Thursday, September 07, 2006

How would it feel?

We return to certain books we like. Why we like them may not have much to do with their quality. We may have read them at a time when their words resonated, so we return to recapture a little of the magic.

For me, one such book is Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, his memoir of being a young writer in Paris during the 1920’s. People learned in literature tell me it is a terrible book. I’ll take their word for it. But I still love it and will continue rereading it.

In his preface to the book he says this.

If the reader prefers, this book may be regarded as fiction. But there is always the chance that such a book of fiction may throw some light on what has been written as fact.

This is the first paragraph of the book.
Then there was the bad weather. It would come in one day when the fall was over. We would have to shut the windows in the night against the rain and the cold wind would strip the leaves from the trees in the Place Contrescarpe. The leaves lay sodden in the rain and the wind drove the rain against the big green autobus at the terminal and the Café des Amateurs was crowded and the windows misted over from the heat and the smoke inside. It was a sad, evilly run café where the drunkards of the quarter crowded together and I kept away from it because of the smell of dirty bodies, and the sour smell of drunkenness. The men and women who frequented the Amateurs stayed drunk all of the time, or all of the time they could afford it, mostly on wine which they bought by the half-liter or liter Many strangely named aperitifs were advertised, but few people could afford them except as a foundation to build their wine drunks on. The women drunkards were called poivrottes which meant female rummies.

That paragraph makes me feel as though I am sitting inside the evilly run Café des Amateurs with its sour smell of drunkenness on a winter day.

As for the book, it made me wonder for the first time how it would feel to write well.


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