Friday, July 18, 2014

Hemingway's Boat

I may as well round off one memoir review with a complementary one. I went through a very serious Gilded Age Authors phase, like any English major out there, and devoured many biographies and essays about my favorite racist, ridiculous, asshole ex-pats. But Invented Lives and Hemingway's Boat were the two quintessential biographies that stuck out to me.

An exquisitely written, far-reaching biography that dips into the lives of almost everyone Hemingway encountered during his tumultuous, controversial life. Hendrickson clearly did his research for this novel; it is extensively quoted and cited throughout, with a well-crafted essay on sources at the back. Interestingly, there is little quotation from Hemingway himself in the book, but it actually isn't sorely missed. In fact, it's refreshing to hear about his life from the mouths of others, when so many other biographies tend to hone on in Hemingway's famous, egotistical ranting.

What really made this book a joy to read, though, was the focus on Pilar and Hemingway's sea adventures. There was enough content about his career and his writing that it wasn't overwhelming, but using Hemingway's relationship with his boat as a guide through his life made the chronology interesting and, frankly, beautiful.

The writing was great, almost too poetic for a biography- but it never became purple prose and, as far as I remember, didn't detract at all from the facts of the author's life. In fact, each anecdote centered around that famous boat was both candid and a joy to read. Although Hendricks is much less critical than Mellow in his biography, he similarly refuses to shy away from some of Hemingway's less likeable qualities. (He shoots himself in both legs by accident.)

Admittedly, the organization of the book was a bit of a mystery; it jumped through the years with impunity, leaving me a little lost at points but never seriously confused. That issue cost a little bit of praise, for Hemingway's life was much more ordered than Fitzgerald's. However, Hendricks does warn the reader about this in his introduction, saying:

"[It] isn’t meant to be a Hemingway biography, not in any conventional sense…. …My aim, rather, is to try to lock together the words “Hemingway” and “boat” in the same way that the locked-together and equally American words “DiMaggio” and “bat,” or Satchmo” and “horn,” will quickly mean something in the minds of most people…."

which explains quite a lot about the lack of narrative structure. For this reason, it definitely helps to have a basic knowledge of the chronology of Hemingway's life, which can be pretty easily tracked by whom he is married to at the time, or at least Wikipedia handy in case you get confused. It is not the best biography to start off with for facts on Hemingway.

Alternatively, you can just let go and go with the tide. Without being tethered by a linear chronology, the book flows wonderfully from one passage to another, even as it skips years or decades of his life. Whether you take a strictly scholarly or a pleasure-seeking approach to it, Hemingway's Boat is a great read.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Invented Lives: F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald

I apologize. I apologize for my absence and to myself for letting yet another project slip out of my grasp. I'm going to blame it on a poor attention span, because that's a pretty catch-all excuse for members of my generation.

Anyway, since the only books I have been reading lately have been the Lord of the Rings trilogy and I'm only halfway through the last one, I figured I would just post an older review from my Goodreads account. When I am done with the last book I may do a LotR post, but probably not a review. I don't know what it would take to qualify me to critique one of the most iconic series in the history of fantasy, but being eighteen and a bookworm isn't quite it.

I found this biography of the infamous Jazz Age couple comprehensive, well-researched, engaging and, ultimately, heartbreaking. Mellow's biography utilizes perfect selections of letters, diary entries, and wild anecdotes to explore the star couple's relationship from its beginning through its rocky decline. It is personal and gritty, without glamorizing the couple's bad habits and appalling behavior. It can be rough to read for any starry-eyed Fitzgerald enthusiast, but ultimately, I think, necessary.

Like any Fitzgerald biography, it can get fuzzy and skips around as parties and alcoholic binges blur together, but that is possibly more of a commentary on Fitzgerald rather than Mellow. In fact, if you let yourself be carried away by the story and forget about keeping things in order, it offers almost a glimpse into the way the Fitzgeralds' might have documented their own lives-- out of order, chaotic, and with hints of glamour and poise.

Even when it was difficult to tell when events occurred in relation to the stages of F. Scott and Zelda's relationship, Invented Lives was thoroughly entertaining and novel.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Journal Giveaway!

I am doing a giveaway on my Tumblr, and here is some more information on each of the journals you can pick from!


This is a brown leather Markings by C.R Gibson journal.

It has lined pages without margins and a ribbon placeholder. 

This is a silver, orange and teal journal without a brand name. The outside is slightly metallic.

The pages are unlined and made of textured cardstock.

This is a black and gold hardcover Anything Book journal. The pages are edged in gold.

The inside pages are unlined and regular quality paper. 

This is a Write Plan Doodle 5'x7' journal. It is compact and soft cover with a ribbon placeholder.

The inside pages, while hard to see here, are lightly lined with blank margins. The bottom half of the page is lined with a grid pattern. 

This is a brandless recycled journal made of newspaper clippings (I got it at a museum). It has a fabric binding and has hard covers, as well as a purple ribbon placeholder.

It has lightly lined pages without margins. 

This is a Beatles hardcover journal featuring the Revolver artwork. 

It has lined pages without margins and a strip of black paper with Revolver running along the edges.

Friday, August 2, 2013


Despite the irritating and unnecessary degradation of all of its women characters, Catch-22 remains some of the most clever writing I've ever read. The wild, disjointed, hilarious story of Yossarian the womanizing, quick to love, cowardly Captain and his motley Army crew makes even less sense the more you struggle to put it together.

The plot unfolds early-on as a series of vignettes that skip wildly in time and place, so it can be hard to stay interested, which is what my folly was the first time reading it. However, if you focus more on the wit and the writing and forget the notion of reading a straight-forward action sequence, you will have more fun reading than you would expect.

The last hundred or so pages, though- I forgot from my first time reading that they are so gripping, and somewhat horrifying, and completely all-kinds-of-wrong (and, yet, still occasionally hilarious) that they beg to be read straight through, which I recommend. The central theme of war-is-madness is never driven home so clearly than in those last hundred pages, where the storyline finally straightens out but everything else goes topsy-turvy.

Catch-22 will delight, entertain, and definitely tickle the word-lover's fancy (I have an extensive list of words from this novel that I needed to look up); but it will also frustrate and horrify. Definitely original, and definitely worth more than one reading.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Short Stories are Sexy

In my head, all forms of literature have a distinct personality. Poems are anti-social, novellas are excitable, anthologies can't make minor life decisions. Not every form of literature has a strong pull towards one trait or the other, but short stories? Short stories are sexy.

Last week I may have bemoaned the growing popularity of bite-sized blogging, but short stories will forever be held in the highest esteem in my mind. Far from being the product of laziness, well-crafted short stories are the bewitching mistresses of literature, enchanting in their brevity but breathtaking in their scope. A good short story will only take a dozen minutes to read, but it will linger like traces of spice on the tongue.

Anne Enright, editor of The Granta Book of the Irish Short Story, asks in her insightful and occasionally humerous introduction, "Is this another aspect of the short story we find unsettling: its promiscuity, its insistence on being partial, glancing, and various?" Indeed, it is the rebel nature of the short story not to tell but to hide that makes them so alluring. Short stories are often extremely thematic and leave no room for error in their storytelling, for each line has been polished and examined under a jeweler's glass until there are no cracks-- unless they are intentional. Far from a drag-out fight to the finish, a short story is a glancing blow that leaves the reader reeling.

Those who have not read many short stories before may be put off at first by their coldness, their unwillingness to reveal truths to the reader. Don't be discouraged, for the nature of the short story is to make you work, and think, and reread. If you don't understand a certain leap in action, reread-- and do so carefully. If you finish the story and it seems like there was absolutely no point to what you have read, put on your metaphor glasses and reread. Nothing in a well-written short story is revealed without reason. No action, character, or setting is unimportant.

If I have made a seemingly poor case for reading as many short stories as you can get your hands on, think again. While novels are the comfortable date who talks about themselves the whole night, short stories wear a seductive smile and make you sweat and strive for approval. But when you get to them, when you can undress the cloaked meaning and solve the enigma, is that not all the more satisfying?

To ease into the short story world, consider reading a short story by someone considered the master of that art form in the Jazz Age: F. Scott Fitzgerald. There are a plethora to choose from, most of them available online, but if you want something you may already be familiar with, give The Curious Case of Benjamin Button a whirl (yes, the inspiration for the Brad Pitt film). And tell me what you think.

If that sits well, your local library is more than likely well-stocked with anthologies of short stories. Also, libraries are magical book-havens where book nerds go to die, so support your local library as often as you can.