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.

Perhaps no writer epitomize’s Hemingway’s “iceberg theory” of writing – the idea that the writer can omit anything, and that omitted part will strengthen the story – as Raymond Carver. Pick up pretty much any of Raymond Carver’s short stories about struggling and often inarticulate Americans, and see if you aren’t struck by what Carver chooses to leave out. At their best, both Hemingway and Carver manage to create profound and ringing silences around their words. The title of Carver’s first published story collection – Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?  – feels almost like an homage to a line of dialogue from the great Hemingway short story Hills Like White Elephants: “Would you please please please please please please please stop talking?”

Although not coming from American tradition, sometimes the terse, plainspoken writing of Swedish author Per Petterson can be very reminiscent of the Hemingway tradition. Listen to this passage from Out Stealing Horses: “I could suddenly get a longing to be in a place where there was only silence. Years might go by and I did not think about it, but that does not mean that I did not long to be there. And now I am here, and it is almost exactly as I had imagined it.” Petterson seems to follow Hemingway’s rule to “cut the scrollwork or ornament out and throw it away and start with the first true simple declarative sentence I had written.”

A number of Northwest writers have crafted similarly terse novels of gritty reality, such as Shann Ray’s story collection American Masculine,  parts of David Guterson’s The Country Ahead of Us, The Country Behind, or Larry Watson’s As Good As Gone. One not to miss is the powerful contemporary tragedian Willy Vlautin, whose ruthlessly honest stories of the struggles and losses of American dreamers are pitch perfect snapshots of contemporary life, stunning in their authenticity and restraint. Check out Vlautin’s latest, The Night Always Comes.

Here are some other authors and titles that harken back in various ways to Hemingway’s pared-down, oblique style.

     ~ Posted by David W.

With “Masked Classics” Pandemic Publishing Comes of Age

When in doubt, fall back on a classic. It worked for Pride, Prejudice and Zombies and its many spinoffs, and now resourceful publishers, making up for lost time and revenue, aim to make it work for a pandemic-weary reading public. Gimik Books (a division of Langweiliger-Zellstoff) has just premiered a new line of “masked classics,” featuring slightly rewritten versions of familiar titles. So we join Mrs. Dalloway as she struggles with the banal details of arranging lawn chairs for an appropriately distanced social gathering, and we experience afresh the noughting of Ralph Ellison’s nameless protagonist as he struggles not just to be seen, but to be heard through a double mask. 

Racing them to the marketplace is Impulse! (a division of Seelenlose-Gier), with its own line of masked reprints, including the intrepid girl detective Nancy Drew going up against a new sort of “invisible intruder,” and Tolstoy’s doomed Anna Karenina, who recklessly persists in leaving her nose hanging out, even amidst the hustle and bustle of a crowded train station.  Continue reading “With “Masked Classics” Pandemic Publishing Comes of Age”

2021 Audiobook Awards: And the Winners Are…

This month saw two major audiobook awards: the Grammys and the Audies. We have a full list of nominees and winners in our catalog, here, but here are at least some of the audiobooks that went home holding trophies this month.

The winner of this year’s Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word or Non-Musical Album is: Blowout: Corrupted Democracy, Rogue State Russia, and the Richest, Most Destructive Industry on Earth, by Rachel Maddow, read by the author.  Think it’s all about the money? Guess again: it’s all about the oil. The popular cable news star digs deep on the dirty open secret of geopolitical power.

Continue reading “2021 Audiobook Awards: And the Winners Are…”

Bulosan at 75: Contemporary Filipino/Filipinx Memoirs

Carlos Bulosan’s fictionalized memoir America is in the Heart was published 75 years ago this month. The passionate and incendiary account captures the brutality and casual cruelty meted out to Filipino migrants in America, persecution that would continue as the poet and labor organizer was subsequently blacklisted and targeted by the FBI. By the time Bulosan died in his early forties, collapsing on the lawn of Seattle’s King County Courthouse and buried in an unmarked pauper’s grave, his once bestselling book had fallen into obscurity. Decades later it would be revived as a seminal work of the Filipino diaspora and the Asian American immigrant experience.

Since that time much has changed, and much hasn’t. Here are just a handful of the many outstanding memoirs at your local library by Filipino/Filipinx* writers to show how far we have and haven’t come.

Continue reading “Bulosan at 75: Contemporary Filipino/Filipinx Memoirs”

Read Something: Gripping

“If it’s not gripping you, you’re reading the wrong book.”  
– Nick Hornby

This week we Read Something gripping. What makes a book gripping is in the eye of the beholder. Some readers are gripped by a fast-paced covert-ops thriller with a high body count; others would use gripping to describe a well-realized, vivid work of history or a quietly intense coming of age memoir. That said, some authors have a special knack for grabbing us right away, and not letting go. Finding it hard to get going on a book? Check out one of these gripping reads:

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