Of Hemingway, coffee and fibs

booking_through_thursSo my brain is pretty much mush this week, rendering me unable to focus on much of anything! After crocheting a few scarves for the shop and settling down to watch “Glee” last night, I felt so tired I could barely make it through a few pages of Life As We Knew It before falling asleep.

That being said, I’ve done very little reading this week! So I’m jumping back into one of my old favorite memes, Booking Through Thursday — and here’s our question:

According to this article, two-thirds of Brits have lied about reading books they haven’t. Have you? Why? What book?

When I was a senior in high school, regional magazine Southern Maryland, This Is Living interviewed me for their “Who’s Creative?” column. My college admissions essay revolved entirely around the importance of numbers in my life — ironic, really, considering I’m probably the world’s worst math student! As an exercise in school, we’d had to turn our admissions essays in to our English teacher, who then passed them on to our peers for editing. Mine was a hit. After it made the circuit at the school, it wound up in the hands of the magazine’s editor — and then it was time for my interview!

Knowing me as you all do, you know I thought I’d hit the big time. Here I was, saucy at 17 — and discussing my writing. The inspiration for my work. Considering I penned my first full-length novel at the age of 10, in my mind, I’d already been writing for seven years. I was ready to hit the big time! I needed my big break! Author Shannon Hale had a very similar experience and had me majorly laughing at the National Book Festival — I could totally relate!

So my interview is all set up in the cafe of our local Borders, where I shake hands with my interviewer and settle nervously into my seat. We go through the preliminary questions: how was my high school experience? What was I studying in college? What sort of hobbies did I have?

And then we got to the “harder” stuff: Who’s your favorite author?

Being, you know, seventeen — and desperately wanting to be taken seriously — all of the “honest” answers that popped in my head (like Meg Cabot, though I adore her) immediately disappeared, the names just crumbling on my tongue. Those were young adult authors. They were for kids! And I was a writer — a creative writer! I needed . . . someone . . . serious! Pedantic, even.

So which name did I unceremoniously drop?

Ernest Hemingway.

Hemingway's home in Key West, Fla.

Hemingway's home in Key West, Fla.

Oh, friends — yes. I did. Hemingway. I’d taken a trip with my family to Key West, Fla., just years before, and the experience of walking through the hot bungalow where Ernest himself camped out, drunk and rambling, had really made an impression on me. Hemingway did the majority of his writing there and, I knew, was widely admired. At least by my English teachers. So his seemed as good a name as any.

Nevermind that I’d never read a single book by him . . . or even a single passage. Not one that I could easily recall, anyway. His was a big, well-known name — and definitely not a sissy author. He’d practically been inducted in the literary hall of fame, am I right? Canonized or demonized, depending on your perspective? No one would accuse me of not being well-read, gosh darnit!

Of course, my interviewer could have easily called me on my bluff, flatlining me with a follow-up like, “Oh, yeah, little lady? And which book is the best? Do you even know any of their names — what any of them are about?”

To which I would have blushed crimson, crawled under the sticky cafe table and folded myself into the fetal position, not daring to peek back up at the glowering face of the reporter or my disappointed parents. Thankfully, that didn’t happen — I’m pretty sure sitting in a puddle of spilled coffee on that floor would have been the cherry on my sundae of utter humiliation.

I chose Hemingway because I knew he was famous for his stream-of-consciousness writing style, a tradition I (naively) believed I carried on. I chose him because I’d seen his house, for cryin’ out loud — because I’d seen the actual space where he wrote. Because I’d walked through it. Because I’d stood on the same steps, looking out over the same land.

Ernest and me, you know, we were close.

Would I ever fib to impress someone with my literary knowledge again? No. I wouldn’t. But nor would I have to pull a legend out of a hat any longer! Because sitting at that table with sweating palms seven years ago, I learned a valuable lesson: writers have to read. Not a little, or occasionally, or just the well-knowns — but everything. As much of it as possible. If we want to get better — if we want to have something real  to say, and know how to say  it — we have to get out and experience life. And then read lots of novels about it. So, as write meg! can attest, I’ve tried hard to do just that!

And I’ll get around to For Whom The Bell Tolls one of these days . . .


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16 thoughts on “Of Hemingway, coffee and fibs

  1. What a great story! And so vivid. I love it! When you do get around to Hemingway, I’d like to suggest “In Our Time.” It was his first collection of short stories, and I think they are incredible!

  2. Oh man, this cracked me up. I’m loving the entries where people have confessions to make – much more fun to read than the ones who claim never to have lied about a book!

  3. That’s a riot! You got so lucky there were no follow-up questions. Actually regarding Hemingway, I don’t think I read more than one or two of his books, but they were really good! And I saw most of the movies made from his books, because of course they mostly had a handsome leading man and beautiful woman and predictable plot (but who cares because who doesn’t like a love story under those circumstances?)!!! So I recommend hitting up Netflix for some of those movies, in case you ever need to use that story again!

  4. Haha how honest! I know I’ve done this before, but I can’t remember when or for what authors. Sometimes I feel guilty, if I’d “sort of” read the book, as in I didn’t really think in depth about it, almost sort of skimmed it. And I claim to have read it? I’m ashamed.

    What do numbers mean to you? That essay sounds really intersting!

  5. I can totally see why your essays were such a success! This is such a great story. It almost makes me wish I’d lied just so I could talk about it!

  6. Hahaha, it stinks that chick lit. has the weird reputation it does because when people ask me about my favorite books, they often scoff at chick lit. titles even though the books are often really well-written and tell an awesome story.

    PS- longest sentence ever…sorry about that.

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