It’s my turn to make a reading selection for our group, and this time I found the responsibility more intimidating than I have in the past, in part because of the many outstanding choices that you all have made since my last turn and also because it’s a summer selection that follows in the wake of last summer’s brilliant reading choice, Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. “What?” I’ve been asking myself for months.
I’ve decided to select works by another acknowledged American Master, Ernest Hemingway, only instead of selecting a novel I’m proposing we read a collection of short stories by Hemingway, and not just one collection of stories but two: In Our Time and Men Without Women. Here’s a little background as to why.
World War I was a watershed event in American history and world history. Never before had humankind experienced carnage on such a devastating scale. The men (and women) who survived that war, especially the artists, were profoundly changed by their wartime experiences. Some Americans became expatriates, moving to different parts of the world for multiple reasons, but one of them surely was to regain a sense of sanity.
Ernest Hemingway, injured physically and mentally during the war, chose to move to Paris in the 1920s. He wrote about his life there in A Moveable Feast. His first short story collection, In Our Time, was published in 1925. It contains 16 short stories. His second short story collection, Men Without Women, was published in 1927. It contains 14 short stories. All of the stories were written when he lived in Paris, or other parts of Europe.
These two short story collections profoundly influenced other American short story writers and fiction writers in general for generations to come. For example, Raymond Carver, arguably the greatest American short story writer in the last half of the twentieth century (see Where I’m Calling From, a collection of his great short stories) paid homage to Hemingway as an influence on his writing style.
I’d like us to discuss why we think Hemingway had such a profound influence in American literature by going back to these two seminal collections. Both books are only 160 pages. Many of the stories are brief. “On the Quai at Smyrna,” the first short story in In Our Time, is only two pages long. If brevity is the soul of wit, Hemingway was a profound man.
I’ve researched where you can purchase both books. If you go to Amazon. good used copies of each can be purchased for prices beginning as low as 64 cents! New copies go for about $10. I also visited Half-Priced Books here in Tacoma and see that they have multiple copies of In Our Time for less than $5 and at least one copy of Men Without Women for $5.
If you choose to purchase Ernest Hemingway: The Short Stories, it contains 49 of his stories, including all the stories in both of our summer selections. I bought a copy of that collection at Half-Priced Books for around $7. If you go that route, Hemingway arranged his stories–after the first five–in chronological order. In Our Time begins with “On the Quai at Smyrna” and ends with “Big Two-Hearted River Part II.” Men Without Women begins with “The Undefeated” and ends with “Now I Lay Me.”
By reading just one story a day, you could have both collections knocked off in one month, in plenty of time for our August discussion, or September’s, depending upon how Ron sets up our schedule.
Finally, I’d like each of you to select one of these 30 stories and become an expert on it. Study the story. Do some research on it if you like. Be prepared to lead a discussion with our group about that story and your interpretation of it. To ensure that no two of you are going to be reporting on the same story, send an email to me and cc the rest of the group with your selection.
Ernest Hemingway liked to use the word “good,” as in “It was good.” I hope your summer is good. I hope our future discussion is good.
Best, Tucson Ron