Sunday, September 1, 2002

Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea published 50 years ago today

First posted 6/16/2020; updated 7/5/2020.

The Old Man and the Sea

Ernest Hemingway

First Publication: September 1, 1952

Category: literary fiction

Sales: 13 million


About the Book:

The Old Man and the Sea is one of Hemingway’s most enduring works.” AZ He wrote it in Cuba in 1951. WK “This hugely successful novella confirmed his power and presence in the literary world.” AZ It was the last major work of fiction published during his lifetime. WK

“Told in language of great simplicity and power,” AZ “it tells the story of Santiago, an aging Cuban fisherman,” WK “down on his luck, and his supreme ordeal – a relentless, agonizing battle with a giant marlin” AZ “far out in the Gulf Stream off the coast of Cuba.” WK

“Hemingway recasts, in strikingly contemporary style, the classic theme of courage in the face of defeat, of personal triumph won from loss.” AZ It “served to reinvigorate Hemingway’s literary reputation and prompted a reexamination of his entire body of work…It restored many readers' confidence in Hemingway's capability as an author.” WK “Many critics favorably compared it with such works as William Faulkner’s short story The Bear and Herman Melville’s novel Moby-Dick.” WK

“It was cited by the Nobel Committee as contributing to their awarding of the Nobel Prize in Literature to Hemingway in 1954.” WK

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Sunday, June 30, 2002

Crispin...and Other Stories of Boys of Unknown Origin

In my effort to familiarize myself with Newbery-award-winning books, I just polished off Crispin: The Cross of Lead. The book, the 50th by the author Avi, explores the life of a peasant boy who must deal with the death of his mother and then fleeing the only village he has ever known after being accused of a crime he didn't commit.

His journey pairs him with a juggler known as "Bear." The man takes Crispin under his wing as a sort of apprentice, but it turns out the man will also lead Crispin to find out the identity of the father he never knew.

As now happens with every book I read, I inevitably find similarities to my own writing. In this case, Crispin shares a common storyline with Otter and Arthur and the Sword in the Stone. Avi's story focuses on an orphaned boy coming of age in medieval England and being led to his destiny with the help of a wise, but sometimes mysterious, man who takes a special interest in the boy. That, of course, is also at the essence of the origins of the story of King Arthur as Merlin guides the boy, unaware of his true identity, to his destiny.

While such commonalities in stories might suggest a lack of originality, there is another interpretation - good stories aren't necessarily original. They just find a way to put a fresh spin on the familiar. That may happen in the portrayal of character (I particularly enjoyed Bear), description of setting (I loved the detailed descriptions of the town of Great Wexly), or the ability of an author to capture a world set in another time.

As I slog through the second draft of Otter and Arthur and the Round Table, the sequel to the Sword in the Stone book, I am reminded of these challenges. I am telling a familiar tale, but must keep an eye on how to bring a freshness to the story via my characters, settings, and era. It certainly doesn't guarantee me a Newbery award like Avi got, but then I've got another 48 books to go before I have his resume.

Sunday, April 14, 2002

Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man published 50 years ago today

First posted 6/9/2020; updated 7/5/2020.

Invisible Man

Ralph Ellison

First Publication: April 14, 1952

Category: novel/social commentary

Sales: ?


About the Book:

“A first novel by an unknown writer, it remained on the bestseller list for sixteen weeks…and established Ralph Ellison as one of the key writers of the century.” AZ Time magazine called it “the quintessential American picaresque of the 20th century.” WK

“Ellison addresses what it means to be an African American in a world hostile to the rights of a minority, on the cusp of the emerging civil rights movement that was to change society irrevocably.” LC The book confronts “many of the social and intellectual issues facing African Americans early in the twentieth century, including black nationalism, the relationship between black identity and Marxism, and the reformist racial policies of Booker T. Washington, as well as issues of individuality and personal identity.” WK

The “unnamed narrator who views himself as someone many in society do not see much less pay attention to.” LC He “describes growing up in a black community in the South, attending a Negro college from which he is expelled, moving to New York and becoming the chief spokesman of the Harlem branch of ‘the Brotherhood,’ and retreating amid violence and confusion to the basement lair of the Invisible Man he imagines himself to be.” AZ

“The book is a passionate and witty tour de force of style, strongly influenced by T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, Joyce, and Dostoevsky.” AZ In turn, “according to The New York Times, former U.S. president Barack Obama modeled his memoir Dreams from My Father on Ellison’s novel.” WK

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