Friday, May 18, 2018

The reading habit writ large...............

     From 1921 Hemingway led the life of a foreign correspondent, using Paris as his base.  He covered warfare in the Middle East and international conferences, but the main focus of his attention was on the expatriate literati of the Left Bank.  He wrote poetry.  He was trying to write prose.  He read ferociously.  On of the many habits he inherited from his mother was carrying books around with him, shoved into his pockets, so that he could read at any time or place during a pause in the action.  He read everything, and all his life he bought books, so that any Hemingway habitation had stacks running along the walls.  At his house in Cuba he was to build up a working library of 7,400 volumes, characterized by expert studies of the subjects in which he was interested and by a wide range of literary texts, which he read and re-read.   He arrived in Paris having read virtually all the English classics but determined to broaden his range.  He was never chippy about having missed a university education, but he regretted it and was anxious to fill any gaps its absence might have left.  So he settled down to Stendhal, Flaubert, Balzac, Maupassant and Zola, the major Russian novelists, Tolstoy, Turgenev and Dostoyevsky, and the Americans, Henry James, Mark Twain and Stephen Crane.  He read the moderns, too:  Conrad, T. S. Eliot, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, D. H. Lawrence, Maxwell Anderson, James Joyce.  His reading was wide but also dictated by a growing urge to write.  Since the age of fifteen he had made a cult of Kipling, and continued to study him all his life.  To this was now added close attention to Conrad, and Joyce's brilliant collection, DublinersLike all really good writers, he not only devoured but analysed and learned from the second-rate, such as Marryat, Hugh Walpole and George Moore.

-Paul Johnson,  Intellectuals:  From Marx and Tolstoy to Sartre and Chomsky

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