Famous authors often advise writers to read a lot, and I do that. In A Moveable Feast, Hemingway from time to time mentions what he is reading. I wish he had detailed how his readings influenced him as a person or as a writer. Some of his “camarades de café” such as Evan Shipman, Ezra Pound, and Sherwood Anderson piqued my curiosity to read their writings.  

My favorite line and fervent prayer for all writers was on page 17 of my edition: “The story was writing itself and I was having a hard time keeping up with it.”

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