I’ve developed an obsession with collecting Franklin Library leather bound books. I’ve mentioned before, I’m a very tactile reader and this is why kindle is not one of my favorite ways to read a book. The Franklin Library collection though, is an entirely different and elevated sensory level of reading. The warm, textured covers protect very thick, hearty gilded pages. There’s always a delightful, soft red ribbon marker attached to the spine that adds to the overall effect. Now, they don’t actually publish these anymore, they’re a creature of the 70s and 80s, but they can be found on eBay in pretty pristine condition. This is an entirely separate rant- but so many of the copies I get have clearly never even been cracked open. For heavens sake people, use the good china once in awhile, suds up with those ridiculous seashell shaped mini-soaps in the guest bath, and OPEN THE DAMNED FINE BOOK!
I’m making it a point to read each of them (because you use the doofy seashell soaps!), some for the first time. My current read, A Farewell To Arms, by Earnest Hemingway happens to be one of those classics I’d somehow skipped until now. I’ve read other works by him, For Whom The Bell Tolls, The Old Man and The Sea, Islands in the Stream, and short stories including Snow of Kilimanjaro. I mention those so you don’t get the impression I’m a complete Hemingway novice, but this one is all new for me!
This is where it gets interesting as a modern reader with maybe a little too much information readily available on the internet and in other pop culture exposures. I’ve visited the Hemingway house in Key West several times with the full historical tour. I’ve watched numerous movies based wholly or in part on his life/persona (Hemingway & Gellhorn, Midnight in Paris, Papa Hemingway in Cuba). And of course, I’ve googled. I know about his tricky relationship with women and not so occasional misogyny. I know about his alcoholism and his temper and his uglier side.
It’s hard to read a book objectively, when you’re too familiar with an author. This applies to modern books as much as it does toward the classics. This is why I don’t rely on my husband to be an unbiased critic of my work after all. With the classics though, authors have been so thoroughly dissected and studied and taken to task, we simply must go into this with expectations in place. It can be tempting with these expectations to view their work through modern eyes that view the world through modern social parameters. When deficiencies such as racism and misogyny stand out we are left struggling to balance the expectations and norms of the world they wrote in with what is acceptable today. They were biased when they wrote their tomes, but it’s also true that we are biased today in our observational lenses.
As the urge hits me to dissect a story as if it were an exhibit on a lab table, to make a hypothesis based on the sum of my knowledge of the author, the time they wrote in, and what’s acceptable today I make myself pause. I pause and I remember, I’m not actually very good at science, I don’t really think with that side of the brain, and it’s actually okay to just lose myself in the story at hand.
As to my current read, well the fact that Farewell… earned censorship by the fascist regime in Italy probably compensates for a whole lot of Hemingway drunken misogyny in my own convoluted score keeping head. The story is compelling, and the lesson’s Frederick Henry shares about life in general, and war in particular are important ones. They’re worth reading.
“Perhaps wars weren’t won anymore. Maybe they went on forever.”Hemingway, A Farewell To Arms