I Read, and Contemplate the Lives of Great Writers

Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah!

I’m back with three more books I’ve read. They’re all about great American writers who lived around the 1920s.

The Young Hemingway by Michael Reynolds

“At night and in the early mornings when he could not sleep, [Hemingway] wrote fiction that Red Book and Saturday Evening Post would not buy. Each time a story came back, he reworked it, changing bits and pieces to send it out again. Most of the new stories were from the Italian war, using the Dolomite mountain setting that he had known briefly […] His war continued to be a grand adventure filled with funny characters. Archibald MacLeish would later call it ‘a war of parades, speeches, brass bands, bistros, boredom, terror, anguish, heroism, endurance, humor, death… It was a human war.’ In the winter of 1920, cynicism had not yet destroyed American illusions of having fought to make the world safe for democracy. Hemingway, assuming for his own the heroism of others, was not yet capable of writing about the war either honestly or objectively, and the country was not ready to read about it.”

This book is good at getting to the bones of Hemingway’s fiction: Its inspirations, and its development over time– all the way from ripping off Rudyard Kipling by including cheesy-sounding lines like, “But there were men in those days on whose inner personality alcohol had no more effect than a sluicing of the pyramids with vinegar would have on the caskets within” to beginning to develop his own style through repetition and pith. Although this book covers from 1919 to 1921, the book does jump around a bit in time, which can be confusing. For instance, in a chapter titled “Spring, 1921,” don’t be surprised if the book takes a long detour into 1914. Finally, this book is the first in a five-volume set of biographies. I’m not sure if I’ll read all three, but I’d be interested to read the second. This first one ends right before Hemingway goes to Paris to begin his transformation from no-name writer to famous author.

A Short Autobiography by F. Scott Fitzgerald

“My idea is always to reach my generation. The wise writer, I think, writes for the youth of his own generation, the critic of the next and the schoolmasters of ever afterward. Granted the ability to improve what he imitates in the way of style, to choose from his own interpretation of the experiences around him what constitutes material, and we get the first-water genius.”

So this was a funny story. I was in the bookstore with this book and the previously-reviewed Hemingway book. I was debating between which of these two books I should buy. Then I started reading the Fitzgerald one and was so engrossed in it that I bought it and finished it before leaving the bookstore. It’s basically a compilation of essays Fitz wrote. He had intended to write an autobiography but died before he could. Even so, this book is a better read than F. Scott Fitzgerald on Writing, because it’s more complete and cohesive– it’s not just a bunch of quotes picked up out of random places. The wisdom is unified, and that, along with Fitzgerald’s surprisingly engaging tone, makes this book a worthy read.

Look Homeward: A Life of Thomas Wolfe by David Herbert Donald

“For the first time in months he was able to think clearly about his future as a writer. ‘I’m glad I’m alive,’ he assured Aline [Bernstein] after his wounds began to heal. ‘I’ve meant to lead a good life, and I’ve led a bad and wasteful one. But out of all this waste and sin I believe in spite of all logic, that some beauty will come.’ ‘Rambling and chafing to get to work again,’ he began once more to believe that he had something to say that would be new and important. ‘However many millions of things and books and people there may be in the world, no one has exactly the same picture of life that I have,’ he was confident; ‘no one can make the same kind of picture as I can– whether it be bad or good.'”

After re-reading Look Homeward, Angel over the summer I bought this all the way back in September and have been staying up late against my better judgment every night to read it. I once fell asleep reading it. Anyway, it’s about the author Thomas Wolfe. It won a Pulitzer Prize, and it totally deserved it. I felt like I truly knew Wolfe when I was through with it. Interestingly, it is probably due to how often the author quotes Wolfe that gives this impression. As seen in my quote above, most of it is taken up by Wolfe’s own words. However, that makes for a very rich biography.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my reviews. I’ll be back soon with more things to say. I’ve been on a mean reading streak during this break and I can’t wait to share what I’ve been consuming!

Top Ten Books I Read in High School

Today is my last day of high school ever. I’ve reviewed many books on this site. In celebration and commemoration of this rite of passage, here’s a countdown of the top ten books I’ve read in high school:

10: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

I read this in 10th grade. This sci-fi classic is great because of its writing style, which remains consistently engaging and impactful throughout the book. Also, Bradbury’s book oozes with bibliophilic sentiment. What’s not to love?

9: “The Great Highway” by August Strindberg

I read this in 12th grade. I loved the ending to this play. It has to do with living up to one’s ideals, which I related to immensely. Also, it’s Strindberg’s last-ever play, so it doesn’t get much better than this.

8: All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

I read this in 9th grade. This book was amazing at bringing humanity to war, in a way that showed war’s futility. In other words, it juxtaposed the humanity of the soldiers with the inhumanity of war–in the face of humanity, Remarque made war seem absolutely stupid.

7: A Hero of Our Time by Mikhail Lermontov

I read this in 12th grade. I loved the anti-hero in it. He was so irreverent, and served as the prototype for the Byronic hero, and many other anti-heroes throughout history.

6: The Three Musketeers by Alexander Dumas

I read this in 10th grade. It’s great. I planted three trees in my backyard. I named them Athos, Porthos, and Aramis after the characters in this funny swashbuckler. That should give you an idea of how impactful this book has been on my life.

5: Confessions by Jean- Jacques Rousseau

I read this in the beginning of 11th grade, and found a kindred spirit in Rousseau. Both of us loved life and didn’t feign apathy towards it. It makes me really wish I’d known Rousseau in person, but really glad I read this book.

4: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

I read this in 11th grade. I liked the book’s development and its complexity. Instead of glorifying war, it glorified the best of humanity. Books like that are rare, and well-done books like that are even rarer. Here’s to you, Anna Karenina!

3: Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe

I read this in 11th grade. It showed me that writers can write for full orchestra. Here is my review of it.

2: Native Son by Richard Wright

I literally just finished reading it and it is amazingly well-executed. As promised, here’s the link to my full review.

1: “Hamlet” by William Shakespeare

I read it in 9th grade and then reread it in 10th grade and then again in 12th grade. Because this book can be interpreted any way you want it to be interpreted, everyone can find something within that is relatable. Also, it has amazing imagery. Read it, and you won’t be disappointed.

Honorable Mentions

These books were really good, and would definitely be in my top 30:

Martin Eden (Jack London)

“Long Day’s Journey into Night” (Eugene O’Neill)

Crime and Punishment (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)

Seabiscuit: An American Legend (Laura Hillenbrand)

“Death of a Salesman” (Arthur Miller)

Man’s Fate (Andre Malraux)

The Tartar Steppe (Dino Buzzati)

Jonathan Livingston, Seagull (Richard Bach)

The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck)

The Natural (Bernard Malamud)

The Once and Future King (T.H. White)

“The Night Thoreau Spent In Jail” (Robert E. Lee and Jerome Lawrence)

4 Plays of Chekhov (Anton Chekhov)

The Man Who Laughs (Victor Hugo)

The Fountainhead (Ayn Rand)

The Children of Hurin (J.R.R. Tolkien)

“Cyrano de Bergerac” (Edmund Rostand)

Catch-22 (Joseph Heller)

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Ken Kesey)

Bullfinch’s Mythology (Thomas Bullfinch)

“The Condemned of Altona” (Jean-Paul Sartre)

The Lay of the Nibelung

This Boy’s Life (Tobias Wolff)

Ender’s Game (Orson Scott Card)

Mortality (Christopher Hitchens)

I hope you’ve enjoyed my books. If you’ve read any books on these lists, feel free to comment below about them.