A.E. Hotchner, The Good Life According to Hemingway
Published by Ecco, an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers, 2008, 144p
Hemingway’s influence on the 20th century literature is not debatable. His writings are his reaction to the world.
If you’re going to be a writer, sooner or later you write about everything – the places you went – the people who double-crossed you – how the weather was – the ladies you fucked – your wins and your losses – and those funny times when you mistakenly thought the world was made for you.
What A.E. Hotchner tried to do with this collection of quotes and photographs of Hemingway’s (in the name of their close friendship) is to re-create the realistic portrait of the writer who was a vibrant conversationalist, funny, wise, argumentative and fiercely opinionated, an extraordinary raconteur with acute recall of people and events.
There are honest stories, anecdotes and clever observations speaking about everything – war, sports, art, women, life and death. Reading them is like having a friendly face-to-face conversation with Papa Hemingway. He feels and speaks about the need to return to basic principles of living, praising the need for love, health, friendship and culture, the universal themes.
There are no contemporary themes. The themes have always been love, lack of it, death and its occasional temporary avoidance which we describe as life, the immortality of the soul, money, honor and politics.
War was his defining life experience and taught him about real discipline, pain, courage, pressure and nationalism so he used it in his works, along with love and loss, recurrently and therapeutically.
When in 1954 he won the Nobel Prize in literature, first he turned it down:
the Prize is a whore who can seduce you and give you an incurable disease. I knew that once but now I’ve got her and she’s got me, and you know who she is, this whore called Fame? Death’s little sister.
Seeing love infinitely more durable than hate and considering health as his main capital, Hemingway tried to control his fears and accept the idea of death.
Every man’s life ends the same way, and it is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another.
A heavy drinker since he was fifteen, with a suicidal father and a mother that he hated, Hemingway tried to find his own way in life, but never abandoning self-education or his personal pleasures. He liked to write standing up, believed that the best American book ever written was Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, never kept notes on a journal, loved hunting, cockfighting, horse races and bullfighting.
Bullfighting is the only art in which the artist is in danger of death, and in which the degree of brilliance in the performance is left to the fighter’s honor.
The compilation is really good. Although we might find Hemingway sometimes too self-centered, with a tendency to egotism and chaotic existence, the value of his writings in absolute, which turns him into a literary giant.