Book Review: “The Sun Also Rises” by Ernest Hemingway

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I was in eighth grade when I fell violently and happily into Ernest Hemingway’s writing. We were reading his famous novella, The Old Man and The Sea, and I remember everyone in my class hating it. I loved it, though. Here we were, reading what I understood as literature, and not only was it about an interesting subject (a washed-up fisherman trying desperately to catch and keep a giant fish alone in the open ocean), but it was accessible. My eyes flew over the pages, and I couldn’t stop myself from getting lost in the words.

Authors have been trying to write like Hemingway for years for a reason: his writing is legible. You can understand what he’s trying to say. It’s that brilliant writing that not only says something worthwhile or meaningful but says it in a way that you can grasp without having to open up a dictionary.

Hemingway was my favorite author until I became a feminist and started reading Haruki Murakami (who is not a feminist, either, but I still like him). Hemingway isn’t known for writing well about women, and he wasn’t always the best in his relationships with women in real life. Still, I come back to his books because they have something to say, even if it isn’t always my favorite way of saying it. Plus, it’s a joy to read stories that are well-written but still easy on my tired eyes and blessedly not that long. That’s why I decided to re-read The Sun Also Rises during quarantine.

Mild spoilers ahead.

What The Sun Also Rises gets right: I’ve read this book maybe twice, when I was in high school and wanted to read everything Hemingway had ever written. I’ve got to say that reading it as an adult was very different. Suddenly all of the subtext made sense to me, and not really in a good way. For example, one of the main characters, Brett, is impulsive and promiscuous, hurting every man in her path. However, when we learn about her background as a victim of domestic abuse, her current actions seem like coping mechanisms instead of just selfishness. Hers is a sad story- in fact, most of the characters in this book are sad due to their physical and emotional scars from past problems. That’s why they treat one another so badly.

Although it made for a sad read, it was good to learn more about each character and put two-and-two together about the hints that Hemingway left in this book. The main themes are unrequited love, struggling with feelings of uselessness, dealing with alcohol addiction, and the thrills of traveling and experiencing other cultures. You will feel like you, too, are in Spain with this wild group of people- for better or for worse.

 

What The Sun Also Rises gets wrong: This book is infamous for the characters’ anti-Semitic views. Even if it is an accurate representation of the time, it’s still not fun to read about the slurs and racism shown toward the Jewish character, Robert Cohn.

There are a few minor characters who are black, but they are more stereotypical caricatures than real people, and this “casual” racism will make you squirm. A racial slur is used to reference the black characters.

 

Who should read The Sun Also Rises: Fans of crisp writing, weird characters that are loosely based on real people, lots of drama, and the 1920s.

 

Who shouldn’t read The Sun Also Rises: If you didn’t like F. Scott Fizgerald’s The Great Gatsby, don’t read this one. It’s similar to Gatsby in that it’s about a group of people with annoying habits and problems that they don’t communicate well about. It’s an examination of a generation that people now don’t know much about personally- we only really know them and their struggles through books like this.

 

The Sun Also Rises is available at the library.

Content note: violence (in particular, bullfighting), racism, some suggestive scenes (which are mostly inferred or referenced in conversation), language, substance abuse.

Moments In History: January 17th, 1920

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Matthew Beyer has begun a “Moments In History” series to raise awareness of important historical events. Each post will also have book recommendations about the moment in history, using our extensive history collection in the library.

January 17, 1920

The Volstead Act

Also known as the National Prohibition Act, the Volstead Act went into effect to enforce the Nineteenth Amendment, which banned the sale of alcohol in the United States.  This act came into being through the acts of the Temperance Movement, a largely female-led political and religious movement that sought to rid America of the temptations and suffering of alcohol dependency. While the good intentions of the Temperance Movement may have been noble in responding to debilitating effects of alcoholism on many Americans, it was none the less naïve to think that the federal government could successfully regulate and enforce such a law.

While there was general decline in alcohol use during the Prohibition era, it was also a time marked by widespread crime, corruption, and violence. This was highlighted by the creation of organized crime syndicates that soon began dotting the major American big cities. The creation of the Italian Mafia and other crime families quickly capitalized on the control and distribution of the illicit selling of alcohol. Illegal bars known as speakeasies began to pop up in many American cities and towns. Alcohol was smuggled in from other nations like Canada, Ireland, Cuba, and Mexico. The illegal production within the United States was often done locally in southern states in the form of whiskey and moonshine.

The attempts to enforce Prohibition led to the creation of the Bureau of Prohibition, a federalized agency that could act where local ineffective and often corrupt police agencies couldn’t or wouldn’t. The use of federal agencies to combat organized and inter-state crime would eventually evolve into the Federal Bureau of Investigations or F.B.I.

Eventually, popular opinion, as well as the states’ need for tax revenue, led to the repeal of Prohibition by the Twenty-First Amendment in 1935.

If you would like to learn more about this topic, the Union University Library has various books and media that cover this tumultuous time period:

 

 

 

 

Featured Author: Zora Neale Hurston

 

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Zora Neale Hurston was born in Notasulga, Alabama, on January 7th, 1891. Hurston’s family moved to Eatonville, Florida when she was three. Eatonville was one of the first all-black towns incorporated in the United States, and Hurston occasionally claimed it as her birthplace.

As she grew up, Hurston worked as a maid before finishing high school as a nontraditional student. She then went on to Howard University, where she co-founded the university’s student newspaper and participated in the Zeta Phi Beta sorority, which was founded by and for black women. Eventually, a scholarship allowed Hurston to study at Barnard College of Columbia University, where she was the only black student on campus. She received her B.A. in Anthropology at the age of 37.

Graduate studies brought Hurston to live in Harlem in the 1920s, the peak of the Harlem Renaissance. She quickly became familiar with writers and poets such as Langston Hughes, and Hurston herself became one of the faces of Harlem’s literary movement.

Several of Hurston’s writings include:

 

Sadly, Hurston died in relative obscurity in the 1960s, but her work is now recognized as historically and aesthetically important today. You can check out many of her books right here at the library; just click here to see what’s available.