Tag Archives: ernest hemingway

Paulo Coelho on “Ulysses.”

Paulo Coelho, speaking to a Brazilian newspaper:

One of the books that caused great harm was James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses,’ which is pure style. There is nothing there. Stripped down, ‘Ulysses’ is a twit.

A rather strident riposte (“Coelho is an idiot”), can be read here. The comments are baffling, and it is difficult to determine if Coehlo is particularly jealous or simply careless. Isn’t part of what makes Ulysses such a great novel just how much you have to “strip down”? And that all of the stripping isn’t pure style, but layers and layers of what actually constitute everyday life? This must be where I (and, well, most everybody else ever) disagree with Coehlo. Perhaps the author simply just doesn’t want to understand Ulysses.

I’ve read one novel by Coelho, and while it wasn’t great, it was at least entertaining. (In the way a slightly clever sermon at a church you don’t attend can be entertaining.) There are echoes in this kerfuffle of when Nicholas Sparks called Cormac McCarthy “horrible” and compared himself to Hemingway. Which may actually make Coehlo better by comparison.

The Alternate Endings to “A Farewell to Arms.”

The New York Times notes that a new edition of A Farewell to Arms is going to contain all of Hemingway’s famous 39 47 revised endings:

For close readers of Hemingway the endings are a fascinating glimpse into how the novel could have concluded on a different note, sometimes more blunt and sometimes more optimistic. And since modern authors tend to produce their work on computers, the new edition also serves as an artifact of a bygone craft, with handwritten notes and long passages crossed out, giving readers a sense of an author’s process. (When asked in the 1958 Paris Review interview with George Plimpton what had stumped him, Hemingway said, “Getting the words right.”)

This will be interesting to read—A Farewell to Arms was one of those novels that inspired me as a teenager, and I haven’t re-read it since. “Getting the words right”—typical Hemingway.

Anxiety is Omnivorous; or, Can Reading Ever Be Bad For You?

I would recommend  this fantastic piece over at Guernica. It’s about the anxiety of the writer Daniel Smith, which prompts many questions about anxiety generally. Somehow I missed this one (it was published a little less than a month ago).

But it’s a must-read.

Smith has written about anxiety for the New York Times and has a forthcoming memoir about his experience with anxiety, Monkey Mind. He also has a great website. It’s hard to imagine someone who knows more about the topic. His writing sounds like a little more intellectual version of Nerve by Taylor Clark (a version with a bit more—or at least more severe—personal experience). Said Smith, in the article:

“If I had money, and space, and glory, would I still be anxious? I believe I would be, yes. I’m certain I would. Anxiety is omnivorous. Or at least my anxiety is. It feeds on what’s available.”

Besides this being a great piece of journalism by Katie Ryder, the story features an interesting comment Smith made in the article about what was “available” for the anxiety to feed on. In part, it seemed, it was books:

He found that James, Faulkner, O’Connor, Cheever, DeLillo, Gaddis, and Pynchon caused the icicle in his chest. Hemingway, Bellow, Updike, Doctorow, and Styron melted it away.

Do some writers tend to produce anxiety in readers while others “[melt] it away”? Or it an entirely personal? Reading this made me remember a somewhat parallel discussion in J.M. Coetzee’s Elizabeth Costello:

Specifically, she [Elizabeth] is no longer sure that people are always improved by what they read. Furthermore, she is not sure that writers who venture into the darker territories of the soul always return unscathed. She has begun to wonder whether writing what one desires, any more than reading what one desires, is in itself a good thing.

The point I am considering is slightly different—slightly broader and probably dumber—than Elizabeth’s concern. Yet: What exactly is “bad” for a reader? Is there any consistency to it? Can’t we say that a book that’s “good” for someone is “bad” for another?  And if that’s true, then what are we supposed to then think of it? If TV melts people’s brains, why couldn’t certain books do something similar? Even—gasp—some literary fiction? Or is it simply a problem of venturing into certain territories (as Elizabeth seems to suggest) of the “desires”?

Obviously I certainly don’t have any answers to these questions. I like to think that constant reading is a method of self-improvement. At least, I suppose we should be careful with—as we would with what we eat—what we are putting into our bodies.