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The old man and the lists

Because of a client’s Facebook post, last week I ordered a copy of The Hemingway Cookbook by Craig Boreth.  Now, most everyone who’s known me for a week or twenty years knows that my devotion to Papa Hemingway started early and has never really wavered.  It has survived the bad publicity, the parodies, the mediocre later works, the disdain of my feminist friends who think of him as a sexist blowhard who could write a little….

Thing is, I still find that despite the reams written by and about him, this author continues to surprise and delight.  Every once in a while I’ll read a book (The Paris Wife) or an article about Hemingway and his intimates and cronies that makes me think, “Man, those people lived large!”  And despite the tragic ending and the many missteps I’ve always felt that he possessed great generosity of spirit.

Many years ago, I read in the local paper about a young man who wanted to be a writer and went to Hemingway for advice.  He was given two lists of books to read.  I dimly remember that both lists contained classic titles, but one featured books Ernest considered masterpieces and the other those he considered terrible.  He suggested that the young author become familiar with both, the logic being that you can learn a lot even from a bad book.   This notion has served me well professionally and so I’m always thrilled when I come across stories of Hemingway’s reading lists, like this one.

I think great writers learn to write by learning to read and I think a properly curated list is an invaluable tool.  Do you agree?  And, what books would be on the list you make up for someone looking for advice?

BTW, the cookbook is a treasure.  I’m gonna try the burger recipe this weekend.

2 Responses to The old man and the lists

  1. Kevin A. Lewis says:

    Going out on a limb here, I’d suspect that Midnight In Paris is one of your favorite movies…

  2. Joelle says:

    Ha! I immediately thought of Midnight in Paris, too.

    I think critical reading is crucial. I teach writing to Grade 6/7 kids as a 16 week residency and while many of the kids show promise, one wants to be a writer and so another author and I are taking her under our wings. He’s going to mentor her writing, and I’ll be teaching her critical reading. On one hand, I lament the loss of innocent reading, but on the other, I don’t think if you have the writing gene you can ever really read without studying it somehow, even if you’re unaware that you’re doing it. Also, the books that really suck you in are that much sweeter.

    I was listening to a podcast on screenwriting and one of the guys said he’s started “positive movie going” as a new way of watching movies. He goes in with a great attitude, hoping to love it. I am applying that to reading and I can already see a difference. I’ve read and enjoyed a couple of books that in the past I wouldn’t have expected to even while seeing the things that would’ve turned me off before. I will teach her that.

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