What’s so special about Hemingway?

Last week we shared a some of the many authors who’ve been influenced by Ernest Hemingway, whose seminal role in American literature was highlighted in Lynn Novick and Ken Burns’ recent documentary Hemingway. Yet viewers of that show may have noted the intriguing fact that those interviewed often didn’t agree upon which of his works had merit, or why. Edna O’Brien, who defends Hemingway against charges of misogyny, dismisses The Old Man and the Sea as childish, while Mario Vargas Llosa regards it as Hemingway’s masterpiece. Vargas Llosa dissolves into chuckles over the bad writing in For Whom the Bell Tolls, while the late Senator John McCain regards it as “the great American novel,” speaking movingly about the book’s profound effect upon him. After watching hours of the author’s wife-hopping, self-aggrandizement, and mounting alcoholism and paranoia, viewers might be forgiven for wondering just what is the big deal about Ernest Hemingway? Continue reading “What’s so special about Hemingway?”

Radical Mycology!

We live in one of the most fungally rich regions in the United States. Oregon has the largest single living organism on Earth in the Malheur National forest. It’s a fungus known by several names: Armillaria, scientifically; Honey Mushroom commonly; or, locally, as the Humongous Fungus. By 2015 it was three square miles large and a few thousand years old. It lives in the soil and spreads its filaments outward so that it grows one to three feet each year. It’s also killing the forest.

Or is it simply performing its natural function of recycling the trees back into the soil, but on a longer time scale than most humans are capable of understanding? Questions like these underpin the field of Mycology, the branch of biology that studies fungi, one of the least understood branches of life on Earth. Several recent books delve into this field from both the highly specialized scientific perspective as well as that of radical DIYers. Entangled Life, by Merlin Sheldrake, is a highly readable account of the author’s love for mushrooms and fungi as well as a tour through current trends in mycology to examine just how little we understand about these organisms. Similarly, Doug Bierend’s In Search of Mycotopia shows us the possibilities of fungal and microbial life. Both authors are trained experts and believe that understanding the fungus among us can radically alter how we experience our own lives as well as the world around us. Continue reading “Radical Mycology!”

What Happens When Poetry Propagates a Nation?

Citizens, the month of harvest is here. Celebrate National Poetry Month.

Here comes, once again, An American Sunrise. Arrived, once again, a proliferation of poetry; each poem The Winged Seed of a thousand thoughts.

From whence do they come, these Words Like Thunder? Of course, from poets, those propagating Children of Grass who Forage for Earth Vowels, Mosses and Lichens, all the while seeking The Clearing, some clear view in the distance to get to the end of the poem, the manuscript, the line.

Poets Carrying Water to the Field have to learn How to Carry Water. They have to, carefully, tend to Pale Colors in a Tall Field until music, Field Music, fills air and it goes abuzz with Everyday Mojo Songs of Earth. Continue reading “What Happens When Poetry Propagates a Nation?”

Writers in the Hemingway Tradition

If you’re watching Lynn Novick and Ken Burns’ documentary Hemingway this week on PBS, you’ve heard a lot of writers and commentators talking about what a profound influence Ernest Hemingway has had on American literature. As the writer Tobias Wolff puts it, “It’s hard to imagine a writer today who hasn’t been in some way influenced by him. It’s like he changed all the furniture in the room, right? And we all  have to sit in it. We can kind of sit on the armchair, or on the arm…” No matter how you may feel about the man (or mansplainer, philanderer and self-mythologizer), there’s no denying that Hemingway the writer originated an oblique, minimalist style that has cast a long shadow over our literary landscape.

Among his near contemporaries, many authors in the genres of hardboiled crime and noir adopted a similar colloquial, hardbitten style. Try reading James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice and see if you don’t fine a spiced up version of Hemingway’s understated prose from the very first line: “They threw me off the hay truck about noon.” Other classic noir writers of the 1930s and 1940s, such as Cornell Woolrich or William Lindsay Gresham, reveal a similarly uncompromising, clipped style that is still found in many hardboiled writers – such as Elmore Leonard – today. Continue reading “Writers in the Hemingway Tradition”

Icy Isolation

Ok, I know Spring is sprung and we’re all ready for flowers, more daylight, and sunnier days, but I’m taking one last look back at winter with this trio of recent suspense novels that find characters trapped in remote, snowy mountain lodges in the Alps.

One by One by Ruth Ware
The eight shareholding employees of a tech start-up gather at a high-end ski chalet in the French Alps to discuss the contentious topic of opening their company to investors. But soon after arrival, one in their party goes missing on the slopes, and soon an avalanche has trapped the group and the two chalet staff inside with no phone access, no wifi, and no electricity. Tensions and tempers flare, until one by one other members of the group disappear into the snow or are found dead in their rooms. Told from the perspective of Liz, a former employee who holds the linchpin vote; and Erin, the chalet hostess and ski guide hiding her own secrets. Continue reading “Icy Isolation”