Reading 'A Farewell to Arms'

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I commute every week up top for my teaching gig, mostly on the bus. It's about a four-hour ride, the upside of which is the large amount of reading I get done. I knocked out Invisible Man, which I would love to talk to you about, given our conversations around Richard Wright. Another time.


Right now I'm reading A Farewell To Arms and sort of amazed at the virtuosity of the prose. It's not simply that Hemingway can write beautifully, but that he can write beautifully in many different ways. He opens up with this really lyrical, almost dreamscape-like description, and then throughout the book alternates that style a kind of hard-edged staccato. He doesn't much like to go on with long descriptions of characters, he just sort of puts them there and lets you get to know them.

I can't really speak to their power yet, as I have not finished the book. But there is a lot to be learned here about how to change gears, something I struggle with, frankly. I'll find a pretty riff and play that bad boy for 10K words without looking back. It can get boring. I think you need mountains, valleys, and fields. It can't always be the rolling hills.

Perhaps it is juvenile of me but my favorite part is this:

He looked at the priest and shouted, "Every night priest five against one!"

I hate to think what happens when they teach this in high schools.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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