Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Papa in the Spring

Ernest & Pauline Hemingway
I've noticed something weird about this retirement year--more than one thing actually, but most of them are NOYB.  I've noticed that I'm still reading books--lots of books--about the writers I used to teach.  Okay, on the face of it, that's not so bad: I did teach a lot of important writers (from Shakespeare to Melville to Fitzgerald); why wouldn't I keep reading about them?

But here's the odd part: I'm doing the reading at the same time of year when I used to teach those writers.  Last fall, I read some things about Shakespeare and the Elizabethans; in the winter, I read about Hawthorne and Melville and Poe; and now I've been reading books about Hemingway.

As I said, this has been a long habit from my teaching years.  Throughout the year I would buy relevant books, then read them in the weeks leading up to the time when I would actually be teaching Hamlet or The Scarlet Letter or "Benito Cereno" or The Awakening or The Great Gatsby.  Or Hemingway.

Let's take Gatsby for example.  Over the years I read every major biography of Fitzgerald (and Zelda).  I read everything Scott published--and Zelda's novel, as well.  Not all that unusual--lots of English teachers try to do that sort of thing, I know.  But then I started reading things mentioned in The Great Gatsby.  I read that vile book The Rising Tide of Color, the racist book that Tom Buchanan talks about; I read Simon Called Peter (which Nick notices and tries to read at a party); and Castle Rackrent and Hopalong Cassidy and Economics for the General Reader--even a title from the multi-volume set John L. Stoddard's Lectures which Nick sees in Gatsby's library ...  I even bought (on eBay) a copy of the 14 February 1924 issue of Town Topics, the gossip periodical that Nick sees at the same party where he starts reading Simon Called Peter.  Perhaps it was these last two that nudged me over the line been Admirable and Obsessive?

(BTW: Fitzgerald slightly altered some of the titles of these things.)

And now, as I said, it's Hemingway.  As I did with Fitzgerald, I read everything I could by and about him--and there is a lot.  And every time I read something new, I found other things I ought to read as well ...

I first read Hemingway in college--A Farewell to Arms was on a list of "suggested reading" that new freshmen received after acceptance. (I loved it; wept copiously; wondered why most of the other titles on the list weren't nearly so interesting.)  I then read some Hemingway stories in an American literature survey.  And then my welcome-to-being-an-English-major moment: In an American Thought course, taught by Prof. Ravitz (whom I've mentioned fondly so many times in these posts), the syllabus listed The Sun Also Rises.  I was happy about that: I liked Hemingway.

And then in class, Dr. Ravitz announced: "For tomorrow, read The Sun Also Rises ...."

I didn't hear the rest of it because I had heard the two words I needed to hear: For tomorrow ...

Is this man SERIOUS?  Read a book OVERNIGHT? 

He was.  And I did.  (It's not all that long ...)  If I hadn't liked the book so much, I might have switched my major (to what, I don't know).

I ended up teaching a handful of Hemingway stories over and over: "Hills Like White Elephants," "The Killers," "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place," "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber."  The students generally liked them--the stories seemed so ... refreshing ... after those months with Irving and Hawthorne and Melville, who could write sentences longer than Theuses' trail of thread ...

We did a lot of Hemingway-related travel, too: Oak Park (birthplace, young manhood), the lakes of northern Michigan (where he spent many summers--where he set some of his great stories), Key West, Ketchum (site of his final home and his grave).  I've not yet made it to Cuba, though a former WRA student--Roberto Sorghi--went there and sent me pictures of the house--and of Pilar, which now rots there in dry dock.  Oh, and I once spent an afternoon in Summit, Illinois, setting for "The Killers," a small town (no more: now part of Chicagoland) only a handful of miles from Oak Park.

Just yesterday--as I noted on FB--I finished the wonderful book about Pilar and about the years Hemingway owned her (1934-1961)--Hemingway's Boat.  And this morning I started a new book, the first thorough treatment of the Hemingway-Pfeiffer marriage (his second): Unbelievable Happiness and Final Sorrow, by Ruth A. Hawkins, who worked on the project for fifteen years.

By the time I finish that, it will probably be the season to think again of Shakespeare.  We go to the Stratford Festival in August, where we usually see eleven plays in six days.  Then I'll read a few of  books about Shakespeare that I've accumulated.  After all, the fall is coming.  And that means Hamlet with the eleventh graders ...

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