Wednesday, September 19, 2012

reading list: the sun also rises

A few years ago, I launched a Personal Betterment Initiative in which I decided to read classic novels that I've just never got around to reading. I wanted to become a better-read person. And I started with The Catcher in the Rye because I somehow earned a high school diploma and two college degrees without ever reading it.

Some of the books I've read over the past few years have really stuck with me. Like The Grapes of Wrath. After I read it, I was afraid that it had ruined all novels for me. I couldn't read another book for six months because I was convinced that no novel could ever match its power. Others, eh. Like Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger. Too many ... words ... that were uninteresting.

I've just finished reading The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway. I should acknowledge that I became smitten with the Hemingway character in the film Midnight in Paris, which is why a Hemingway book got moved to the top of my reading list.

But ... I didn't love it. I realize this may not be a popular statement. When I told Jamie and Mike that I wasn't getting into the book, they looked as if I just told them I didn't like their haircuts. But the plot really didn't keep my attention, I despised all of the characters, and I found none of the themes to be relatable. Yet I keep thinking about the book, even after finishing it, so something about it is speaking to some part of me.

The novel is about a group of friends who live a fancy life in Paris in the 1920s, then spend some time fishing in Spain, and then party at the fiestas and bullfights in Pamplona. Actually, I think "friends" is too nice of a word because the characters don't seem to actually like one other. The main character, Jake, was injured during World War I and became impotent, which is why he can't be with the woman he's in love with, Brett. But it seems as if Brett has sex with all of the other male characters in their circle, which makes all of their relationships really complicated and uncomfortable. And the characters spend most of their time drinking to excess and traveling around Europe in buses and trains.

And that all does sound fairly interesting, but I just couldn't get into it. These characters are at a point in their lives where they have not found their true love, their happily ever after. They wander around Europe and drink too much, and none of that seems redeeming. They are insufferable. I feel sad for them. It seems as if Hemingway was drawing from his own experiences when he wrote the book, and that just made me kind of sad for Hemingway.

All this to say: Maybe this book would have appealed to me at a different point in my life. The life experiences you bring to a book color your interpretations of it. Perhaps the relationship themes would've appealed to the 18-year-old Jessi. Or the expat wanderings would've appealed to the 24-year-old Jessi. But 29-year-old Jessi...? As I type this, I'm laying next to my sleeping husband, the man I've been with for almost 10 (!) years. I'm inside the house we bought together, the place where we put down roots. And I'm giving myself 15 more minutes to finish this blog post because I have to get up for work in the morning like a responsible adult. And life is good. I wouldn't trade wanderlust for what I've got for anything. So maybe that's why I keep thinking about the book: It's made me pause to be thankful for what I've got.

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