SOMETIMES BAD THINGS BRING GOOD DEVELOPMENTS
ONE OF MY FAVORITE BOOKS IS BECOMING POPULAR AGAIN.
Hemingway is very far from my favorite writer—but I truly love A MOVEABLE FEAST. Certain books are life-inspiring—and this was just such a one. It projected the kind of life I wanted to have—and have had.
More than a few have commented that the book is more fiction than memoir. I don’t know enough to judge. Instead I take the view that if it is not the way it was, it is the way it should have been
I craved adventures and interesting times ahead of happiness—and I have been blessed with all of them (the third included). This isn’t to say that I haven’t experienced setbacks and difficulties—I have had those in profusion, and still have. But, the joy I get from writing is just plain awesome.
And here is the thing. If you have joy in your life, it spills over into other areas. It makes setbacks less important, the good great, and one’s failures a warm-up for success (which they are).
It makes adventures—by definition journeys of risk into the unknown—addictive.
As a consequence of some strange mix of upbringing, environment and circumstances—all unpromising in the extreme, on the face of it—I have stumbled into a way of life I absolutely adore.
My mother, with whom I had a contentious relationship from an early age, used to call me “Hemingway,” and not as a compliment. It was a taunt. In her eyes, she was the creative ultimate—she was both a writer and painter—and she hated competition.
Her dying words to me were: “You were never very good, were you?”
I have no idea what demons haunted her, but I doubt those were the kindest words said by a mother to her eldest son. I felt nothing but relief when she died.
Strangely enough, her sustained cruelty towards me when I was a child—which involved physical and psychological abuse—has contributed enormously to my writing success.
It made me accept nothing on face value, think unconventionally, and steer me towards the extraordinary world that lies in books. That world made me convinced I could do the impossible in real life—and, much battered by reality, I still do.
Of course—especially since words are my business—I know perfectly well I can’t literally do the impossible—but I have learned that even if my grasp exceeds my reach, if I persevere and learn from failed effort after failed effort, I can accomplish much more than any reasonable person would think.
I never though old age would make me optimistic, but, to my immense surprise, that’s exactly how I feel. Indeed, while writing, a better word would be ’happy.’
The following story is from that commendable publication, http://www.theatlantic.com/
How Hemingway's A Moveable Feast Has Become a Bestseller in France
Following the deadly attacks in Paris, the author’s memoir about life in the city has sold out of bookstores.
Nov 23, 2015
There is never any ending to Paris and the memory of each person who has lived in it differs from that of any other. We always returned to it no matter who we were or how it was changed or with what difficulties, or ease, it could be reached. Paris was always worth it and you received return for whatever you brought to it.
—Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast
The Paris memoir, published posthumously in 1964, holds the top spot on Amazon’s French site, has sold out of stock at a number of bookstores and, as Le Figaro reports, has become a fixture among the flowers in memorials across the city.
According to Folio, the French publisher, orders for the book have risen to 500 per day from just 10 to 15 orders before the attacks. “We also received many orders from groups such as Fnac and Amazon, amounting to 8,500 copies,” one Folio executive told The Guardian. “Usually, we sell between 6,000 and 8,000 copies a year.”
“I found it fascinating that Parisians were snapping up the book,” said professor Sandra Spanier, the general editor of the Hemingway Letters Project at Penn State University. She added that the book is enduring evidence of the hold that Paris has on people’s imaginations. “It’s such a place of possibility.”
That’s seemingly always been true. But why a 51-year-old book, written about the Paris of nearly a century ago, appears to resonate among Parisians in the wake of its worst loss of life since World War II is another question.
In his glowing review of A Moveable Feast in The Atlantic in 1964, Alfred Kazin alludes to Hemingway’s depictions of the glories of the city writ large, but also anoints its place as muse for a striving 22-year-old ex-pat finding his way into writing.
But this is Paris in the early twenties, the best place in the world to live and work, for the French have a way of life into which all needs easily fit, as they have cafés where a young fellow can sit for hours over a café crème and write “Up In Michigan.”
Kazin concludes that Paris, as a setting for Hemingway, is one that he “never handled more suavely and lyrically than he did in this book.”
It’s the life of the café culture and Paris as locus for the exchange of ideas that are particularly worth celebrating as the city rebounds from attacks on its restaurants and nightlife. This is what Hemingway observes in A Moveable Feast; it’s not war or bullfighting in Spain or hunting in Africa or swordfishing or boxing, but glamor of the quotidian in the City of Light.
Spanier describes a section in the book where Hemingway walks down the steps near the Île de la Cité to watch fisherman cast their lines into the Seine. Beside all the art and history, beneath the Pont Neuf and a statue of Henri Quatre, is everyday life with expertly caught fish. “They were plump and sweet-fleshed with a finer flavor than fresh sardines even, and were not at all oily, and we ate them bones and all.”
With the tide of tributes from afar this month, Parisians have seen the love of their city reflected again through the eyes of outsiders. “Maybe they appreciate the fact that Paris is appreciated by non-Parisians,” Spanier concludes. “Hemingway certainly expressed that in a way that has transcended time.”
The late Christopher Hitchens probably would have agreed. Writing in The Atlantic back in 2009, Hitchens described the book as both “an ur-text of the American enthrallment with Paris” and “a skeleton key to the American literary fascination with Paris.” Hitchens also praised the book for bestowing advice on writing for young practitioners just starting out. (In a 2013 interview with The Atlantic, Daniel Woodrell vigorously agreed.)
But, given what’s happened in Paris this year, Hitchens’s central point about the endurance of A Moveable Feast is now accompanied by a gut-punch—what Hemingway was celebrating of the city and of himself at a young age are triumphs lost to time.
Most of all, though, I believe that A Moveable Feast serves the purpose of a double nostalgia: our own as we contemplate a Left Bank that has since become a banal tourist enclave in a Paris where the tough and plebeian districts are gone, to be replaced by seething Muslim banlieues all around the periphery; and Hemingway’s at the end of his distraught days, as he saw again the “City of Light” with his remaining life still ahead of him rather than so far behind.
Parisians would likely scoff at that assessment. After all, part of what attaches Hemingway to this moment is the symbolic and defiant heft of the French-language title of A Moveable Feast—Paris Est Une Fête. Translated back into English, A Moveable Feast becomes Paris Is a Celebration. In the days following the attacks, the French title of the book became a trending hashtag on Twitter.