2012 Challenges, 2012 TBR Challenge, American Lit, Book Review, Classics, Ernest Hemingway, Fiction

Review: Islands in the Stream by Ernest Hemingway


Islands in the Stream by Ernest Hemingway
Final Verdict: 3.75 out of 4.0
YTD: 1

Ernest Hemingway’s Islands in the Stream was published posthumously and was expurgated by Hemingway’s wife.  A note in the preface states that she removed certain portions of the book which she felt certain that Hemingway would have eliminated himself (which begs the question: Why did he include them in the first place?).  Personally, I cannot stand when books are expurgated, particularly by friends/loved ones or editors who think they “know better” than the author.  That aside, the story is interesting and is much more like his later works, such as Garden of Eden than his earlier works.  This does make me believe that there were probably portions of the book that were rather sensitive and could have been very enlightening, particularly to those familiar with Hemingway and his tragic end.  The story is separated into three parts, including “Bimini”, “Cuba,” and “At Sea.”  Each segment explores a different time period in the main characters life, and also explores different aspects of his life and emotions.  There is one connecting thread throughout the three segments, which is family.  My personal favorite section was “Bimini,” where the main character is visited by his sons and lives with a close male friend.  Their relationship is incredibly interesting, especially considering the homosensual nature of it in contrast to the homophobic comments made by some of the characters (and by Hemingway himself, in real life).  The idea of “manly love” is certainly a main focus in part one, but suffers a bit in the second two segments, which are more concerned with grief/recover and war.

Thomas Hudson, the main character, and his good friend, Roger, are the best developed characters in the book, particularly in part one.  Thomas Hudson continues to develop throughout and his character is interesting to witness, as he struggles to grieve the loss of his loved ones.  Hudson’s sons, too, are delightful – not since Garden of Eden have I seen such lovingly, sincerely drawn characters from Hemingway.  In part two, “Cuba,” Hudson’s true love becomes a part of the story and she, too, is interesting and very similar to the woman in Garden of Eden, which leads me to believe that these two posthumous works might be his most autobiographical of them all.  The minor characters, such as the bartenders, Hudson’s houseboys, and his comrades-in-arms in part three, are all well-crafted, sound, and believable. 

One difference between Islands in the Stream and Hemingway’s other works is in the prose.  It is still raw, but not quite so sparse or bare as usual.  His descriptions are more flushed out, almost tortured at times.  There is a moment in the book where Hudson is fishing with his sons, and it is described in such detail (even better, in my opinion, than in Old Man and the Sea) and with such deep emotion that I actually found myself becoming thrilled and engaged – by fishing. Something I truly dislike.  That is the kind of magic Hemingway works with his words, his language, and his style.  It is brilliant, as usual, but, again, I found myself much more drawn to the first section than any others – it is an exposed nerve.

Personally, I try my very best to separate writers from their works; however, I do believe that, no matter how hard we try, we writers reveal bits of ourselves in our works.  Hemingway is known for his “masculine” prose – his ability to tell a story without much emotion, without much sap, without any flowery nonsense.  This leaves him, throughout most of his chronology, rather walled-off from his works.  In Islands in the Stream, however, as with Garden of Eden, I truly believe we see Hemingway exposed – there is a very sensitive, deeply troubled side to this man and that these books were published only posthumously speaks volumes to his relationship to them.  Islands in the Stream is a delicate exploration of love, loss, family and friendship.  It is a deeply moving tale of a man, an artist, fighting to wake up and live every day, despite his haunting sadness. 

Suggested Reading for:

Age Level: Adult

Interest: Family, Loss, Artists/Artistry, Friendship, Sorrow, War

Notable Quotes:

“Out of all the things you could not have there were some that you could have and one of those was to know when you were happy and to enjoy all of it while it was there and it was good” (99). 

“I kept waiting for truth and right to win and then somebody new would knock truth and right right on its ass” (147).

“Hell was not necessarily as it was described by Dante or any other of the great hell-describers, but could be a comfortable, pleasant, and well-loved ship taking you toward a country that you had always sailed for with anticipation” (195).

“He thought that on the ship he could come to some terms with his sorrow, not knowing, yet, that there are no terms to be made with sorrow.  It can be cured by death and it can be blunted or anesthetized by various things. Time is supposed to cure it, too. But if it is cured by anything less than death, the chances are that it was not true sorrow” (195).

“I drink against poverty, dirt, four-hundred-year-old dust, the nose-snot of children, cracked palm fronds, roofs made from hammered tins, the shuffle of untreated syphilis, sewage in the old beds of brooks, lice on the bare necks of infested poultry, scale on the backs of old men’s necks, the smell of old women, and the full blast radio” (241).

“There’s some wonderful crazies out there. You’ll like them” (269).


American Lit, Audiobooks, Blog Post, Classics, Ernest Hemingway, Misc, Publicity, Simon & Schuster

The Ernest Hemingway Audiobook Library! (Simon & Schuster)

I was recently contacted by the Audio division of Simon & Schuster, who let me know that the Complete Works of Ernest Hemingway were about to be released, for the first time, as an audiobook collection.  As a fan of Hemingway, I was thrilled.  Then, after seeing who they got to narrate these texts, I became even more excited!

Normally, I’m not one to promote for promotion’s sake, but because I’m a regular Hemingway reader and because I know a lot of my subscribers are also fans of the classics (I’m lookin’ at you, Classics Club members!), I thought it was appropriate to share this information. 

Here’s a link to an excerpt from The Old Man and the Sea.  Other excerpts are available to listen to on the websiteAlso, if you visit the website directly, you will be able to purchase the collection for 40% off!  This is only available until December 15th (and while supplies last), so I definitely wanted to get the word out.  It’s a great gift idea for the holidays – either as a treat for you or for a special someone (cough – yours truly? – cough!).  😉

More Info from the Publisher:

Simon & Schuster Audio is proud to announce the publication of THE ERNEST HEMINGWAY AUDIOBOOK LIBRARY on Tuesday, November 20, 2012. This comprehensive collection brings together all of Hemingway’s novels, nonfiction and short stories.  Narrated by an all-star group of actors, the collection offers 133 hours of audio on 15 MP3 CDs and includes an intimate conversation with Hemingway’s last surviving son, Patrick. 

“Since 2002, Simon & Schuster Audio has been re-introducing Hemingway’s incomparable body of work to a new generation of listeners, read by some of the finest actors of our generation,” says Chris Lynch, President  & Publisher of Simon & Schuster Audio.  “Today, the MP3 audio format allows us to offer all of Hemingway’s audiobooks in this beautiful collector’s edition.  It is an incredible value for Hemingway enthusiasts.”

The collection includes Donald Sutherland reading The Old Man and the Sea, William Hurt reading The Sun Also Rises, John Slattery reading A Farewell to Arms and The Short Stories read by Stacy Keach.  Other actors featured in the collection are: Brian Dennehy, Boyd Gaines, Bruce Greenwood, John Bedford Lloyd, Josh Lucas, Will Patton, Campbell Scott, and Patrick Wilson.

In addition, the collection’s exclusive interview with the author’s only surviving son is as compelling as the productions themselves.  Patrick Hemingway talks frankly about his childhood growing up in Key West and reflects on the life and legacy of his father, Patrick’s candid look back is a unique view into the life of one of America’s greatest writers. 

Ernest Hemingway did more to change the style of English prose than any other writer in the twentieth century, and for his efforts he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1954. As part of the expatriate community in 1920s Paris, the former journalist and World War I ambulance driver began a career that lead to international fame. The publications of The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms immediately established Hemingway as one of the greatest literary lights of his time. His classic novella The Old Man and the Sea won the Pulitzer Prize in 1953. He died in 1961.

2010 TBR, Book Review, Ernest Hemingway, Fiction, Giveaway, Giveaway Hop, Giveaways, Literature, Monthly Review

Review: For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway

For Whom the Bell Tolls is the fifth of Hemingway’s works (not including short stories) that I’ve gotten through.  Out of two novellas (The Torrents of Spring and Old Man and the Sea) and two other novels (The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms), I would say this is absolutely my second favorite, so far.  
The Good:
I could go on and on about Hemingway’s use of language and dialogue in this novel.  He breaks somewhat from his tradition of minimalism and gives real thought and feeling to his descriptions.  He plays with automatic-writing (probably heavily-influenced by his time with the prominent modernists of the time, most of whom didn’t think much of him as a writer, aside from his journalism).  I see Hemingway taking risks in this novel that I don’t think he managed – either to attempt or to accomplish – in his earlier works.  He also does a brilliant job of translating Spanish into English, re-translated into Spanish.  It’s hard to explain this, especially for mono-linguists, but all of the action and dialogue in For Whom the Bell Tolls is enacted in Spanish, then written in English (of course), but when it is written, it is written to preserve the distinct voice, dialect, idioms, etc. of the original language.  I’ve never encountered a writer who was able to accomplish this so well, so brilliantly, and who could convince their publisher not to re-work it into standard English for the readers. The honesty to the story of the Spanish Civil War, the people, the relationships, the many cultures involved.  I’m no historian, granted, and I don’t know much about the Spanish Civil War or the anti-fascist movement, but Hemingway certainly seems to understand it, and his simple, 72-hour exploration of a small group of mountain bandits, of a budding love, and the emphasis on “living and learning your life” regardless of having 20 years or 20 hours in which to do it – it’s masterful and moving and truly well done. 
The Bad
The ending was beautiful, until the final line!  Yes, it was incredibly simple, plain-spoken, and (no pun intended) down-to-earth.  But, after such an incredibly well-delivered, beautifully rendered final few pages of a novel, to be left with such a blunt, non-ending just almost seemed heartless.  Of course, this doesn’t seem to be Hemingway’s intent. Also disturbing are the many references to suicide by shotgun – both in the case of the main character, Robert Jordan, and that character’s father.  Though the novel was written well before Hemingway’s own suicide (by shotgun), the parallels to his life are there and they are haunting.  It made it painful to read, at times, because the inner-turmoil becomes so personal to a reader who is familiar with Hemingway’s life, history, and legacy.
The Final Verdict: 4.0 out of 5.0
Despite the sudden (almost seemingly unfinished, to be honest) ending, For Whom the Bell Tolls is a brilliant and honest novel.  Certainly one of the most thoughtful, well-written, and purposeful Hemingway works that I’ve encountered.  While I find Hemingway’s earlier A Farewell to Arms more effective as a war novel (simply due to taste – in A Farewell to Arms, Hemingway writes a war novel which doesn’t even include much “war” at all, and I found that appealing and genius), For Whom the Bell Tolls is certainly an accomplishment in terms of plot and language, in particular.  Recommended for those interested in Spanish history, modernism, Hemingway, or just a good, classic American read.
African-American, Alex Sanchez, Book Review, Criticism, Ernest Hemingway, Feminism, Gay Lit, J.T. Leroy, K.M. Soehlein, Literature, Margaret Fuller, Zora Neale Hurston

Reviews: The Earlies Part 4

So Hard to Say by Alex Sanchez

Meh. Sanchez’s novels are okay for pre-teen/teen readers, I guess. They’re simple and generally truthful. But, if you or someone you know is interested in really good, moving young adult fiction involving gay characters or themes, check out Boy Meets Boy by Levithan or The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Chbosky.

Woman in the Nineteenth Century by Margaret Fuller

A critical work about the “feminist” movement, though Fuller’s idea of feminism leaves much to be desired. She is, I suppose, a voice for change in her time, but she seems to have been locked in that need to balance even the feminist movement with the needs of males. Perhaps this was a necessary concession for publication in such a patriarchal time and profession – but she (and Wollstonecraft, to be honest), while heralded as a liberating mother-figure, seems more of a moderate than a liberal.

Go Ask Alice by Anonymous


The World of Normal Boys by K.M. Soehnlein

It’s forgettable but it’s god for what it is… an easy read on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

A quick but worthwhile read. I think what most interests me, though, is Hurstons own story – and the study which Alice Walker did into Hurstons life, the revival.. the reclaiming of Hurston into literary prominence, etc. A discussion of this is included in this edition of the novel.

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

For some reason, I thought I didn’t like Hemingway much. I enjoyed Old Man and the Sea.. plus some of Hemingway’s short stoires. But I still dreaded reading a full-length novel. I’m not sure why. After reading A Farewell to Arms, I know how ridiculous I was being. Absolutely lovely – and easy to get through.

Sarah: A Novel by J.T. Leroy

Hm. Interesting – lacking in lucid detail, but that’s probably a good thing, considering the subject matter.

Book Review, Ernest Hemingway, Fiction, Literature

Review: The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway is hit or miss, for me. I fell in love with A Farewell to Arms. I found The Old Man and the Sea a bit sluggish (though, admittedly, this is the point). I have thoroughly enjoyed some of the short stories, and wondered why in the world I bothered to read others. The Sun Also Rises was, for me, a book I could have skipped. I know Hemingway is one of the great American authors. I think he is brilliant at times, but for most of this novel, I found myself “laughing out loud” at all the uses of words like “grand,” which called to mind my favorite author, Salinger, and his enormous dislike for phonies. Now, I’m not saying Hemingway was a phony, by any means. In fact, I think it a testament to his art that he succeeded, after being a journalist, so extraordinarily, in spite of criticism from some of the other expatriates, such as Gertrude Stein. Alas, The Sun Also Rises was no A Farewell to Arms. I don’t think it even rivaled The Torrents of Spring. I was not at all intrigued until the final 40 pages or so, when the story moved to Spain and the bullfights. Here, in the deepest, darkest, and most romantic portion of the novel, Hemingway was masterful, and I couldn’t tear myself away. I just wish the first 60% of the novel was just as inspired.