“To Have and Have Not” by Ernest Hemingway

Title: To Have and Have Not
Author: Ernest Hemingway
ISBN: 9780684818986
Pages: 272
Release Date: 1937
Publisher: Charles Scribner’s Sons
Genre: Fiction
Format: Paperback
Source: Personal collection
Rating: 3 out of 5

Summary

Harry Morgan is a policeman-turned-fisherman down on his luck like so many others in the Depression-struck Florida Keys. To make ends meet, Harry begins engaging in increasingly dangerous illegal activities in the waters between the Keys and Cuba.

The book opens on Harry and several Cuban revolutionaries who want to pay Harry an exorbitant fee to transport them to the United States. Harry refuses, preferring to use his boat for legal activities, and as the revolutionaries leave, they are gunned down in the street.

However, after being tricked by a customer who charters the boat for three weeks and then vanishes without settling his account, Harry agrees to smuggle Chinese immigrants from Cuba to the mainland. Next, Harry begins running alcohol between the two countries, and a confrontation with Cuban customs lost Harry his arm and his boat. Undeterred, he signs to the next scheme he runs across: stealing a boat and ferrying Cubans involved in a bank robbery back to their homeland.

As he descends ever-deeper into desperation, Harry meets old friends and new faces. He has little patience for those who have not remained as resilient to the times as himself, and he has no patience for outsiders. Tensions mount between this hardscrabble jack-of-all-trades and several tourists who frequent his local bars.

One pair of tourists take special prominence in the book: Arthur, an unexceptional writer, and his beautiful, unhappy wife. When Arthur comes home one day after sleeping with yet another woman, his wife decides to leave him for another man, an alcoholic who has been seen sloshing around the bars as well.

Meanwhile, you are given a peek into the intimate details of Harry’s relationship with his wife, Marie. The quiet desperation with which they cling to each other is meant as a justification for Harry’s illegal maritime activity. Unfortunately, Harry does not return home after his trip with the Cuban bank-robbers, and Marie becomes yet another Depression-era woman left wringing her apron in desperation and rage.

Analysis

I’ll be the first to admit that I have a bit of a Hemingway obsession. One of my literary goals is to read all of his books, and I’m not too far from the finish line. However, To Have and Have Not is my least favorite Hemingway book so far. Though Hemingway attempts to dissect grand social issues, such as troubled economic times and the relationship that exists between husband and wife, the entangled sub-plots and the erratic activities of the characters serve to distract from whatever statement Hemingway is trying to make.

The unexpected changes in viewpoints are disorienting, and the stories of other characters either stop abruptly or trail off seemingly without resolution. Harry remains the driving force of the novel, if there is one, even when the narrative meanders through the viewpoints of those who interact with him. Though his motivations inspire pity, his actions encourage judgment. Ultimately, I felt indifference toward him.

One aspect of the novel that I did enjoy, however, was the marine setting. I liked the descriptions of Harry’s boat and the protective feelings that he felt for her. However, if you want good writing by Hemingway about the nautical life, read The Old Man and the Sea. In fact, skip this book and read Old Man anyway.

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Fall into Reading 2010

After several rainy days last week, this past weekend was gorgeous, and I spent several lovely hours reading in the great outdoors while camping in southern Maryland. However, the reddening leaves and the cool nights reminded me that my favorite season is upon us, and I can’t think of a better way to celebrate fall than by having a reading challenge!

“Fall into Reading” was created by Katrina over at Callapidder Days as a fun, low-pressure reading challenge open to anyone and everyone. It will take place from September 22 to December 20, 2010, and the rules are simple:

* Make a list of books you want to read (or finish reading) this fall. Your list can be as long or as short as you’d like. (Also, feel free to modify your list during the challenge if it’s not working for you.)

* Write a blog post containing your list and submit it to this post using the Mr. Linky.

* Get reading! The challenge goes from today, September 22nd, through December 20th.

* Check out other participants’ lists and add to your own to-read-someday pile!

* Write a post about your challenge experience in December, telling us all about whether you reached your goals and how Fall Into Reading went for you. But remember: this is a low-pressure challenge that should be fun. As long as you do some reading this fall (and enjoy it!), that’s good enough for me.

Because I am addicted to Goodreads, I’ve created a list that I’ve also copied below. If you’d like, you can vote on my list (I’ll be monitoring it to see what you’d like me to read and review), or you could create your own.

But without further ado… my list!

1 The Purity Myth: How America's... The Purity Myth: How America’s Obsession with Virginity is Hurting Young Women
by Jessica Valenti
2 The Graveyard Book The Graveyard Book
by Neil Gaiman
3 A Moveable Feast A Moveable Feast
by Ernest Hemingway
4 Macbeth Macbeth
by William Shakespeare
5 Alice's Adventures in Wonderla... Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass
by Lewis Carroll
6 Crime and Punishment Crime and Punishment
by Fyodor Dostoevsky
7 The Nobodies Album The Nobodies Album
by Carolyn Parkhurst
8 Fly Away Home Fly Away Home
by Jennifer Weiner
9 The Crossing The Crossing (Border Trilogy, #2)
by Cormac McCarthy
10 Cities of the Plain Cities of the Plain (Border Trilogy, #3)
by Cormac McCarthy
11 How to Read the Air How to Read the Air
by Dinaw Mengestu
12 Push Push
by Sapphire
13 The Handmaid's Tale The Handmaid’s Tale
by Margaret Atwood
14 The Judging Eye The Judging Eye (Aspect-Emperor, #1)
by R. Scott Bakker
15 I'd Know You Anywhere I’d Know You Anywhere
by Laura Lippman
16 Paradise Paradise
by Toni Morrison
17 Unaccustomed Earth Unaccustomed Earth
by Jhumpa Lahiri
18 Interpreter of Maladies Interpreter of Maladies
by Jhumpa Lahiri
19 The Namesake The Namesake
by Jhumpa Lahiri
20 The Dogs of Babel The Dogs of Babel
by Carolyn Parkhurst
21 Lolita Lolita
by Vladimir Nabokov
22 Moby-Dick or, The Whale Moby-Dick or, The Whale
by Herman Melville
23 Madame Bovary Madame Bovary
by Gustave Flaubert
24 Super Sad True Love Story Super Sad True Love Story
by Gary Shteyngart
25 The Brief Wondrous Life of Osc... The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
by Junot Díaz
26 Vanity Fair: A Novel without a... Vanity Fair: A Novel without a Hero
by William Makepeace Thackeray
27 Lonely Planet Thailand Lonely Planet Thailand
by China Williams
28 Lonely Planet Southeast Asia o... Lonely Planet Southeast Asia on a Shoestring
by China Williams
29 A Geography of Secrets A Geography of Secrets
by Frederick Reuss
30 Room: A Novel Room: A Novel
by Emma Donoghue
31 Freedom Freedom
by Jonathan Franzen



“The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien

Title: The Hobbit, or There and Back Again
Author: J.R.R. Tolkien
ISBN: 9780618002214
Pages: 288
Release Date: September 1937 (revised in 1951 and 1966)
Publisher: George Allen & Unwin, Ltd. (republished by Mariner Books)
Genre: Children’s literature; fantasy; fiction
Format: Paperback
Source: Personal collection
Rating: 5 out of 5

Summary

Bilbo Baggins is comfortable in his snug, happy hobbit-hole in the side of a hill where he has lived all his life. One morning after a hearty breakfast, the wizard Gandalf arrives, and that’s when the trouble begins. Gandalf ends up inviting a flummoxing total of twelve dwarves over for tea the next day. The dwarves are on a mission to reclaim the glory and riches once held by their forefathers, but they need a “burglar” to help, and hobbits are small, stealthy creatures.

Bilbo joins their party on a whim after being teased by the dwarves and praised by Gandalf for his yet-unknown abilities. He soon regrets his decision when the rolling fields past his home turn into a dark, foreign country, and he doubts that he has what it takes to carry out an adventure of this magnitude.

As Bilbo meets (and is captured by) trolls, goblins, wolves, spiders, and wood-elves, he begins to use his practicality to his advantage; when engaged in riddles with Gollum under the mountain, for instance, his wit saves him from a very unfortunate end. And he puts his riddling skill to use with Smaug the Dragon as well, using their conversation as a chance to scope out the dragon’s weakness.

Happy scenes are interspersed throughout the tale to keep Bilbo from despairing entirely: they rest at the Last Homely House as the guest of a friendly elf; the noble eagles of the mountain come to their rescue more than once; they find a faithful friend in Beorn, who is usually gruff and wary of visitors; and the men of Lake-town herald their arrival to oust Smaug the Dragon from the dwarves’ ancestral mountain.

But more often than not—and certainly more than he would like!—it is small, hearth-loving Bilbo who ends up saving the day, when he and his friends are faced with seemingly insurmountable challenges. Bilbo grows from a homebody to a hero with “a little wisdom and a little courage and considerable good luck.”

Analysis

The Hobbit is one of the best books I’ve read all year.

I know. I know! People have told me all my life that I need to read The Hobbit. But I always protested, claiming that I didn’t like fantasy because there wasn’t enough reality in it to “connect” to. Where I got this idea, I don’t know—possibly from my brothers’ fantastical explanations of Tolkien’s books, which sounded far too removed from me to be interesting.

As it turns out, The Hobbit is so widely regarded by readers of all stripes because of its humanity, its down-to-earth humor, and its realism. Who would’ve thought? (Everyone but me, I suppose.)

As Michael D.C. Drout explains in The Modern Scholar: Rings, Swords, and Monsters: Exploring Fantasy Literature, applying Marxist theory to the story helps to understand its appeal: Bilbo represents the bourgeoisie, the trolls are members of the Cockney-accented working class, and Smaug the Dragon is the ruling class, literally rolling in riches. Tolkien himself was certainly no stranger to literature and theory; his resume boasts of Anglo-Saxon literary and mythological study and translation. He incorporates themes common to Middle Age conquests while also sprinkling the book with a healthy dose of modern-day humor.

Bilbo is an unexpected hero, the everyman who saves the day more than once. Though often he seems primarily occupied with eating breakfast, maintaining a tidy appearance, and yearning for his soft bed far from these dangerous adventures, he keeps a cool head when he and the dwarves seemed faced with certain doom. In fact, Bilbo’s practical considerations are often what save them; while the dwarves stubbornly refuse to tell the Elf-King the purpose of their quest, which leads to their imprisonment, Bilbo cleverly rescues them, though his unorthodox methods produce more than a few grumbles among the dwarves.

Bilbo is an incredibly likeable character with whom I can closely identify; who doesn’t love a second breakfast? On a deeper level, Bilbo’s moral ambiguity makes him a realistic hero; when he is bargaining with the men and the elves that are preparing to battle against the dwarves, who have become offensively greedy, he begins by complaining that the entire matter has made him uncomfortable and cranky, and he offers goods stolen from the dwarves to appease the other side.

Photo by proyectolkien (Flickr user)

The Hobbit originated as a story Tolkien told his children, and the excellent narrative style and the thrilling twists and turns took me back to the days when my parents would read me bedtime stories. I felt like running from the hulking, humped figures of the goblins, and I shivered at the enormous hairy spiders of Milkwood Forest.

Because of its intensely imaginative plot and Tolkien’s masterful literary execution, The Hobbit is one of those few books that are equally attractive to kids and adults alike. But you probably already knew that!

Pre-gaming for Readathon

After a rainy week like this, all I want to do is curl up on my couch with a cup of tea and a good book. Maybe that’s why I’m so excited about next weekend—I can’t wait for Dewey’s 24-hour fall readathon. And so, the list of books I’m daydreaming about finishing:

The Purity Myth: How America’s Obsession with Virginity is Hurting Young Women

by Jessica Valenti

The United States is obsessed with virginity—from the media to schools to government agencies. In The Purity Myth Jessica Valenti argues that the country’s intense focus on chastity is damaging to young women.

Through in-depth cultural and social analysis, Valenti reveals that powerful messaging on both extremes—ranging from abstinence curriculum to “Girls Gone Wild” infomercials—place a young woman’s worth entirely on her sexuality. Morals are therefore linked purely to sexual behavior, rather than values like honesty, kindness, and altruism.

Valenti sheds light on the value—and hypocrisy— round the notion that girls remain virgin until they’re married by putting into context the historical question of purity, modern abstinence-only education, pornography, and public punishments for those who dare to have sex.

The Purity Myth presents a revolutionary argument that girls and women are overly valued for their sexuality, as well as solutions for a future without a damaging emphasis on virginity.

A Moveable Feast

by Ernest Hemingway

Published posthumously in 1964, A Moveable Feast remains one of Ernest Hemingway’s most beloved works. It is his classic memoir of Paris in the 1920s, filled with irreverent portraits of other expatriate luminaries such as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein; tender memories of his first wife, Hadley; and insightful recollections of his own early experiments with his craft.

It is a literary feast, brilliantly evoking the exuberant mood of Paris after World War I and the youthful spirit, unbridled creativity, and unquenchable enthusiasm that Hemingway himself epitomized.

The Graveyard Book

by Neil Gaiman (illustrated by Dave McKean)

After the grisly murder of his entire family, a toddler wanders into a graveyard where the ghosts and other supernatural residents agree to raise him as one of their own.

So, what are you planning for readathon?

Sweetness Draining

Photo by Koen Cobbaert

“Tender Is the Night” by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Title: Tender Is the Night
Author: F. Scott Fitzgerald
ISBN: 9780684801544
Pages: 320
Release Date: January–April 1934 (four issues)
Publisher: Scribner’s Magazine
Genre: Fiction
Format: Paperback
Source: Library
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Summary

Rosemary Hoyt, a young American actress, is vacationing in the French Riviera with her mother. She instantly befriends Dick and Nicole Diver, a glamorous American couple who have created a rich life for their family in Europe. As Rosemary becomes more attached to Nicole, she also becomes infatuated with Dick.

The Divers’ history begins to leak out into Rosemary’s view, and suddenly the entire story floods into the narrative, though at that point Rosemary has temporarily left the story. The book begins to revolve around Dick and Nicole and becomes more interesting. Their relationship is a study of the strength one person gains from the weakness of another.

Analysis

It was slow going at first, with beautiful but self-conscious prose. Though I admired Fitzgerald’s writing style, I found it difficult to connect with any of the characters, and I had trouble getting into the story. I only kept going because I heard it would pick up in Book 2—and I was not disappointed.

The characters truly come alive in Book 2, and suddenly I found myself deeply involved in the story. The characters’ histories and motivations are finely wrought, and they are endearing despite their flaws.

At the risk of over-analyzing the connection between the author’s life and his work, it seems to me that the best parts of the book were the ones that came from his personal experience, particularly in regard to loving someone with mental illness.

The setting is also worth mentioning. The tale moves from the brilliant sun of the South of France, to the parties and society of Paris, to the fresh snow of Switzerland. My favorite thing about reading is learning new things, particularly about places I’ve never been, and Tender Is the Night offers a vivid image of some of the most opulent vacation spots of its time.

I found the story well-written and enjoyable, in spite of its slow parts. Fitzgerald showcases his storytelling talent with his many-layered characters, and his scene descriptions and dialogue are superb.

Glory and Truth

Photo by Mainile Olarului