Sunday, June 1, 2014

That's some heavy shit for lame jokes

I did this really odd thing when I was a kid - I'd hear about a book in a movie or on a TV show or in a different book and I'd make up my mind that I had to read it, usually because I was worried that someday someone would test me on all these books I'd heard of and I wouldn't have read them. The best and strangest example of this is a Nickelodeon show set in a high school where the characters had to read Moby Dick for one of their classes; I decided that this meant that all highschoolers had to read Moby Dick before they graduated and thought I'd get a jump by sitting down and reading it early. I wandered out into our living room and scanned the shelves until I found the dusty Melville volume I'd vaguely remembered and started to read. I got as far as Queequeg's dramatic entrance before I realized that I was nine years old and that mid-nineteenth century literature was a little over my head and I should probably go back to watching cartoons for a while. To this day I've never been expected to read Moby Dick and so I haven't, though I think that my appreciation of Billy Budd and "Bartelby the Scrivener" suggest that I'll enjoy it when I try wading through it again.

The first time I ever heard of A Farewell to Arms was when I watched an Evil Dead flick as a young teenager - Ash cuts off his possessed hand, thunks a bucket over it, and weighs the bucket down with a few books, the topmost of which is A Farewell to Arms. It's a decent sight gag and it is one of the things that (stupidly, strangely, yes I know I should have wanted to anyway) eventually convinced me to read Hemingway. What's really strange, though, is that I can name the single Farewell to Arms joke I remember, but I have seen SO FUCKING MANY For Whom the Bell Tolls jokes that they all blend together in my head. I'm pretty sure I've seen Garfield, Dilbert, Looney Tunes, Donald Duck, The Simpsons, and about a million other cartoons make some sort of punny reference to this book and that is fucking creepy because it's a book about living under oppression and fighting in a rebellion and rape and torture and death. And people seem to just think "well, we've got a thing that has to do with bells - let's haul out that old Hemingway title so people will make a connection." Here's the PBS show Arthur, about a little boy anteater and his family, just straight up using it as the name of an episode. When a book's main themes are death, suicide, and man's inhumanity to man it might not be an appropriate title to hijack for a kids show. Let me tell you, watching that episode and trying to figure out who was the Jordan analogue and the Maria analogue (which, even creepier, kind of works) was pretty profoundly disconcerting.

That's all beside the point. The book is good. Really fucking good. It's also damagingly depressing and has some after-the-fact irony that is bitter and funny and sad. The language is beautiful and the little stories that weave together to make up the three days in Spain-at-war are haunting.

But it is making me re-think whether or not I want to read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn because it's referenced in A Hare Grows in Manhattan.

     - Alli

Hemingway, Ernest. For Whom the Bell Tolls. Barnes and Noble.
     New York: New York. 2007. (1940)

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