You Keep Living or You Don't: On the Anniversary of Hemingway's Death, Essay by Alexander Maksik

When I was in high school I read Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast. Nothing I’d read had so entirely hypnotized me, nothing had so seduced me. I was seventeen years old and living in Ketchum, Idaho.

I read the book for my Senior Seminar, a class taught by my father (then the headmaster of the school I attended) and a teacher I loved and admired named Tom Johnson. By the then I’d read some Hemingway. The Old Man and the Sea, nearly all of his collected stories, The Sun Also Rises. I know now that I didn’t understand much of what I read. Not really. Not the way you do when you’re older. But when I read A Moveable Feast I felt something change. Perhaps it was the first of very few books that altered my perception of the world.
You don’t always know why a book moves you. But something takes hold, you give in to it, you fall. And once you’re taken, you begin to hold the book differently, you think about it when you’re away from it, you look forward to returning to it, you’re terrified you’ll lose it. Hemingway’s memoir took me; nothing I’d read before had captured so clearly a sense of place, a sense of time passing, the urgency of desire and of a sensual life.
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