DRAFT TODAY, POST TOMORROW: Some posts may be in draft status until I (aka procrastinator extraordinaire) get around to posting them.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Sun Also Rises

Our book club decided to alternate fiction and non-fiction, so the first fiction selection was "The Sun Also Rises" by Ernest Hemingway.  I have a softcover set of Hemingway books from the Book of the Month Club, in addition to a hardcover edition of his short stories.  A book club member, N, also provided both a pdf version and a Sparknotes link for reference.

I vaguely recall reading this ages ago, probably around the time I went to Spain almost twenty years ago.  I remember being a little disappointed that it wasn't really about the running of the bulls or Spain; that was just kind of a backdrop for part of the book.
The book was written during another time, when it was okay to refer to people as nigger; even knowing that, it was still a bit of a shock the first time I ran across it while re-reading the book for the club meeting.

For the two others who had read the book, N had read it multiple times and referred to it as a book that had some influence on his life, and J had just read it for the first time and thoroughly hated it.  I am somewhere in between.  In addition, two others joined us for the book club meeting although they had not read the book.

There is a story, and it is pretty well written, but it's a story about characters that are hard to like.  Our consensus was that they were all a bunch of miserable drunks with no life purpose.  J said he has a mission statement and areas of focus, and we discussed George Kinder's version (five themes summarized here) which are quite or at least somewhat different for each of us.  For example, health is not really on there, but it's a major area of focus for me.

Is the purpose of life to be happy?  Does it matter if someone is a do-er or be-er.  That's not beer; let's try it this way.  Does is matter if someone is doing or being?  When someone suggested that we should help others in finding their purpose, there were some flags on the play.  I find it difficult to agree that I should tell someone that they will be happier if they find their purpose--sometimes, people just don't want to be happy (but they wouldn't say that) or they don't want to do what they need to do to be happy.  I think it's like trying to get someone to lose weight--they have to make their own choices.  Some thought that could invite judging.  I was really surprised that one person felt that she does not judge.  I think most of us can agree that we all make judgments, but maybe her definition just differed from ours too much.

I did not find this book very interesting or engaging.  Nothing much happened in the whole book.  The characters went to Paris and then to Pamplona, but Hemingway seemed to be “name dropping” famous bars and eateries along the way.  Mostly they were just drunk and not happy.  Part of my dissatisfaction with the book was the way the characters did not seem to have any purpose to their existence.  (J's summary, in part)

Several of us have read other Hemingway books.  As was suggested in our group, do you think that "classic" writers get a little bit of a pass on some of their works because their other works were so great?

Next month's book is Happier by Tal Ben-Shahar.

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