But his dreams were as gigantic as his surroundings were small.—Thomas Hardy, Jude the Obscure
If you can’t fix him, make him
Review: A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
This book should be called A Farewell to Commas, because holy run-on sentences.
(Just working on my literature-based standup. But really, sometimes it’s too much; there’s one sentence in this book that uses “and” 22 TIMES 😵💫)
I got this book at the Hemingway Home and Museum in Key West last year and am only just getting around to reading it—which kind of worked out great, because I read War and Peace last year, and this was like War and Peace Lite.
All the war, one-fifth the page count.
A bleak tale about war and loss, this novel is based on Hemingway’s real-life experience as an ambulance driver and medic in the Italian army during WWI.
It’s also based on his real-life experience falling in love with an English nurse during the war. And, as I learned on my tour of the Hemingway home, IRL his nurse left him for another man, so he got revenge the best way writers know how: he killed her off in his book.
(Sorry, are spoilers a thing for 93-year-old novels? 😬)
A Farewell to Arms is an unflinching depiction of the horrors of war that likely was much needed in 1929 when people couldn’t see the harsh realities of it daily on TV. And Hemingway’s writing is almost timeless, because his language is too clear, straightforward, and simple to be dated.
If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially.—Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms
Review: War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
The genre: Historical, epic
The gist: Oh boy. Lots of stuff happens to lots of Russians during Napoleon’s 1812 invasion of Russia. It’s big, endearing, and human.
The background: The musical Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 brought me here. It’s based on only a small section of War and Peace, but I loved the characters so much I wanted more of their story.
1,300 pages later, here we are.
The review: My first Tolstoy!
Finished this bad boy back in October but held off on posting because I have a lot of ~thoughts~ and ~feelings~ …
But first — look how pretty and minimalist this Oxford edition is ✨️📚
So, Seinfeld was kind of right when he joked that Tolstoy’s original title for War and Peace was War…What Is It Good For? Because that’s pretty much the point of this novel. War is bad. War is dumb. War is started by countless random events accumulating, and it rewards the worst traits in people, like ruthlessness and blind loyalty. Everything is backwards in war: brother killing brother when they otherwise might be friends.
This is a rich tapestry of a tale. Challenging at times, with blocky, philosophy-packed paragraphs and painstaking battle details, but mostly it’s charming and heart-wrenching.
The characters, though ❤️ The characters were the highlight for me. Everyone in War and Peace is so human and multi-faceted, I was sad to be done hanging out with them when I finished reading. I loved Pierre’s constant existential crises, Natasha’s bright, enduring spirit, Nikolai’s earnestness, Marya’s reflective tranquility.
I don’t know that I’ll ever read it in its entirety again—life is just too short 😂—but I know I’ll page through to revisit some of the beautiful writing 📖
The rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐/5
They had evidently both formed the same resolution, the eyes of both shone with satisfaction and a confession that besides its sorrow, life also has joy.—Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace
It’s sad girl autumn.
And Wuthering Heights is on my reading list this fall!
Also might be listening to Kate Bush (and Taylor Swift) on repeat hugging a bottle of wine and contemplating my past failed romances…
“I think I’m in a tragedy.”
Have you seen 2006’s Stranger Than Fiction lately? It’s really cute.
So here I am, giving it a shout-out.
(It’s on Netflix, if you’re interested.)
IRS agent Harold Crick starts hearing a voice in his head narrating his life and thinks he might be a character in someone’s book. He seeks the help of a literature professor who tells him he needs to figure out whether he’s in a comedy or tragedy.
Harold, who lives a very routine, boring, and lonely life, starts branching out of his comfort zone to put this question to the test and see what might happen, good or bad. He learns guitar, pursues an unlikely love interest, and slowly loosens his rigid way of life in favor of some chance and fun.
Once he hears the voice narrate about how he will die soon, along with learning that the author narrating his life has a penchant for killing off her protagonists, he’s saddened by his impending death, mourning the life he could have had now that he’s learned to truly live.
I won’t say how it ends.
The cast is great—Will Ferrell should do more subdued roles like this. His Harold is super sweet and you can’t help but like him a lot. He and love interest Maggie Gyllenhaal have a lovely chemistry; I actually said aww out loud a couple times. Add Dustin Hoffman, Queen Latifah, and Emma Thompson as the glum, chain-smoking, death-obsessed author, and it’s a solid ensemble.
And it’s got lit. jokes.
When Harold tells the literature professor that the author narrated the line, “Little did he know that this simple, seemingly innocuous act would result in his imminent death,” about him, the professor is intrigued. The phrase “little did he know” tips him off that this is a third-person omniscient narrator—meaning one that knows more than the characters—and Harold might be telling the truth about the voice he hears. Because if the protagonist were just narrating what he knows of his own life, if Harold were making the voice up, he wouldn’t use an omniscient phrase like this.
“I’ve taught classes on little did he know,” Hoffman’s professor says, smiling knowingly. This seems like a jokey stab at how absurdly granular lit. theory can get, and I know from countless college lit. analysis classes that it’s hilariously accurate.
Another funny stab at the lit. world: the author has an assistant whose sole job is to GET THE WRITER TO WRITE THE DAMN BOOK. It’s a trope based in (some) truth that (some) authors drag their feet finishing a project after having accepted the advance; they feel trapped and locked in by the deadline, lose their creative mojo, and come down with the dreaded writer’s block.
Seeing Queen Latifah calmly but sternly hound Emma Thompson into actually writing something instead of brooding and pondering death made me LOL, and it made me want a similar assistant of my own to keep me on task.
While it might not dive super deep, and while you do have to suspend your disbelief a bit, Stranger Than Fiction is a charming film about our relationship with fictional characters.
Fiction is based in reality. Characters are often based on or inspired by real people. We want our fiction to have an element of realness, and sometimes we want our lives to have a spark of fiction. This movie blurs those lines, trying to answer the question from each side: “What if characters in books existed in real life?” and “What if I was a character in a story?”
It’s a love letter to writing, storytelling, and how fictional characters can seem so very real to us.
Harold Crick: You have to understand that this isn’t a philosophy or a literary theory or a story to me. It’s my life.
Professor Hilbert: Absolutely. So just go make it the one you’ve always wanted.—Stranger Than Fiction