I am not a planner. An example of this—I bought my wedding dress the day before my wedding. Another example—each year my husband and I vow to go on an exciting trip for our vacation, somewhere exotic sounding like Sri Lanka, but we always end up taking a USA road trip because we fail to book tickets and hotels before they are too expensive. The conversation sounds something like this:
Husband: Did you book tickets for Brazil, yet?
Me: Did you know there are no snakes in New Zealand?
Husband: Our vacation is next week.
Me: Next week?!!?
Husband: Lord of the Rings was filmed in New Zealand.
Me: How do you feel about Texas?
This year, we missed the deadline for tickets again, but I was determined to plan for the road trip. I packed my underwear, swimsuit, and sunscreen. I bought bottled water and ten cows worth of beef jerky. I even went to the library to check out books on CD.
The selection at the library was sparse. There was a decent language section (good to know in case I ever needed to learn Russian in a pinch), a few best sellers that I had already read, and a lonely, dusty American classics section. I was in a hurry.
Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell To Arms. Ugh, I thought. I hate war books, but I do love Hemingway. I recalled a conversation with my friend E:
E: So I met this guy on Match.com
E: He likes Hemingway.
E: He said girls don’t like Hemingway.
E: I told him that’s not true. You love Hemingway, and you’re a girl.
Me: Go on.
E: He said girls don’t like reading about (pause) war and (pause) hunting or (pause) horse racing or (pause) boxing and fishing, so girls don’t like Hemingway.
E: What Hemingway book should I read?
Me: All of them.
I grabbed Hemingway and several other 20th century authors. Maybe listening to a war book would be fun.
Once on the open road, I popped in A Farewell To Arms. A melodic voice explained that Hemingway served in World War I as an ambulance driver, and that this book was about his experiences from that time, but was in no way an autobiographical story. My husband smiled at me. The opening lines were read. I smiled at my husband. And then—
A scholar interrupted the story. Wha—
In my rush to get books before the trip, I hadn’t read the back of the CDs. This was only a sample of the book. In fact, all of the books I checked out were only samples. Stupid reading series! I yelled. You look like a real book!
I was forced to amuse my husband for the rest of the trip by reading him Laffy Taffy jokes and beef jerky ingredient listings.
On the last leg of our journey, we stopped in Sioux Falls. I begged to go to Last Stop CD Shop, a splendid little store on 41st & Louise that has always had any used book or CD I wanted (I’m talking, The Hold Steady and Lady Antebellem – don’t judge). There I found a copy of A Farewell To Arms—$4, tight binding, like new. Destiny.
The book sat on my self since then, with its haunting first lines whispering to me each time I passed. I really thought this was a war book, but since I love Hemingway, I figured this would be the next book for the blog.
I had to force myself to slow down as I read. The book was not about war. Well, it was, on one level, the way perhaps The Hunger Games is about a girl who tries to not get killed in a televised event, but this had a likeable protagonist, a real protagonist. With a real love story, not something convoluted and tagged on because the masses demanded it. And hey, I’m not saying anything bad about The Hunger Games. I’m just saying if you liked those books (I did) you’d probably be interested in this one.
Because it was also funny. Heartbreakingly funny.
But, oh god, the sentences. I just couldn’t get over the writing on a sentence level. At a party earlier this week, I explained to my friend J. that I was reading Hemingway:
Me: I’m reading A Farewell To Arms, and it’s not about war.
J: I don’t know how Hemingway writes such simple sounding sentences, but they aren’t simple at all. He makes it seem easy, but it’s not easy . . .
Me: It’s not about war . . .
I finished the book on the last day of my boring part-time-I-just-got-this-gig-to-pay-my-student-loans job. I wasn’t supposed to be reading on the job, but it was hot, the booth had no air conditioning, and I had no water. So this was like, payback, for being a crappy job. Plus, it was my last day and they weren’t getting me a cake, or at least a poorly thought out card with half a dozen signatures on it for my four weeks of awesome service. I digress. I finished the book while sitting at the security gate for the yard of an oversized retail farm outlet.
After reading the last line, I re-read the opening pages. That son-of-a-bitch. Hemingway planned for it all along. I’d have to talk to my therapist about this.
Amongst the hunting stands, fence posts, kayaks, lumber shed, and tractors, I set the book down and wondered why there was war, wondered how we were capable of both loving and fighting.
And then, I cried.
In public. Just fell to pieces, right there in the guard shack, wearing my blaze orange uniform.
I hadn’t planned for that. I just hadn’t planned for that.
*The copy of A Farewell To Arms that I have must be a fake or something because it doesn’t have an ISBN. How is that even legal? Anyway, this ISBN is for A Farewell To Arms, just not the same as my bootleg copy.*