Anticipating a long BART ride into the city, I went to grab a a book knowing I had nothing new. I’ll reread something. I tossed Stephen King’s On Writing into my purse. I don’t read his horror stories – or anyone else’s – I’m a wimp when in comes to bone-chilling tales. What I like about On Writing is how he combines a How-To Book with a memoir. One tip he provides is to minimize or completely avoid the use of adverbs – for dialogue, keep it to “she said,” “they said,” “he said.” I’ve heard the same advice elsewhere but I was reminded. I haven’t gone back through my writings to cull for any miscreant adverbs but I’m hoping there aren’t too many.
King must have mentioned Hemingway as my next reread selection was A Moveable Feast. Most everyone says his writing revolutionized America’s (the world’s?) taste in fiction. If you remove the blank pages and large white spaces of this work, it’s a very short book. It took him years to write it and I don’t know why it wasn’t published for so long. Now here’s the confusing thing, in my copy of the book (Schribner paperback), on the page where it lists all of his works, Feast is listed under non-fiction. But on the back of the title page, there is a disclaimer that states the book is fiction “Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.” As an Irishman once said to me “Who cares if it’s true or not, was it a good story?” In this case, yes it is.
I was shocked when I reached page 96 and spotted a glaring adverb.
“I’m glad we see eye to eye,” he said manfully.
I almost laughed. Hemmingway wasn’t speaking of someone transitioning between genders or who was agender. Based on what I’ve read of him, I don’t think he ever spoke to a gay man by choice – not to imply they don’t speak “manfully” but Hem might suggest they don’t. I had to google the word so I was clear on the meaning. “bravely, boldly, courageously” What a strange word. Has anyone used it this century? How about Natasha spoke in a womanly way?
I expressed my surprise at his usage of the adverb to Mary Anne. She was silent for a moment.
“It’s Hemmingway, he must have used it on purpose.”
Mmmmmm. I guess so.
In spite of that annoyance, it was an enjoyable read – his traipsing around the world and hanging out with the now famous and the famous then folks. Too bad about his homophobia and too bad about Gertrude’s too, if what he wrote is true.
For my next reread I switched back to contemporary with Monica Wood’s When We Were the Kennedys. I love the opening line. “In Mexico Maine, where I grew up, you couldn’t find a single Mexican.” I lived in Maine for a while so I knew about Mexico. FYI there’s also towns named Paris, Rome, Norway, Denmark, Naples, Sweden, Poland, Peru, and China in Maine.
Wood’s book has a line that should be of great encouragement to writers everywhere – the last sentence on the last page. She thanks her sister saying “She made me start all over again, from a first draft that read like an appliance manual.” That Woods could take the appliance manual she had written and turn it into a prize-winning book (May Sarton Memoir Award) is quite the accomplishment. An example for us of the benefits of the writer’s motto “rewrite, rewrite, rewrite.” Or as I was told about the first draft of my manuscript “This needs a COMPLETE rewrite.”
Latest reread was Michelle Tea’s How to Grow Up- a combo memoir, and maybe unintentionally, a self-help book. Time for a queer perspective. Wonder Woman get in line behind Michelle who can tell us all how to come to our own power so we won’t need yours. The power to conjure the life that you want in every way emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Michelle’s a witchy woman, as she herself says.