What makes Hemingway great?

By Kimberly Richardson
Ernest Hemingway is one of those writers who writes for the common man. There are no lofty words or higher planes of existence in his books. His descriptions are simple and to the point, yet they carry such weight that it is easy to forget you are merely reading a book instead of listening to him speak. My first dance with Hemingway was the book The Sun Also Rises. Immediately I wanted to pack a bag and fly to Paris to see if I too would experience that city in the same way. Would I, as a writer, come to love and loathe the City of Lights like he did?
So, it came as no surprise to me when I began reading A Moveable Feast years later that I fell in love with, not only his words, but also Paris and the Lost Generation all over again. Here we see Hemingway, or Hemi as people called him, along with his first wife Hadley and their son, living the life of a poor but artistically inclined family in Paris. Along the way, he meets up and drinks with F. Scott Fitzgerald and his insane wife Zelda, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and others while walking through the streets, writing furiously at cafes, eating a bare minimum, and living the life of a true expatriate. There was not one moment wasted in his life. He saw fit to do whatever he wanted whenever he liked, which was all part of why he was in Paris.
After devouring the book in one day, I found myself wondering why reading Hemingway was so profoundly different than reading Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer a couple of months earlier. Miller was a writer who pushed the envelope to the edge then, with a wink and a smile, threw it over without giving a darn if anyone cared enough to look. However, when attempting to reread Miller recently, I found myself unable to finish. Why? The manuscript had not changed, so why could I not go beyond 70 pages of Miller while consuming Hemingway in one night? Both lived in Paris around the same time, both were writers, both loved and hated the city. The difference is that Hemingway’s words flow smoothly across my brain like a cool stream of water. Reading Miller feels to me like running through a rocky patch of road, but Hemingway is like sailing on a lake with a bump every now and then.
For now, let me sit in a quiet Paris cafe, sipping on a cup of tea or perhaps something stronger, and watching a young man two tables away furiously write out his words in a journal, watching him pour his very essence into what would later become his gifts to the world – “I’ve seen you, beauty, and you belong to me now, whoever you are waiting for and if I never see you again, I thought. You belong to me and all Paris belongs to me and I belong to this notebook and this pencil.”

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