Haven’t posted here in a while. Looks like CS is single-handedly keeping the thread alive. Been reading lots of Elmore Leonard stuff. Every book a gem. Also a Louis Armstrong biography. Not the Giddins one, but by a guy with a funny name, Teachout. NO. Music, pot, and suppositories= genius or something like that.
And now back in the Letters kick. Picked up Hemingway’s Selected Letters, by Carlos Baker, and didn’t come up for air until he blew away his entire cranial vault 920 pages later. Never a big fan of his; read some of his stuff in high school and college, and was never all that impressed. Knew enough, or I thought I knew, about his personal life to steer clear. But it’s a whole other story when you dig into the letters.
What a life!! Forget the books, the Nobel, the fame. He leaves Michigan as a kid to volunteer for WWI; almost dies; returns a hero; leaves home never to return or settle, really, anywhere. A nomadic life: Toronto; Paris, but not really Paris since he’s always off to Spain and the bulls, to Germany to hunt, to ski in Austria and Switzerland, to visit Pound in Italy; and then to Key West; and then to my little Cuba (his true home I would say), and then Wyoming; and sometimes NYC. The pace is incredible: he writes in the morning, every morning no matter where he is, and then the afternoons are made for killing: fish, birds, wild animals; and most of the day is of course also just an excuse to drink. He’s accompanied through all of this by a sequence of wives: four I think, plus a squadron of whores and other available birds. Did I mention WWII? He is in his early 40s then, but old Hem is a patriot. He transforms his boat into a sub chaser and spends part of the war chasing subs in the Caribbean. Then he goes to Europe as a “reporter”, but of course ends up leading a platoon and “freeing” The Ritz. Oh, and then there’s Africa. You’d think he’d just go there to kill precious animals. And of course he does that, duh. But this is no normal human. He attaches himself to a tribe, learns the dialect, becomes an honorary member (“marries” a nubile native), and helps them out by killing lions who prey on their cattle.
Oh, and he’s a bullfighter, and a boxer…and advices Fitzgerald on writing, Zelda and the size of Scott’s penis (Zelda thinks it’s too small; Hem disagrees). He also witnesses Gertrude Stein’s submissive lesbian tendencies (Alice cracks the whip), and Joyce’s suburban insecurities (Joyce: Hem, I fear my insights are all about the suburban; Hem: that’s all right, Jim. It’s what you know), and helps to get Pound out of the loony bin.
And through it all, he manages to be there at exactly the coolest time for a human to be there: Paris in the 20s; Key West before the tourists; Cuba before Castro; Wyoming before it became touristy; Africa when practically no else went. It goes on and on. Amazing man and an amazing life, although I could do without the cranial vault ending. I think I’ll add another post with some stuff from the letters.