Tag Archives: literary obsessions

Great Books Week: Desert Island Reading List

I’ve been watching Great Books Week from the sidelines, and with today’s challenge I decided to jump into the fray.

If you were stranded alone on a deserted island, what five books would you want?

I immediately began thinking of the books that I name as my favorites when asked. But this question goes deeper that listing which books made a great impression on me. If I only had five books to read and re-read for the rest of my life, what would I choose?

The Poisonwood Bible
I’ve re-read this one many times, and I’m due for another soon. I love everything about this book, from the setting and the characters to Barbara Kingsolver’s delicious prose.

The Sun Also Rises
Perhaps it would be better to choose a longer Hemingway work, but this remains my absolute favorite from him. I savor the ending in particular; many times, I have picked up the book just to read the last page.

The English Patient
This book is relatively new to me; I only read it last year. And I immediately wondered why it took so long. I loved the story, and I became very emotionally involved with the characters.

The Complete Collection of William Shakespeare
I had to include a collection! Maybe then I would finally read every play by Shakespeare, one of my literary goals. At the very least, the gilded pages might be used to signal a rescue plane.

Watchmen
This was the first graphic novel I read, and it may remain the greatest. It contains a rich and complex story that only ripens upon re-reads. I recommend it to anyone who loves a good story.

All of this makes me realize that I am due for several re-reads! Did someone say “reading challenge”?

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“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.