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The Old Man And The Sea – Ernest Hemingway

I didn’t love The Sun Also Rises, so you’d be forgiven for thinking I was done with Hemingway. But I couldn’t resist inheriting my grandparents’ copy of The Old Man And The Sea, a beauty published by Jonathan Cape in 1962. It’s a little worse for wear, but still perfectly readable.

The Old Man And The Sea - Ernest Hemingway - Keeping Up With The Penguins
Get The Old Man And The Sea here.
(I’ll be grateful until I’m old and out to sea myself if you make a purchase through an affiliate link that supports this page.)

Ernest Hemingway wrote this novella between December 1950 and February 1951, and it was first published in 1952. It was his last major fictional work to be published before his death. It’s hard to separate the content and themes of The Old Man And The Sea from Hemingway’s own life and state of mind at the time. His previous novel had been savaged in reviews, his wife wasn’t speaking to him (because he’d fallen in love with his “muse”) and he was drinking his life away in Cuba. Feeling old and dejected and cursed, but holding onto hope for a silver bullet solution, pretty much sums it up – both Hemingway and his book.

The blurb for The Old Man And The Sea sums it up well: it’s “the story of a young boy, an old man, and a giant fish”. That’s literally it. A young boy helps care for an old fisherman who hasn’t brought in any catch lately; then the old man goes out on his own and catches a huge marlin, so big he can’t haul it in himself and it tows him out to sea.

It took longer to read than I thought. Even though it’s short and an ostensibly simple story (old man + big fish = trouble), The Old Man And The Sea is surprisingly emotive and weighty. It’s a tragic one-two punch: the pitiable old man puts in such an effort (literally, his life on the line) to haul in this great fish only to have it snatched out of his grasp, and the quiet dignity with which he suffers and perseveres.

Ultimately, it’s quite a bummer – especially when you read it knowing a little about Hemingway’s personal life at the time of writing.

Hemingway sure went out on a high, though. The Old Man And The Sea earned him his first Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1953, and it was the only of his works specifically cited when he was awarded the Nobel Prize For Literature in 1954. The judges praised his “powerful, style-making mastery of the art of modern narration” (which seems to me to be a very fancy way of saying “he write good”).

And, the highest praise of all: *I* liked it, far better than anything else of his I’ve read. The Old Man And The Sea is definitely the one to pick up if you’re not sure you’ll vibe with Hemingway and his whole schtick. There’s a lot less explicit misogyny and ethnocentrism in this one (it’s still there, but not quite so in-your-face), and it’s definitely Papa at his most emotionally intelligent and sensitive.

Read The Old Man And The Sea on audiobook via here.

My favourite Amazon reviews of The Old Man And The Sea:

  • “I don’t care about fishing and I don’t see the point of the story.” – Samira P.
  • “If I could give this book zero stars, I would. This is a poorly written “classic” that doesn’t deserve the time to be read. If you don’t want to take my advice, then have fun reading about an old guy who is very angry at a fish.” – laura harshbarger
  • “The Old Man and the Sea reads as if it were written by a demented philosopher with the vocabulary of the current American President, trying fruitlessly to convey some idiot zen life lesson… If you like dull old men in boats writing about dull old men in boats alone, this is the book for you. Or, for those curious as to what alcoholism does to the mind, read The Sun Also Rises and this book back to back.” – Dr Moreau

7 Books Recommended by Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway was no slouch when it came to writing, as we’ve established, but perhaps his true talent actually lay in reading. He would read anywhere up to ten books at a time, plus squeezing in at least a few newspapers and journals every single day. He would travel with a huge bag full of books for reading on the journey. The dude was voracious, in more ways than one.

In 1934, aspiring writer Arnold Samuelson knocked on Hemingway’s door, and asked to pick his brain. It was a ballsy move, given that Hemingway had a reputation for (a) being grumpy, and (b) liking guns. And yet, Samuelson wound up becoming Hemingway’s only true protégé, working in his employ and following him around the world for nearly a year. During that time, Hemingway was kind enough to jot down a list of books that (according to him) all writers must read. Samuelson kept the list, and published it in his book With Hemingway: A Year in Key West and Cuba. Hemingway told Samuelson not to bother with writers of the day, and focus on becoming better than his favourite dead white guys: Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Flaubert.

Then, the following year (1935), Hemingway wrote a piece for Esquire magazine (Remembering Shooting-Flying: A Key West Letter). Perhaps inspired by his list for Samuelson, he digressed from his point briefly to give us another list – the books he desperately wished he could read again for the first time. In fact, he put his money where his mouth is, and said that he would rather have another chance to read any one of them for the first time than have an income of a million per year. Big talk, eh? He lamented that there were “very few good new ones”, and that perhaps his days of enjoying previously-undiscovered literature were behind him (so dramatic).

Anyway, given that the guy clearly knew his shit, it might be high time we review a list of books recommended by Ernest Hemingway. (Pay extra-close attention if you’re an aspiring writer, there’s bound to be something in here for you…)

7 Books Recommended by Ernest Hemingway - Green and White Text overlaid on Greyscale Image of Ernest Hemingway - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert - Book Laid Face Up On Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

I’ve mentioned before that I think Emma Bovary is one of the best “bad women” in literature. Flaubert’s Madame Bovary follows the story of her attempts to escape the intolerable boredom of her provincial married life. She descends into a spiral of alcoholism, adultery, and debt, unraveling and undone by her unwieldy desires. It is a story exquisitely told, and the woman isn’t exactly painted in the best light – so it’s no surprise that it was right up Hemingway’s alley.

Dubliners by James Joyce

Dubliners - James Joyce - Book Laid Face Up On Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Dubliners is a collection of fifteen stories, all centered around Joyce’s distaste for his ‘dear dirty Dublin’, exposing the corruption, vulgarity, and heartlessness of his city of birth. The collection was the first notable publication of 20th century realist literature coming from Ireland, and to this day it is celebrated for its artful depiction of the infamous Dublin accent. I haven’t read Dubliners myself (I tackled Ulysses instead), but Hemingway’s recommendation of this gritty, brutal read still counts for something.

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy - Book Laid Face Up On Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Another one of my favourite bad women – are you sensing a theme in books recommended by Ernest Hemingway? Anna Karenina is widely considered to be one of the best love stories (indeed, one of the best novels) ever written, so hats off to Tolstoy. Anna, a beautiful but self-indulgent woman, seeks the love of Count Vronsky (who is definitely not her husband), and basically sets fire to her 19th century Russian life. Tolstoy’s writing is beautiful, passionate, and intense – not for the faint of heart, though undoubtedly easier to tackle than the doorstop-worthy War & Peace (which also featured on Hemingway’s lists).

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Hemingway didn’t want to make it easy for us! Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment isn’t that tough to get through, but Papa recommended The Brothers Karamazov, a more complicated and controversial novel. The story kicks off with the murder of cruel and corrupt landowner Fyodor Karamazov, and follows the fallout in the lives of his three sons (well, four, if you count the illegitimate son posing as a manservant). It’s a detective story, in a way, but it’s no Sherlock Holmes – you’ll need your thinking cap on for this one.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Wuthering Heights is definitely one of the more readable books recommended by Ernest Hemingway, so it might be best to start here if you’re new to the game. I once described Emily Brontë’s only novel in a single sentence thus: A bad boy’s decade-long butthurt over getting friendzoned, culminating in his death – at which point, he and his true love spend eternity haunting their old stomping grounds, while their surviving children enter into incestuous marriages. Yes, it’s a long sentence, but I still think it’s a fairly accurate summary. Read my full review of Wuthering Heights here.

The American by Henry James

Hemingway was the archetypal American “ex-pat” (because we only call brown people “immigrants”). He spent a decent chunk of his life in France and Spain, shooting and fishing and running with bulls. So it’s no surprise that he was really into The American, a story of a wealthy American man trying to marry into the French aristocracy. James dissects the cultural differences between Americans and Europeans in a melodramatic, but ultimately kind of comedic, way.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn - Mark Twain - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Hemingway is quoted as saying he considered The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn “the best book an American ever wrote”, and that it “marks the beginning of American literature” (kind of like Lennon saying that, before Elvis, there was nothing). It’s a big call, but I think we can all agree that Huck Finn is one of Twain’s most enduring and celebrated works, at least. It is the sequel to his previous (also renowned) The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and it explores the conflict between civilisation and nature – a lofty topic if there ever was one. Read my full review of The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn here.

In the end, you can be pretty confident that any book recommended by Ernest Hemingway is going to be a heavy read. Everything he loved explored the underbelly of humanity in some way, and it seems like they got bonus points if they did it in Europe, or featured bad women front and center.

What do you think of Hemingway’s recommended reads? How many have you read?

The Sun Also Rises – Ernest Hemingway

A little while back, I conned my mate Andrew into visiting a secondhand bookstore with me (my friends know that I’m prone to this kind of maneuver). While were were there, another patron overheard me (loudly) bitching about how difficult it was to find a well-preserved copy of Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. She tapped me on the shoulder, pulled this copy off the shelf, and handed it to me so sweetly I almost cried. Well, of course, all of this happened on the very day that I had no cash on me – so Andrew swooped in and made the purchase on my behalf. What a champion!

The Sun Also Rises - Ernest Hemingway - Keeping Up With The Penguins
Buy The Sun Also Rises here.
(If you use an affiliate link on this page to make a purchase, the sun will still rise tomorrow and also I’ll earn a small commission.)

I was eager to read more Hemingway. I first encountered his short story Hills Like White Elephants at uni, and I’ve re-read it a thousands times since; it was very formative for me. Other than that, my only real exposure to Hemingway was Kat’s succinct analysis in 10 Things I Hate About You (of course).

Kat on Hemingway - 10 Things I Hate About You - Keeping Up With The Penguins

The Sun Also Rises, Hemingway’s first novel, was published in 1926. He actually pulled a sneaky trick to make sure he got the publisher that he wanted for it. While under contract to Boni & Liveright (with whom he was unhappy for some reason), he submitted a hastily-written satirical novella that he knew they would reject, effectively terminating his contract on the spot. This allowed him to submit The Sun Also Rises to Scribner, and the rest is history.

The story follows a group of American and British migrants who travel to Pamplona to watch the running of the bulls and the bullfights. Of course, Hemingway was the king of “write what you know”, so the story is very closely based on his own trip to Spain in 1925. The characters were real people in Hemingway’s circle, and the action is based on real events. Apparently, he had originally intended to write a non-fiction book about bullfighting, but he decided that his experiences had given him plenty of content for a novel – and the result was The Sun Also Rises.

So, what’s it like? Well, it seems to confirm the worst of what people say about Hemingway. It’s all brooding white guys, drinking a lot and butting bruised masculine egos. The women are either shrill harpies or desirable floozies. A boy likes an unattainable girl, who shags all of his rich friends but sticks him in the friendzone. The boy goes fishing with those friends, and the girl tags along. Everybody drinks.

The dialogue is so sparse and hard to follow that I almost missed what seems to be the focal point of the novel: Jake (the protagonist) is literally impotent, thanks to a nasty war wound. Once I cottoned onto that, I couldn’t decide whether it made The Sun Also Rises better or worse. I know that his injury symbolises the disillusionment and frustration of his entire cohort, not to mention Jake’s own metaphorical impotence in navigating friendships and politics in post-war Europe, but… it’s just a little obvious, isn’t it? A little too neat? I mean, a man gets his dick blown off and starts questioning the meaning of the world without his masculinity in it: pfft.

As much as Hemingway is the darling of the American literary canon, not everybody loved The Sun Also Rises, so I know I’m not alone here. A reviewer at the Cincinnati Enquirer wrote at the time that The Sun Also Rises “begins nowhere and ends in nothing”, which I thought was particularly pithy.

Even Hemingway’s own mother wasn’t a fan: she hung shit on him for wasting his talents on such filth, writing to him “Surely you have other words in your vocabulary than ‘damn’ and ‘bitch’ – every page fills me with a sick loathing”. You can’t please everyone…

Anyway, Jake’s love interest is Brett – and wherever she goes, trouble follows. Men fall over themselves for her: they drink too much, and fight one another. I liked Brett in so much as she was unashamed about enjoying sex and chasing good times – there’s not enough of that in female characters, even today – but I certainly didn’t idolise her the way that Grown Up Literary Critics seem to. To me, she was a mere receptacle for all of the projections, hopes and frustrations of men. She lacked any true independence or self-determination. It’s all well and good to commit yourself to the ho-life, but damn girl – have a sense of who you are!

Jake’s defective junk is the primary obstacle to their having a relationship – which seems kind of quaint and ridiculous to a post-Sexual Revolution reader. If Brett and Jake had heard of cunnilingus, The Sun Also Rises would have played out differently. Of course, that would depend on Hemingway opening his mind to the sexual agency of a woman. You can be damn sure that if the situation were reversed, and Brett had had her lady parts blown off in the war, Hemingway would have been writing a life of endless blow jobs for Jake – a “happy ending” as it were (ha!).

This is yet another book from my Keeping Up With The Penguins reading list that makes it abundantly clear to me how little humanity has changed over time (see also: Dante’s The Divine Comedy). Nearly a century after its publication, I still recognise Hemingway’s descriptions of pre-gaming for the fiesta (akin to skulling Vodka Cruisers at home before jumping in the Uber to the club). All the men around Brett are just bitching about how they’ve been “friendzoned”, the way that angry young men do on the internet today. Technology might progress exponentially, and the new cycle might move ever-faster, but those same base urges come forth one way or another.

I think I’ll need to give The Sun Also Rises another read or two before I write it off completely. Another friend (who loves it) asked me what I thought after I’d finished, and (very gently) pointed out all the ways in which I was wrong. A spot of Googling reveals all kinds of readings that I overlooked. Spoilers actually save the day with this one – it’s actually better if you know the history and the themes going in.

My tl;dr summary would be this: it’s a self-indulgent story about drunk Americans and Brits trying to fuck one another and ignore their existential crises in Spain, whinging and bruised male egos galore. Proceed with caution.

My favourite Amazon reviews of The Sun Also Rises:

  • “Of course I’m missing the point. Literary scholars be damned. This one was just a lot of drinking and yapping away about seemingly insignificant things. The title, I can only surmise, refers to those drinking nights that extend until, you guessed it, the sun rises.” – 3MAT3
  • “I tried to like it. I was in Pamplona and San Sebastian. 20 years ago, and 15 years ago, and 10 years ago, and 2 weeks ago, I started it. I couldn’t stand it. Nothing is worse than a writer penning a story about writing. The book is a cliche. And, Hemingway was a wimp. He drank wimpy drinks. Mojito? Bellini?” – Duff
  • “good writing, no use of pointless big words, not all of us went to harvard, hemingway gets that.” – Lucas Rascon
  • “Easy to read. Mostly pointless – but I guess that’s the point.” – Stanley Townsend
  • “It’s a masterpiece. If you can handle all the drinking, the bitch called Brett, and a pain in the as s named Cohn. But, it’s a classic and Hemingway will at least teach you how to drink absinthe, if you’re too scared to learn his powerful and dangerous approach to descriptive prose, which I highly recommend, as it beats bullfighting for a living, or looking for a male meal ticket, at which Brett excels. Five obligatory stars. If you hated it, you have no soul.” – Pyrata

The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter – Carson McCullers

Carson McCullers is one of those authors that really should be a household name, but few people seem to have her books on their shelves at home. The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter was her debut novel, published in 1940 when she was just (get this) 23 years old. As reviewers noted at the time, there is a startling gap between her youth and her ‘astonishing perception of humanity’ in this remarkably insightful novel.

The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter - Carson McCullers - Keeping Up With The Penguins
Get The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter here.
(The reviewer’s heart is a lonely one too, but it warms up a bit when you make a purchase through an affiliate link on this page.)

She originally called her story The Mute, but her publishers made her change it to “something more poetic”. The title that went to print is drawn from a poem called The Lonely Hunter by Fiona MacLeod (aka William Sharp): “Deep in the heart of Summer / sweet is life to me still / but my heart is a lonely hunter that hunts on a lonely hill”.

The opening line is a corker: “In the town there were two mutes, and they were always together.” In fact, the whole first chapter will knock your socks off. As the first sentence suggests, it focuses on two close friends, John Singer and Spiros Antonapolous. They are both deaf, and communicate primarily via sign language; their disability isolates them from the rest of their community in the small mill town where they live, but they are satisfied with each other’s company.

Unfortunately, Spiros’s mental health declines rapidly. Singer is happy to continue caring for him (reviewers have likened their relationship to that of George and Lennie in Of Mice And Men), but his only living relative elects to have him institutionalised, rather than risk any liability or take any responsibility. This is devastating to Singer, who loses the only person with whom he can communicate with ease.

He moves out of the apartment they shared, finding it too painful to live among the memories of his friend, and takes up residence at a nearby boarding house. He eats at the same diner three times a day, and gradually begins to attract interest from miscellaneous lost souls, all of whom are looking for connection.

These are the “satellite characters” that we follow over the course of The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter. The introduction to my edition (by Kasia Boddy) offers a really helpful description of them, explaining how each of them represents a different kind of loneliness or alienation, alongside Singer himself.

Thirteen-year-old Mick Kelly confesses [to Singer] her growing passion for music; fifty-one-year-old Dr Benedict Copeland talks about his frustrations at raising the consciousness of the town’s black people (starting with his own family); Jake Blount, a twenty-nine-year-old itinerant labour agitator and drunk, reveals his plans for revolution; only Biff Brannon, the forty-four-year-old cafe owner, recognises that Singer is a ‘home-made God’ for them all… [Singer is] a blank canvas on to which just about anything can be projected.

Introduction (The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter)

McCullers said that she sought to write a novel about “a character to whom other characters reveal their innermost secrets”, and by any measure, she succeeded. By virtue of the fact that he cannot hear or speak, Singer becomes a de-facto therapist for the town, specifically these four characters who have difficulty connecting with others for their own reasons. The image of a priest also popped into my head a lot as I was reading The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter – not that I know much about them, but something in the anonymity of hearing sealed confessions… you get my drift.

There are many pleasant surprises in The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter, but there’s one in particular I want to highlight. I’m amazed by the progressive politics threaded throughout the story. If you can set aside some of the archaic language (yes, there’s a few n-words that are very of-the-time, and Singer is frequently described as a ‘deaf-mute’), McCullers is streets ahead of many writers of our time, let alone her own. She writes intricate inner worlds for the kinds of characters so often reduced to tropes and stereotypes – people of colour, people with disabilities – and gives them agency. Not only that, she allows them to explicitly advocate for themselves politically, be it through Blount’s socialism or Dr Copeland’s racial activism or Mick’s proto-feminism.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that this kind of pinko-leftie philosophy would lead to widespread criticism and controversy (books are being banned for less today!), but The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter rocketed to the top of the best-seller list almost immediately. McCullers’ prodigious talent superseded any qualms the reading public had about her politics; she “gave voice to those who are rejected, forgotten, mistreated [and] oppressed”, in such a way that readers forgot about their prejudice. In fact, I think there’s an argument to be made that many readers over the decades have projected themselves onto the characters of The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter, in much the same way that the characters project themselves onto Singer – a kind of meta-genius that’s almost infuriating, and downright baffling when you take into account McCullers’ tender years and limited world experience at the time of writing.

Yes, The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter is an annoyingly good book. You’ll be annoyed that a woman so young and sheltered can be so wise and insightful, you’ll be annoyed that she can articulate that insight so beautifully, and you’ll be annoyed most of all that her name isn’t held aloft alongside Hemingway’s and Fitzgerald’s when it comes to the best literary writers of the 20th century.

My favourite Amazon reviews of The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter:

  • “McCullers’ book clearly contains some wonderful character descriptions, but I gave up early hunting for the story….” – D.Beyer
  • “Didn’t know this was an Oprah selection before I started it. If I had i never would’ve read it. It was true to her lousy taste.” – Kindle Customer
  • “OK so it is well written and has interesting characters, it is also depressing and boring.” – Monica K
  • “I found this book to be about as enriching as reading Karl Marx and as uplifting as reading the national enquirer.” – Darlene Riley
  • “Just look at how popular used copies are. People are desperate to get rid of this nonsense.” – Marc
  • “In the grand list of books that you will have enjoyed having read, this one ranks slightly above “Tom and Jane Go to Camp”.

    Now, I’m not going to say that this book was trite, boring, lacking in substance or otherwise devoid of anything resembling redeeming merit, because it does have its purpose. That purpose being to sit on your shelf and make it appear as though you are some kind of eruditic masochist.

    If, like me, you were forced to read this book as some sophomore hazing ritual, you will no doubt remember that this book contains very little in the way of plot and character development. The characters don’t so much grow as fester.

    I would not recommend this book to anybody, even those that I hate. People who have suicidal tendencies are warned to stay away as the most cheery portion of this book is slightly happier than a crushed puppy.

    In closing, let me just summarize: this book is bad.” – Rolf M. Buchner

My Unpopular Opinions About Popular Books

We all have them: unpopular opinions about popular books. Whether it’s a classic that just didn’t quite work for us, or a best-seller that made us roll our eyes, there are books we’d rather not admit we didn’t love in mixed company. Well, I’m ripping the bandage off our collective secret shame today by sharing my very own unpopular opinions about popular books. Have at it!

My Unpopular Opinions About Popular Books - Book Discussion - Keeping Up With The Penguins
You’ll be popular with me if you use an affiliate link on this page to buy a book – I’ll earn a small fee for referring you.

It Ends With Us actually does a good job of countering myths about domestic violence

Criticism of It Ends With Us – some of it from very authoritative sources – stems from the view that it “romanticises” domestic violence. As I read it, though, I couldn’t help but be impressed by the way she depicted the insidiousness of violence in this kind of relationship.

People don’t fall in love with people who beat them or are cruel to them. They fall in love with someone who seems wonderful, who treats them well, and makes them feel loved and safe. It’s only later, often very gradually, that violence occurs.

To ignore the romance of relationships that turn violent is, ultimately, dangerous. If we’re only on alert for bad guys under the bed or behind the closet door, we’ll miss the danger that’s right in front of us.

Read more (with additional context and caveats) about domestic violence in It Ends With Us here.

The Sun Also Rises is heteronormative nonsense

I realise I’m hardly blowing your mind by proposing that Hemingway was a drunk misogynist – but the number of times I’ve expressed this opinion to shocked countenances warrants its inclusion.

The Sun Also Rises basically boils down to a veteran who got his dick blown off bemoaning the fact that he can never fuck the woman he loves (and, as such, can never make her love him).

And that’s how we know that Hemingway never went down on a single woman in his life.

Seriously, the notion that there is no way to fuck without a full and functioning penis is completely ridiculous – as is the idea, by extension, that a woman can’t return your romantic feelings if you can’t have sex with her.

For all his faults, Hemingway still managed to write some brilliant pieces. This just isn’t one of them.

Read my full review of The Sun Also Rises here.

The Great Gatsby is not the definitive Jazz Age novel

If you’re a regular Keeper Upperer, you’re probably sick of hearing me bang on about this – so I’ll forgive you if you skip down the page. This unpopular opinion has become more of my personality than I care to admit.

The thing is, The Great Gatsby stinks. The prose is overwrought. The metaphors are clumsy. And the plot is just… ugh. A rich guy gets shot after the woman he’s been stalking for years commits vehicular homicide, then his mate has a sook that nobody comes to the funeral. The narrator thinks he’s the first person to discover that drinking with pretty girls is fun. I mean, why do people like this novel?

Especially given that there is a much, much better alternative out there: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Most people don’t realise that it was a brilliant book before it was turned into an iconic film. I suspect that’s because Anita Loos wrote funny stories instead of tragic ones, irreverent stories instead of earnest ones, and interrogated the inner lives of women instead of men.

She deserves to be a household name, dammit – I won’t rest, etc etc.

Read my full review of The Great Gatsby here.

Read my full review of (the far superior) Gentlemen Prefer Blondes here.

Ulysses is a better read than Mrs Dalloway

I suppose I have to hand in my feminist card for this one, but I stand by it. Even though it’s longer and whinier and more self-indulgent, Ulysses is a better read than Mrs Dalloway. I got more out of reading it, and think back to it more often. It had a much stronger sense of place, and much more ambition. Woolf basically just wanted to “top” Joyce anyway, because she thought Ulysses sucked, whereas Joyce’s motivations were a little more organic.

I’ll prove it: read the opening chapter of Mrs Dalloway alongside the final chapter of Ulysses (the best of each, in my view), and tell me which one is more powerful.

Read my full review of Ulysses here.

Read my full review of Mrs Dalloway here.

Not every Dan Brown book is terrible

Everyone loves to shit on The Da Vinci Code, using it as short-hand for the pulpy mass-produced adventure thrillers that you buy in an airport for lack of better options – but that’s not all Dan Brown has written. It’s just his most “popular” book.

His earlier novels, Digital Fortress and Deception Point, are much better in my view, and I’ve got copies of both on my shelves (not in pride of place exactly, but still, they’re there). They’re not great works of literature, they probably wouldn’t stand up to intense critical scrutiny, but they’re cracking good reads that made me think. Is there really any more we can ask of them?

The Hunger Games movies are better than the books

I’m probably angering a legion of millennial young adult readers here, but so be it. I’ve read endless complaints about the Hunger Games films – that they cut out Peeta’s disability, they skipped important scenes, they added stuff that wasn’t necessary – and yet none of them have been able to convince me.

The thing is, the narration of the Hunger Games books is infuriating. The mind of a teenage girl isn’t a fun or interesting place to be when the writing isn’t sophisticated and superb. I lived through it once, I don’t need to do it again in fiction. Katniss Everdeen’s train of thought drove me nuts at times, and with the film format, I got to thoroughly enjoy Suzanne Collins’s dystopia without having to put up with the protagonist’s thoughts about it.

In fact, I enjoyed the films so much – not just the story, but the costumes! the staging! – that I’ve watched them multiple times. They’re comfort watches for me, the same way that the books are comfort reads for so many others my age.

Read my full review of The Hunger Games here.

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