Tuesday, February 4, 2014

What Hemingway read. Or did he?

Go to the Hemingway House in Key West and be a voyeur. 
Check out his personal library and do what voyeurs everywhere do: 
make assumptions about people based on their reading habits.

The reason I went to the Hemingway House in Key West was to have a destination for a much-needed afternoon outing. I’d finished and sent off my book review so I had the afternoon free. It was either the Hemingway House or the Butterfly House.

The last time I went to Key West with Jim, we parked the car, got out, walked a couple of blocks, got back in and drove north. “Been there. Done that,” was Jim’s response to whole Key West experience. He’s not much of a sightseer. Rather than risk a reprisal of that failed outing, I took my friend Rod’s advice and made a pilgrimage to the great American writer’s house where he lived for 11 of his most prolific years.

Hemingway’s beautiful house, built by a wealthy salvager from Connecticut in 1851, cost him $8,000 in 1931. After 11 years or so, Hemingway left Key West, preferring Cuba and another wife.

It’s hard to separate a vacation from reading so Hemingway makes sense in lots of ways. My vacations always start with: What books should I bring? For this trip to the Keys, I had to bring two books to read for review and anything else I could squeeze in after that. Jim, who reads even more than I do, picked up two of Rod’s library books and consumed them in a day each.

So naturally, when we got to Hemingway’s house I asked Stan, our guide, what Hemingway read. “There, in the upstairs hall, you’ll find some of his library. They are the actual books he read,” Stan told me. The other books, those written by Hemingway and arranged throughout this grand house, are basically props, Stan said, put there after the fact.

In checking out Hemingway’s library, I saw a book by Jackie and Jeff Harrigan called “Loving Free.” I learned from an old newspaper clipping that it’s about the pressures American couples face and the difficulties they have keeping their relationships vital and exciting. This summation comes from a librarian writing about the book in 1971. This book, she writes, offers techniques and methods for keeping things fresh and interesting. Hard to believe Hemingway read or even needed this. He had three marriages and lots of affairs. Perhaps while in Key West he did try out a few techniques with Pauline before moving on. Who knows? The fact of this book in his personal library casts Hemingway — bipolar and prone to gravitate toward that which is most exciting — in a new light, that’s for sure.

I suppose the next step for me, before I get too wrapped up in re-imagining Hemingway, is to call the Hemingway House and confirm the publication date of that book. I want to know if it’s been indexed in some official archive. I might even ask if there are any margin notes inscribed by the author. Imagine that!

More likely, the book found its way into Ernest Hemingway’s library after the divorce, perhaps as a mean prank played by his ex-wife Pauline. Both were somewhat vindictive pranksters. Visit the Hemingway House and Stan will give you an earful. Be sure to ask about the “last red penny” Pauline had encased in concrete by the swimming pool, the first to be built in the Florida Keys.

Descendants of Hemingway's cats are everywhere. 
Up next for consideration: Why do writers love cats when their 
cats do everything possible to interfere with the creative process?

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