I just read a fantastic article in the online edition of the New York Times (I wish I subscribed to the print edition, but that’s one of those things Noe drew the line on that I really couldn’t make a great case for). The article, part of their “Modern Love” series, is titled “Would Hemingway Cry?” and is a young man’s reflection on trying to reconnect with one of his first serious girlfriends, who he has – after years of no contact with her whatsoever – romanticized into a totally different person than she actually turned out to be.
Blah, blah, blah. I could care less about the girlfriend part. The piece of this article that got me was the beginning, when the writer describes how he and his girlfriend read The Sun Also Rises and forged a ridiculous sort of identification with the main characters, even though the writer and girlfriend were relatively affluent New Yorkers as opposed to globe-trotting, heavily-boozing bohemians.
I LOVED this. Because I think every single person who reads (or watches movies, or listens to music) does this very same thing. We convince ourselves that we are just like Jake Barnes or Nick Carraway or (in the case of almost every architect I’ve ever known) Howard Roark. Or if we are smart enough to realize that we may not be like them, we attempt to be like them.
This doesn’t stop with classic literature. I once read a completely trashy novel called Outer Banks and convinced myself that I wanted to be like the main character. I started wearing preppy button downs and reading Dorothy Parker. On the plus side, I really loved Dorothy Parker. On the con side, did I mention the main character of this book was a tall southern blonde with a completely forged identity? And also that this novel was set in the sixties? Still, she drank coffee at midnight and watched Italian movies and read T.S. Eliot poems and it all seemed very glamorous at the time, and I picked up several of these habits without even realizing it.
Reading Dorothy Parker probably didn’t help me out at all, either. I loved her sarcasm and her self-deprecation. Her poems were downright mean at times. I wanted to be mean and witty and drink martinis with literary geniuses. I was a writer, after all (sort of). I was pretty sure I had witty and slightly mean down. But I never quite made it to the multiple husbands/multiple suicide attempts, which I’m going to call a good thing. And I was never much of a poet – and by “much of” I mean “wasn’t at all.” Even “Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses” would have been a real stretch for me on the poetry front.
And while we’re doing true confessions here, I’m super-guilty of my own Hemingway affectation: as a 19-year old Midwesterner with very limited food and travel experience, I read this quote in A Moveable Feast and decided that I was just going to have to suck it up and try oysters – which I now adore:
“As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.”
I’m not sure what my point is with this post. I don’t think that misidentifying with or picking up the habits of authors, characters and the like is necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it probably adds some good things to one’s personality – and in my case, at least, a true love of a new food. I think really I was just delighted that the “Modern Love” article captured it so well – reading those telegram-style emails I thought about how I would have been positively swoon-y over them when I was younger, fancying myself Lady Brett.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I need to track down some oysters.