My last class for my MFA program at Chatham starts tomorrow. It’s a Multi-Genre Creative Writing Workshop, which means the participants can submit things from any genre, poetry, fiction, nonfiction, plays, etc, for the workshop to consider. There’s me and one other fiction writer in the class, one nonfiction writer, and three poets, I believe. Along with submitting a piece weekly for the next twelve weeks, and critiquing each others stuff, there are a few books we’re reading to discuss along the way. One of them is Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast. Have you read it? I did about fourteen years ago, when I was twenty, in an undergraduate course called Cafe Circles, where we studied the American Modernists living in Paris. Stein, Hemingway, Porter. I forget some of the other ones now. But mainly Hemingway and Stein. Anyway, I loved that book then, but I can’t remember why. I just have always had a good lasting impression of it. I started reading it again tonight and got through the first four chapters like wildfire. It really is good, but what my twenty year old self couldn’t see that I can now is exactly why. The loving details, the beautiful rhythms of the prose, the amazing dialogue that is so real and yet so obviously constructed, artificial, at the same time. There’s a real heartbeat beneath those words. I’m glad to be rereading them again, with eyes that recognize a few things that they didn’t when I was twenty.
A Movable Feast in the original publication of the first verstion in (I think) 1964 was big news in ways that are kind of unbelievable now – the Harry Potter books are the only thing remotely similar in popularity and that is with a different audience. There was lots of controversery about whether or not this was real, authentic Hemingway. I hadn’t read Hemingway at the time of his death. But by the time AMF came out I had. And that book, while fascinating – Stein and Picasso had really just been names until then – seemed gossipy, oddly disorganized and hard to follow. At that point I had only read what I still think is the best and the most disciplined Hemingway – the short stories and A Farewell to arms, not the later more flacid stuff. I’ve never read the revised edition – maybe I should. Which one are you reading?
I’m reading the older version, the gossipy, oddly disorganized version. I find it refreshing because of its disorganization. The logic feels more fluid and poetic than narrative straightforward. The gossip is thick, for sure, but there’s something pleasurable about how it’s written. He’s being bad, but he does it so well.
Yes, I’ve read and reread it. There’s a luminosity there.