It seems common among my peers that while we used to read voraciously as children and pre-teens, that behavior stagnated once we moved on from middle school to high school. I know, at least for me, that's exactly what happened. Sitting around, with nothing to do and reading a book, was replaced with sitting around, with nothing to do and mindlessly scrolling through my social media feeds.
Something hasn't felt right about that. I remembered how excited I was to go to the library as a child, eager to turn in my completed novel for a brand new one. I would always anticipate the adventures I'd embark on in those pages, and I would always be satisfied. Something has definitely felt missing these past four years, and I wanted to try to fill that absence. So, I took the opportunity this summer to attempt to get back into reading.
I decided right away to start with a fiction novel. I vaguely remembered hearing about Ernest Hemingway during my AP English Literature class, and I had heard stories about what a larger-than-life figure he was, so I gave him a search on Wikipedia and looked through his bibliography. One title stood out to me right away: "The Sun Also Rises "Perhaps it was the wording, or the subtle beauty behind the words. Whatever it was, I knew that I had to try that one out.
In Ernest Hemingway's "The Sun Also Rises," we observe the tragic lives of several members of the "Lost Generation." A term coined by Hemingway for those who came of age during World War I and inhabit the Earth after the devastating war, it's fitting for the bunch we're working with in the story.
We are met with an anxious group, living in Paris, who find little meaning to life besides excessive partying and drinking. We have Jake Barnes, a journalist neutered from an injury during the Great War, suffering from the pangs of lost love, and struggling to reconcile his desires with his loss of masculinity; British aristocrat Brett Ashley, Jake's former flame; Robert Cohn, his nervy coworker who also lusts for Brett; and Pedro Romero, a virile, teenage bullfighter who competes for Brett's attention in Pamplona. The plot centers on Jake and his expatriate friends taking a trip to the South of France and Spain to fish and watch the bullfights. What they seek is a common purpose, lacking one in the world after the Great War. And at first, despite what the group has experienced, at the end of the story, they seem just that: lost.
After completing the novel, I couldn't stop thinking about it. The dialogue was compelling, and the imagery was charming. However, the hopelessness of the characters seemed too skeptical of an outlook for me. I thought there was more than they had received out of life. I realized that even though it might seem like the characters were lost, they had, for a time being, found ways to move past their feelings and enjoy their lives. But it wasn't just a facade; the characters adjusted to their afflictions and found some motivation for existence that translated into happiness. Perhaps not the form of happiness that you and I think of, but happiness nonetheless. And if they really were able to find ways to enjoy their lives, I thought that was a necessary ideal to carry into my life. The day-to-day grind may get us down, and we may tire at the thought of performing the same rote actions every day, but there are ways to find happiness. These chaps found it through simple companionship. How can we find it?
There's nothing better than a good story, and a good story that has the capacity to teach is incredibly worthwhile. I was floored with the beauty of such a simple story as friends living their lives, and by the way it had the ability to teach about our existence. Discovering this tangible benefit of reading motivated me to continue after finishing. Hemingway masterfully replicated the human condition with his iconic style in this work, and it left me wanting more. But not only did The Sun Also Rises introduce me to Hemingway's work, it reminded me of how relevant lessons can be found in those objects sitting on our shelves every day. They're just waiting to be discovered, and after reading "The Sun Also Rises," I'm anxious to discover all of them.