Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Papa's Birthday

Ernest Hemingway was born on July 21, 1899 in Oak Park, Illinois. He learned to fish when he was 3. At age 12 his mother told him her dream was for him to become a concert cellist. At 18 he was serving as an ambulance driver on the Italian front in World War I, and was wounded saving the life of an Italian soldier. While in hospital he fell in love with his nurse, Agnes von Kurowsky, but she wouldn't marry him. At age 22 he moved to Paris, and a year later he ran with the bulls at the Feast of San Fermin in Pamplona, Spain.

It is hard to think of a manly, romantic, heroic, enviable thing that Hemingway didn't do a century earlier (and then write about for large sums of money.) Which is why his life remains a touchstone or a benchmark for our own. He is the reason most of the celebrated watering holes around the world are celebrated by anyone. Men still like to dress like him, grin like him. Tough guys talk like him, even in Paris. When we behave like fools we are doing it in imitation. Hemingway is why literary men feel the need to be amateur boxers. American novelists are still working in his shadow, even though his short stories are arguably his best form. An eighth grader turning in an essay shorter than the requisite 800 words can explain, plausibly, that Hemingway would have written it in fewer than 250.

Hemingway appears 16 times in A Book of Ages.

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