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Is Hemingway boring?

Updated on June 9, 2010

Hemingway , the writer

Ernest Hemingway has been considered one of the best writers of the twentieth century. He won both the pulitzer and Nobel prizes and produced several novels and short stories, some of which were made into films. However, in today's world, it is likely you will hear many readers characterize his stories as boring. One reviewer has said: " [I find Hemingway boring because] I’ve decided that ...his books are about nothing. I suppose that was why he was such a “genius”. Evidentially, people in the middle of the 20th century wanted to read about nothing."

A writer friend of mine said to me, "I also wonder about a writer like Hemingway in this day and age. I mean most of my friends have not, would not, read anything by Hemingway, much less enjoy it. Stephen King, yes. Tom Robbins, yes. Hemingway, blegh"

And another writer friend of mine, when asked why he might be considered boring replied, "People today go for the story, not the writing. Look at the Da Vinci Code, it was one hell of a story, but as writing goes, it was [not]. [On the other hand], Stephen King writes great stories. He engages the reader and you can easily read a chapter each night before going to sleep, pick it up the next day and still follow the story"

An American writer and journalist, Hemingway was part of the 1920s expatriate community in Paris, and one of the veterans of World War I later known as “the Lost Generation.” He received the Pulitzer Prize in 1953 for The Old Man and the Sea, and the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954. He was without religious persuasion (atheist). His distinctive writing style is characterized by economy and understatement, and had a significant influence on the development of twentieth-century fiction writing. His protagonists are typically stoical men who exhibit an ideal described as “grace under pressure.”

Many of his works are now considered classics of American literature. I've always been a fan of Hemingway's but, in today's world, I can see where some might consider him boring. He spends a lot of time, in his novels and stories, talking about ordinary, mundane things. I guess at the time he was writing that's what people wanted to read about. But now, many people would find that boring. Part of what was so compelling about his writing then was his "style", which today is no longer new. At the time, writing in short, terse declarative sentences was unique. This is one reason why he won the Nobel Prize in 1954.

Hemingway, the man

One thing I've always been attracted to was the man himself. I found him very interesting. If you haven't read "Selected letters 1917-1961" you should. They were captivating.

Ernest Miller Hemingway was born on July 21, 1899 in Oak Park, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. Depressed most of his life, he committed suicide in Ketchum, Idaho in 1961. Other members of his immediate family also committed suicide, including his father, Clarence Hemingway, his siblings Ursula and Leicester, and later his granddaughter Margaux Hemingway.

Hemingway was the first son and the second child born to Clarence Edmonds “Doc Ed” Hemingway – a country doctor, and Grace Hall Hemingway. Hemingway’s father attended the birth of Ernest and blew a horn on his front porch to announce to the neighbors that his wife had given birth to a boy. The Hemingways lived in a six-bedroom Victorian house built by Ernest’s widowed maternal grandfather, Ernest Miller Hall, an English immigrant and Civil War veteran who lived with the family. Hemingway was his namesake.

Hemingway’s mother once aspired to an opera career and earned money giving voice and music lessons. She was domineering and narrowly religious, mirroring the strict Protestant ethic of Oak Park, which Hemingway later said had “wide lawns and narrow minds”. While his mother hoped that her son would develop an interest in music, Hemingway adopted his father’s outdoorsman hobbies of hunting, fishing and camping in the woods and lakes of Northern Michigan.

The family owned a summer home called Windemere on Walloon Lake, near Petoskey, Michigan and often spent summers vacationing there. These early experiences in close contact with nature instilled in Hemingway a lifelong passion for outdoor adventure and for living in remote or isolated areas

After high school, he began his writing career as a cub reporter for The Kansas City Star. After six months, he quit his reporting job against his father’s wishes. He tried to join the United States Army to see action in World War I but he failed the medical examination due to poor vision. Instead, he joined the Red Cross Ambulance Corps.

On his route to the Italian front, he stopped in Paris, where, instead of staying in the relative safety of the Hotel Florida, he tried to get as close to combat as possible. Soon after arriving on the Italian Front he witnessed the brutalities of war. On his first day on duty he was assigned to pick up the mostly female human remains of the dead, the result of a bombing close by. He wrote about it in his short story “A Natural History of the Dead”. This first encounter with death left him shaken.

Hemingway was quite a drinker. It's said that he drank more in one night than some people did in a lifetime. He drank in-between hunting wild game, running with the bulls, and churning out some of the finest literature of the 20th century, in which the characters also drink, heavily and constantly. No sober man would have done what Hemingway did, and no one else could have written such prose without having experienced life so incessantly on booze. Like other great drunkards, he has a drink named for him: Cuba's famous El Floridita makes the "Papa Doble," which is a extra-rum-soaked double frozen daiquiri.

His Works

"When I was young, Ernest Hemingway was king of the hill. During the 30's and 40's aspiring writers all over the world were mimicking his voice, struggling to pare their sentences and sentiments to a lean precision. His best work, perhaps a dozen stories and one or two novels, declared a new style, which meant a new way of looking at the world. These stories and novels would have been inconceivable before the First World War, improbable after the Second." (Irving Howe)

During his lifetime Hemingway had seven novels, six collections of short stories, and two works of non-fiction published, with a further three novels, four collections of short stories, and three non-fiction autobiographical works published after his death. Hemingway's distinctive writing style characterized by economy and understatement had an enormous influence on 20th-century fiction, as did his apparent life of adventure and the public image he cultivated.

He produced most of his work between the mid-1920s and the mid-1950s, culminating in his1954 Nobel Prize in Literature. Hemingway's protagonists are typically stoical men who exhibit an ideal described as "grace under pressure"; many of his works are considered classics of American literature. (wikipedia)

Novels and stories: The Old Man and the Sea, The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tolls, To Have and Have Not, The Torrents of Spring, Death in the Afternoon, Green Hills of Africa, Across the River and Into the Trees, The Dangerous Summer, Island in the Stream and A Moveable Feast


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    • jgshorebird profile image

      Jack Shorebird 24 months ago from Southeastern U.S.

      I'll have to agree with alekhouse. Hemingway's style has a quality that speaks to those (maybe just males?) who see it. I'm an avid reader, but dislike Faulkner. Perhaps it is personal taste, but today's fiction -- I find little enjoyment there.

    • profile image

      alekhouse 4 years ago

      So sorry about your suffering. I love Hemingway. Actually, I am a writer and it's his style of writing more than anything I love. I guess we just have to chalk it up to individual tastes. I'm reading a book right now that's a #1 best seller. Everyone loves it, but I don't like it at all and will probably never finish it. To each his own. Thanks for the comment.

    • profile image

      Scott 4 years ago

      I was required to read several of Hemingway's books when I was in high school in the early to mid '70's. I found him INSUFFERABLY boring. The only book I finished was The Old Man and the Sea and the only reason I finished it was it was SHORT. Trying to read The Sun Also Rises was like practicing sticking red hot needles under your fingernails

    • alekhouse profile image

      Nancy Hinchliff 7 years ago from Essex Junction, Vermont

      I'm with you, Tony. Thanks for commenting.

    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 7 years ago from South Africa

      I don't find him boring at all. Love "For Whom the Bell Tolls" and "A Moveable Feast".

      Thanks for writing this one.

      Love and peace


    • alekhouse profile image

      Nancy Hinchliff 8 years ago from Essex Junction, Vermont

      jj, he was definitely a tragic hero. One a lot of us will never forget. I love his writing style and still go back to get a taste of it every once and a while.

    • jj200 profile image

      jj200 8 years ago from My Bedroom

      Oh wow, you have so many hubs, I didn't even see this one until now. I didn't realize you wrote a whole HUB on Hemingway. He certainly deserves it though. In Our Time was my "sitting down by the bay, watching the tide inch toward me under the late-day summer sun" book.

      I think Dolores has a good point about us young 'uns. Part of it may be that we were forced to read it all in school and nobody likes things they're forced to do. I didn't start to really like "classic" literature until I'd matured enough to appreciate good writing. We read Old Man in high school, but I bought it at the end of college and almost didn't even recognize it.

      I love all the information you put into this hub. He was a heartbreakingly tortured man and yet, possessed the ability to create such beauty. To know this about him makes his writing that much more compelling. Great man, maybe even a (tragic?) hero.

    • alekhouse profile image

      Nancy Hinchliff 8 years ago from Essex Junction, Vermont

      I totally agree with you. So glad I had the Hemingway, Faulkner, etc. experience and can also enjoy contemporary lit.

      Thanks for commenting

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 8 years ago from East Coast, United States

      I haven't read Hemmingway for way too long. I think younger folks just don't try to 'get' classic fiction. They expect a particular style that is popular today, and can't throw themselves into a little something different. Great hub.

    • alekhouse profile image

      Nancy Hinchliff 8 years ago from Essex Junction, Vermont

      Thanks for the comments.

    • Dink96 profile image

      Dink96 8 years ago from Phoenix, AZ

      We had to read "Old Man and the Sea" in 8th grade and of course I didn't get it. I enjoyed Steinbeck though. Perhaps I will revisit his works when I finish my current list of books. Tragically, alcoholism and depression are "family" diseases. It's unfortunate that so much of his family suffered. So much talent... Lovely hub!

    • alekhouse profile image

      Nancy Hinchliff 8 years ago from Essex Junction, Vermont

      Yes, very much so. Too bad he ended up committing suicide. Thanks for commenting.

    • Jule Romans profile image

      Jule Romans 8 years ago from United States

      Hemingway certainly was a compelling man, wasn't he?

    • alekhouse profile image

      Nancy Hinchliff 8 years ago from Essex Junction, Vermont

      Glad to hear it. I've read most of his stuff too and feel the same way. Thank you for commenting.

    • Moulik Mistry profile image

      Moulik Mistry 8 years ago from Burdwan, West Bengal, India

      I have read quite a few novels of his but they did never seem boring to me - very well written article...

    • alekhouse profile image

      Nancy Hinchliff 8 years ago from Essex Junction, Vermont

      Thanks Charlie, appreciate it.

    • profile image

      ralwus 8 years ago

      No he is not boring. Here is a guy to help you with dialogue. There is a hubber too, but right now I can't find him.

    • alekhouse profile image

      Nancy Hinchliff 8 years ago from Essex Junction, Vermont

      Yeah, that a great book. Thanks for the comment.

    • profile image

      LegendaryHero 8 years ago

      I love his story, "The Old Man and The Sea", especially the ending.

    • alekhouse profile image

      Nancy Hinchliff 8 years ago from Essex Junction, Vermont

      @NanMynatt: Thanks, Nan, for the comments. Glad you enjoyed the article.

    • alekhouse profile image

      Nancy Hinchliff 8 years ago from Essex Junction, Vermont

      @greenlotus" Thanks for the nice comments. I was thinking about doing the same thing

    • Nan Mynatt profile image

      Nan Mynatt 8 years ago from Illinois

      He has always been My favorite writer. Some people don't like him because they are not intellectual. Common folk don't comprehend his works, and they have little imagination. The greatest writers and actors are sometimes demmed to be mentally ill. Look at your painters, they don't think and live like common people. GOOD ARTICLE.

    • Green Lotus profile image

      Hillary 8 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      Excellent account of a great writers life and career alek. I enjoyed it! I actually enjoyed reading Hemmingway years ago, but I'd never think to pick up a one of his books today. I just may have to check out'A Moveable Feast'. Thumbs up.

    • alekhouse profile image

      Nancy Hinchliff 8 years ago from Essex Junction, Vermont

      @mehrnaz: Well, I'm with you. He has always been one of my favorite writers. I really don't think people who are interested in style and good writing will find him boring.

      Thanks for commenting

    • alekhouse profile image

      Nancy Hinchliff 8 years ago from Essex Junction, Vermont

      @Mickey Dee: Thanks for stopping by and commenting. If you get a minute, please let me know where the other hub on Hemingway is.

    • alekhouse profile image

      Nancy Hinchliff 8 years ago from Essex Junction, Vermont

      @De Greek: I don't think this opinion comes from writers at all. It's mostly from readers who are looking for a fast exciting story, instead of good writing. Go back and read my hub again and you'll see that it says that. Thanks for the comment.

    • alekhouse profile image

      Nancy Hinchliff 8 years ago from Essex Junction, Vermont

      @Feline Poet: that's one of mine too. seems to be the favorite of a lot of people. Thanks for the comments.

    • profile image

      Mehrnaz 8 years ago

      I have read " The Old Man and The Sea" and I enjoyed it at the time. He is not boring at all.

    • Micky Dee profile image

      Micky Dee 8 years ago

      This is the second hub on Hemingway recently and both are very good. Thanks for your insight.

    • De Greek profile image

      De Greek 8 years ago from UK

      I is amazing how mediocre writers feel qualified to make disdainful comments about finding genius boring …

    • profile image

      Feline Prophet 8 years ago

      My favourite Hemingway book is 'A Moveable Feast' too! I remember a teacher telling us to 'write like Hemingway' - she meant 'cut out all the unnecessary words'! He didn't waste words, did he? :)

    • alekhouse profile image

      Nancy Hinchliff 8 years ago from Essex Junction, Vermont

      Thanks, UW, for the comment. That's one of my favorite's too.

    • Uninvited Writer profile image

      Susan Keeping 8 years ago from Kitchener, Ontario

      I'm not a huge fan of his but I adore A Moveable Feast.


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