As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t really go in for memoirs. Unless I’m interested in the person beforehand or they have an interesting life story, I’m rarely interested. I’ve also never read Hemingway; he simply never appealed to me. But here we are today looking at two memoirs written by men–Hemingway, a writer I’ve little experience with, and Michael Chabon, a writer whom I adore.
A Moveable Feast by Earnest Hemingway
“You belong to me and all Paris belongs to me and I belong to this notebook and this pencil.”
Begun in the autumn of 1957 and published posthumously in 1964, Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast captures what it meant to be young and poor and writing in Paris during the 1920s. A correspondent for the Toronto Star, Hemingway arrived in Paris in 1921, three years after the trauma of the Great War and at the beginning of the transformation of Europe’s cultural landscape: Braque and Picasso were experimenting with cubist forms; James Joyce, long living in self-imposed exile from his native Dublin, had just completed Ulysses; Gertude Stein held court at 27 rue de Fleurus, and deemed young Ernest a member of rue génération perdue; and T. S. Eliot was a bank clerk in London. It was during these years that the as-of-yet unpublished young writer gathered the material for his first novel, The Sun Also Rises, and the subsequent masterpieces that followed.
Among these small, reflective sketches are unforgettable encounters with the members of Hemingway’s slightly rag-tag circle of artists and writers, some also fated to achieve fame and glory, others to fall into obscurity. Here, too, is an evocation of the Paris that Hemingway knew as a young man — a map drawn in his distinct prose of the streets and cafés and bookshops that comprised the city in which he, as a young writer, sometimes struggling against the cold and hunger of near poverty, honed the skills of his craft.
A Moveable Feast is at once an elegy to the remarkable group of expatriates that gathered in Paris during the twenties and a testament to the risks and rewards of the writerly life.
I ran across A Moveable Feast over at Shelf Love, and I was immediately interested by it–Hemingway in France in the 1920s? Interesting. However, I don’t have much patience for creatives who consider a job to keep food on the table selling out (Oh, Marc from RENT!), so I’m not sure how I’ll respond to Hemingway doing so, especially with a family.
Jenny at Shelf Love quite enjoyed seeing the tender side of Hemingway, although it didn’t make her a fan. Molly from my cozy book nook found the quality to be a little uneven and felt a little lost when encountering the other writers in Hemingway’s circle, but she did enjoy it and plans to re-read it. I’m a little hesitant about Hemingway, but I think this is worth a read.
A Moveable Feast was published in the December of 1964.
Manhood for Amateurs by Michael Chabon
The Pulitzer Prize-winning author— “an immensely gifted writer and a magical prose stylist” (Michiko Kakutani, New York Times)—offers his first major work of nonfiction, an autobiographical narrative as inventive, beautiful, and powerful as his acclaimed, award-winning fiction.
At once dazzling, hilarious, and moving, Manhood for Amateurs is destined to become a classic.
A shy manifesto, an impractical handbook, the true story of a fabulist, an entire life in parts and pieces, Manhood for Amateurs is the first sustained work of personal writing from Michael Chabon. In these insightful, provocative, slyly interlinked essays, one of our most brilliant and humane writers presents his autobiography and his vision of life in the way so many of us experience our own lives: as a series of reflections, regrets, and reexaminations, each sparked by an encounter, in the present, that holds some legacy of the past.
What does it mean to be a man today? Chabon invokes and interprets and struggles to reinvent for us, with characteristic warmth and lyric wit, the personal and family history that haunts him even as—simply because—it goes on being written every day. As a devoted son, as a passionate husband, and above all as the father of four young Americans, Chabon presents his memories of childhood, of his parents’ marriage and divorce, of moments of painful adolescent comedy and giddy encounters with the popular art and literature of his own youth, as a theme played—on different instruments, with a fresh tempo and in a new key—by the mad quartet of which he now finds himself co-conductor.
I love Michael Chabon’s works; I will read anything that man commits to paper. But for some reason, although I saw Manhood for Amateurs floating around, I never really picked it up. It may have been my distaste for memoirs, but when Jenny at Shelf Love reviewed it, I decided to put it down on the list and get closer to reading everything Chabon has ever published.
Jenny, of the aforementioned Shelf Love, adored it, especially an essay where Chabon, full of himself in college, looks around at the other people in his MFA program and realizes they’ve made actual sacrifices to get where they want. Ron Mattocks at Book Dads thoroughly enjoyed it as well, especially his conversational tone. Chabon is one of the very few writers whose work I would buy sight unseen, so I’m quite confident that I’ll love this.
Manhood for Amateurs was published on October 6, 2009.