The first time I read a book by Ernest Hemingway I was a junior in high school. I didn’t chose to do a report on him because he was a literary giant but because The Old Man and the Sea was so thin. In about the time it takes Melville to explain whale blubber in Moby Dick, Hemingway’s story of a Cuban fisherman is done. And that began my appreciation for Hemingway.
A few years ago I was doing video shoots in London and Berlin and picked up Hemingway’s Green Hills of Africa which I had never read. His well quoted line, “All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn” is found in this non-fiction book. He also speaks fondly of Stephen Crane’s The Blue Boat. Then he reflects on writers who get older but not wiser;
“You see we make our writers into something very strange…We destroy them in many ways. First, economically. They make money. It is only by hazard that a writer makes money although good books always make money eventually. Then our writers when they have made some money increase their style of living and are caught. They have to write to keep up their establishment, their wives, and so on, and they write slop. It is slop not on purpose but because it is hurried. Because they are ambitious. Then, once they have betrayed themselves, they justify it and you get more slop. Or else they read the critics. If they believe the critics when they say they are great then they must believe them when they say they are rotten and they lose confidence. At present we have two good writers who cannot write because they have lost confidence through reading the critics. If they wrote, sometimes it would be good and sometimes not so good and sometimes it would be quite bad, but the good would get out.”
Green Hills of Africa