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Finding the Way to Read “The End and Other Beginnings”

I’ve never read any of the ‘Divergent’ series, despite handling thousands of copies of the novels and special editions and movie tie in cash grabs when I was a bookseller.

We stocked so much of this series, especially around the holidays, that if we’d wanted to we could probably have built a table out of the books to display the books on. (When James Frey’s “A Million Little Pieces” exploded because of Oprah I’m pretty sure we did just that in the front window of the store just to save ourselves time.)

When “The End and Other Beginnings”, a collection of novella-length stories by Veronica Roth, popped up in Libby I thought it might be a good introduction to her writing.

Having just finished “No Country for Old Gnomes”—and the third book in that series not being available yet or I would have jumped on it immediately—some futuristic short stories might be just what I need to cleanse my literary palate of fantasy adventuring with magical creatures and those backstabbing halflings. And a goat-turned-human who really should be commended for controlling his bowels when frightened. I think we can all agree that’s an admirable trait in our leaders.

I can be a little hesitant with listening to short stories—I tend to agree with Mavis Gallant’s opinion that, “Stories are not chapters of novels. They should not be read one after another, as if they were meant to follow along. Read one. Shut the book. Read something else. Come back later. Stories can wait.”

And that’s definitely not how I consume audiobooks. Especially ones I’ve borrow from the library—there’s a deadline, after all, and one doesn’t have infinite time to savor the individual tales. I have a collection of Raymond Carver short stories that I pick up and read a story from every few months. Same goes for a collection of Hemingway short stories, my copy’s spine broken badly in several places to Mark “Hills Like White Elephants” or “The End of Something” and a few other staples of raw, concise, finely crafted short fiction. With a physical book its easy enough to do that, but not in this situation.

Does anyone out there have a preference for how you read books? Favored formats for specific subjects or styles? I like physical books for short stories, and I enjoy reading Ebooks for nonfiction. It’s almost like needing a certain pen or notebook for a particular writing project, like needing to change clothes to suit a situation.

Some books are best as mass markets, the pulp detective stories or movie-of-the-week thrillers; while some need to hardcovers, their physical weight mirroring the perceived heaviness of their content; and the English teacher’s favorite assigned reading, the consummate literary prize winner reprinted in trade paperback with delusions of hardcover grandeur with its cover flaps and jagged, uneven pages.

Or maybe that’s just me….

Hemingway In the Afternoon

img_5237A few weeks ago marked an important day in literary history when, on June 7, 1933, Max Eastman published “Bull in the Afternoon”, an article reviewing and poking fun of Ernest Hemingway and his nonfiction work, Death in the Afternoon.

This would prove noteable months later when Hemingway would confront Eastman over the article. Specifically, it seemed Eastman’s criticisms of Hemingway’s insistence on an overblown sense of masculinity and a constant need to show off his chest hair caused the great author some distress.

Hemingway demanded Eastman read his critique aloud so that he might berate the man for his opinions. When he refused, Hemingway smashed the book into the critic’s face proving that there truly are fewer things more fragile than a male ego. This may never be so true as when it concerns a man whose reputation and self worth was based so much on the idea of a superior masculinity.

Hemingway later inscribed the book he had broken on Eastman’s face with, “This is the book I ruined on Max (the Prick) Eastman’s nose, I sincerely hope he burns forever in some hell of his own digging” which the critic kept in his personal collection for years.

Breaking Hemingway’s Rule… Sort Of

I may have broken one of Hemingway’s rules of writing. It’s a pretty basic rule too, I should have known better. Write drunk, edit sober.

Seems simple enough.

Write Drunk, Edit Sober by Evan RobertsonAnd it looks great visually, as the original art print that illustrator Evan Robertson made (along with other author quotes) that got the ball rolling on this line’s popularity, or any of the other versions that have popped up on t-shirts and coffee mugs and whatever else.

It’s a perfect gift for any writer who’s still in love with the idea of being the angst-filled, drunken author character who writes in coffeehouses and bars, whose first draft is literary gold ready for immediate print, more than the reality of being an author who writes for a living in the same manner as anyone else who gets up and goes to work each day.

It validates the excuses we make so we can drink all day while plunking away at the keyboard. It’s ok, I’ll edit sober. Right, as if I need to edit. I’m sure some publisher is on his way right now to knock on my door and grab the latest bourbon fueled masterpiece I’ve come up with. Faulkner did it, Fitzgerald did it, look at Kerouac and Dorothy Parker, Tennessee Williams, Capote and Joyce. And Hemingway.

Well, except that it wasn’t really one of his rules.

People who have read more of Hemingway’s work then I have, and have read more about him, argue that he would write in the morning immediately after a good night’s sleep and before he had read anything that might cloud his own creative judgment. Sounds similar to advice I read recently warning people not to check their email early in the morning if they’d like to have a productive day.

In a quote from A Moveable Feast, Hemingway claimed not to drink after dinner or before writing, and on the subject of drinking while writing said, “Jeezus Christ! Have you ever heard of anyone who drank while he worked? You’re thinking of Faulkner.”

The closest anyone can tell about that quote, is that it originated from Peter De Vries’ novel, “Reuben, Reuben” about a drunk poet based on Dylan Thomas.

“Sometimes I write drunk and revise sober, and sometimes I write sober and revise drunk. But you have to have both elements in creation — the Apollonian and the Dionysian, or spontaneity and restraint, emotion and discipline.”

That doesn’t fit as cleanly on an art print. Even just quoting it here I considered hacking part of it off. Apollonian, Dionysian, the undecided nature of the character’s habit. The Hemingway version was sweet, simple and clear.

Regardless of the true ownership of the advice, I broke the rule.

I tried to edit drunk. Not a bad idea for the times I need to read something out loud to get a feel for how the words actually flow outside my own head where everything is perfect. Something on the rocks nearby relaxes the vocal cords, right? But stay away from the stuff if you actually intend on digging through your most recent convoluted, long-winded draft and the short but painfully fragmented draft you wrote four months ago (before you started dreaming of turning a short story into a novel) with the hope of marrying the two into something worth reading.

What I thought I was editing turned out to be a completely different draft that had snuck its way into the mix. It wasn’t until I’d finished tearing up the second half of it and went back to the beginning that I realized I’d been working on the wrong draft the entire time. Now there are three drafts to sift through and piece together. And each one has its moments, because they always do.

This might work out for the best. I could end up with a better draft because these three versions I have before me represent the various levels of development in style or theme, or the inclusion of details and research, that have led to their evolution with each reading.

Or I could be back at the start. It could all be crap. I should get back to work.  I need a drink…

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