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Thursday, December 18, 2008

BPL Book Discussion: The Sun Also Rises

It's December and that means party time for the Monday afternoon book discussion group at the Berwyn Public Library. Each December, our group meets for 4 hours to enjoy a luncheon (sandwiches provided by the library, side dishes and desserts by the participants). We always read a "classic," watch the movie version, and discuss both.

6 months ago, my group really wanted to read Hemingway, so Kathy and I picked The Sun Also Rises because it was the shortest of his novels and it was also the first. I also had to consider the movie versions of Hemingway works and this film version was the best available in our library system (Thanks Indian Prairie).

Quick plot summary of the novel to begin with because although I thought I knew what it was about ahead of time, I have to say I never knew the entire plot hinged on the narrator's loss of his manhood (physically and literally) during WWI. Basically, this novel is the story of ex-pat Americans and British living in Paris after WWI. Jake Barnes, a journalist, and inured war vet (he is impotent now) is our narrator. The story follows Jake and his "friends," their travels to Spain for the running of the bulls, and Jake and Lady Brett Ashley's unconsumatable (not a word technically, but I am trying to summarize Hemingway in a few sentences, go with me on it) love.

Overall, although no one loved reading this book, we did all agree that it was important book to have read. We spent most of our discussion talking about...all of the drinking. Seriously, there is a lot of it. We did discuss why there was so much drinking though. The people portrayed in this novel became known as the lost generation. They had fought in WWI, the first world war after the longest major peace in the history of mankind. It was also the first war in which men were killed by machines, not other men. The things they had seen led to depression and an overall sense of being lost.

We talked about the final words of the movie, "Where do we go from here?" This summed up the entire generation and the overall theme of the novel. The movie, made in the 1950s, did a nice job of capturing this theme. It reflected well on the 1920s (the setting of the book) and the 1950s when the film was made. Both "settings: were post-World War, and had much in common.

We continued this line of discussion into the present and talked about the new lost generation of veterans coming out of our current wars, with deep physical and emotional injuries like Jake.

It is hard to find readalikes for Hemingway, but one of my participants mentioned the similar themes and setting found in Jacqueline Winspear's Masie Dobbs series, and I agree having read some of these books myself. Also, I would suggest Hemingway's posthumously published essay collection, A Moveable Feast. If you are interested in more information about the lost generation, click here. For more about Hemingway, click here. And for more about bullfighting in Spain, use this link.

Finally, I would caution anyone trying The Sun Also Rises in the 21st Century, to read it along with some critical material, even the Cliff Notes, to help you to appreciate why Hemingway's work is so important.

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