Literary Favorites #1: A Farewell to Arms

In the world of internet-content it helps to strive for consistency. You look at some successful blogs out there, some successful YouTube channels, and they’ve all got series. I follow a dude on YouTube–Maxx Chewning. It’s a powerlifting channel, but Maxx also offers fashion advice, life advice, and just a consistently funny and unique brand of content–not to mention that his videos are edited well and his devotion to his budding brand is evident and admirable. He makes videos where he just details his “Full Day of Eating.” He’s made 100 of them. Each video in this series is centered around the same idea–a day of eating–but each one brings something new to the table (pun intended).

One of the complications of One Aardvark is that we’re themeless. We’re not a general-interest blog, but as far as themes, we are–as Patrick said–all over the damn map.

This is something I like about us, the fact that we’re comprised of three writers who are both unified in some commonalties but also so far from each other in other aspects of life. Uncle Doogs loves America while I’m the least patriotic person I know. I’m less informed than I should be while Patrick’s desire to be up to date and properly aware of goings-on across the world is never sated. Pat knows “footy,” Doogs does baseball. We fill in each other’s gaps.

But for the sake of continuity and for the sake of providing myself a foothold to produce consistent content relevant to something I’m passionate about, I’d like to take this opportunity to welcome you to the first of many posts in the “Literary Favorites” series, where I will share my favorite literary passages and explain what makes them so special to me–as a reader, writer, and general consumer of things written.

#1: The opening of Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. 

I wanted to start off with something classic and recognizable, something that a lot of people have read and will remember reading. The opening paragraph goes like this (hint, read it aloud):

“In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains. In the bed of the river there were pebbles and boulders, dry and white in the sun, and the water was clear and swiftly moving and blue in the channels. Troops went by the house and down the road and the dust they raised powdered the leaves of the trees. The trunks of the trees too were dusty and the leaves fell early that year and we saw the troops marching along the road and the dust rising and leaves, stirred by the breeze, falling and the soldiers marching and afterward the road bare and white except for the leaves.”

I hope you read that out loud, because the first thing I’m going to talk about is the percussiveness of this passage. You can feel it marching along as you say it, and sometimes the sentences go on longer than your breath is prepared for, but you never feel strained reading aloud and when you continue forward through the sentence it is much like gliding underwater, going farther than you initially intended but remaining submerged either way, because you like the way the water feels as you move through it. I get this sensation when reading “and the water was clear and swiftly moving and blue in the channels.” I’m ready to stop after swiftly moving, but Hemingway forces me forward and I feel rewarded by the end, swiftly moving to the end before I’m out of breath, like the water itself.

Hemingway also is transcending just plain old description here. By describing the dust raised by troops and the way it kills the leaves and coats the trees, he is providing expository material–we know this book will be about war. We know it will take place in the mountains, but he incorporates significance and depth beyond a simple “we were in the mountains and the trees were dusty.” He presents the environment, describes it, but also weaves in an element of the story itself, and how said element alters the environment.

Finally, especially when read aloud, this passage just feels so vintage Hemingway. The cadence, the sparseness–but the decadent sparseness. The richness. It’s not exhausting–it doesn’t leave you feeling overwhelmed. It’s like a bite of tenderloin, washed down with a sip of fine whiskey. It’s about the conveyance of an essence–a distillation of fine flavor–rather than an overabundance. It’s effortless. This is prose. Prose done right.

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