The American writer Ernest Hemingway was always hungry for travel, discovery, faraway countries and different cultures. He was photographed on dozens of journeys, each conceived as a quest but also a challenge, from bullfighting in Spain to marlin fishing in the ocean. As a young man, he took part in the First World War, first as an ambulance driver and then as a soldier.
Hemingway lived. And while he lived, he observed everything around him and then wrote it down. Writing it down gave it new life and publishing it allowed readers to relive the experiences he had narrated, leaving everyone free to imagine the protagonists of his stories and novels.
Hemingway left his readers the greatest gift: to continue to travel, each in their own way, through novels and a considerable number of short stories. There is a wide variety of journeys to choose from: the boat in The Old Man and the Sea, the rugged mountains of the novel For Whom the Bell Tolls, which recounts the hard experience of the Spanish War, or the The First Forty-Nine Stories, which allow us to explore the full range of humanity – from the beautiful to the most ugly aspects – of 1930s America. His works are like a packed suitcase that is ready to be used to never stop looking around and to learn to observe the world, to interpret it, to dig for meaning. Hemingway claimed that “In order to write about life first you must live it”.
ACTIVITY – If you were to ask Ernest Hemingway to suggest a book to read from his travels and experiences, which of the topics suggested by the titles would you like best? Write it down in a tweet.
Reading for living and experience for writing and reading
It sounds like an almost banal sentence, doesn’t it? But it hides precisely the adventurous power that life and books have intertwined without pause since the first book was written. We live and write by what we live, says a great writer, but if we think about it, these words are actually guiding us to venture into life to give a deeper meaning to the words we write and to better understand those that we read.
Let’s imagine that Hemingway spoke to us here and left us at the door of a library, full of books – or whatever format we prefer, whether that be ebooks and audiobooks – that we can choose as we see fit. There are no time limits, we can sit in a comfortable armchair, choose and immerse ourselves in a world that is bound to become a journey. It is the very first page of each book that acts as a “starting station”, because at the moment we chose it, we probably had an idea of what we wanted to read. If we picked up The Jungle Book, we were perhaps in the mood for adventure and animals; if we preferred The Strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, we might have wanted to face disturbing situations, dark atmospheres and the dark sides of a personality. Are we in a romantic mood and keen to read a tangled love story that ends better than expected? Oscar Wilde‘s The Importance of Being Earnest or Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice could make us settle even more comfortably into the sofa to see how these well-known stories end, regardless of whether someone has already told us, or indeed whether it’s not even the first time we have read them.
Is that enough for us?
Wait a minute… Hemingway is here again, showing us an alternative to this beautiful library where all the words have already been written. He opens a window and shows us an “outside”, a city, a school, a street, places that we know and where we live every day, that we are even used to taking for granted, as if every thing, situation, object or person were always the same. And it invites us to look at them with a new spirit of observation, a critical gaze that we may be exercising for the first time. The people at the bus stop may have a story to tell while they wait, a person sitting on a bench in the park may be happy or lonely, let’s try to look at them better, let’s observe their gestures: there is a whole world to discover in the smallest details. These observations are not pointless; they are what life is all about, taking a step in a different direction and realising that, even in a limited space, the experiences of day-to-day life are more than we think, and looking at what we have around us can be much more interesting, surprising and ” socially enlightening ” than it seems. There are emotions there.
After this tour, as Hemingway would have done, we return to the library and again choose other books that might have different stories to tell, with a new interest that has been aroused by our experience of a more careful observation, which is not at all trivial, since it is a real life experience.
Just what Hemingway was talking about.
TO GO FURTHER
Together with your classmates, organise an observation and writing contest. On the way between home and school observe your surroundings carefully and notice which things or people you had never noticed. Each person should write a blog on the school website starting with “Do you know that I never noticed that…?”. Each of you should then read your classmates’ blog posts and decide which one seems most interesting and original, giving reasons for your choice.
At the end of the contest, the most popular blog post will be declared the winner and the reasons will be published on the school website.