My Grandmother’s Hemingway

Growing up in the 70s and 80s, my grandmother, Marnita, was largely responsible for my love of books and reading. She was also responsible for my love of the Chicago Cubs, but I guess you have to take the good with the bad so I won’t hold it against her. My first introduction to Shakespeare, Hemingway, Tolstoy and the like was by listening to her tell me about the stories and authors that she was a fan of. She would talk about the classics the way most of us talk about the hot new Avengers movie or the rumor of a Harry Potter spin off. These classic books were more vibrant in her mind than anything published in her later years.

And so it goes that when my grandmother passed away in ’97, I obtained a portion of her book collection. There were many hardcover classics in the bunch, both American and International, and I am proud to now have them adorning my shelves. They look beautiful sitting there beside my Puzos, Kings and LeHanes. While I’m ashamed to have not picked many of these classics up to read as of yet, I continue to tell myself that I will get to them ‘someday.’

Well, that someday came over the weekend when I was trying to decide what to read next and pulled out my grandmother’s 1956 hardcover edition of Ernest Hemingway’s, The Sun Also Rises. While I am a big Hemingway fan, (don’t get me started on my visit to his home on Key West) I’ve purchased most of what I’ve read of him. This is the first time I’ve read something from my grandmother’s collection.

While the first couple of chapters went by as any other book would, it was when I was midway through the third chapter that I saw the first crease of a once turned down page. A small one-inch triangle on the upper right hand corner. And as strange as it sounds, it was only then that it dawned on me that these weren’t just books on her shelf like they were mine. These were the books she actually read.

As obvious as that should have been, it wasn’t in my mind when I first sat down with the book, its blue cover faded, its gold lettering on the spine barely perceptible. It was just another book off my shelf. I even hesitated reading that copy because it was so old and delicate. The thought crossed my mind to even download the ebook, and place the hardcover safely back onto the shelf. But ultimately, I went with the real thing, and when I saw that first crease in the upper corner of that page, I was glad I had.

My grandmother has been gone almost 20 years now, and I could imagine her there with me, her hands holding the book in the same place, reading the same words along with me, turning down the same pages. Through this well-worn book, I felt connected to my grandmother like I hadn’t felt in years. And that’s just something you will never get from an ebook. People say paper books are dead. I disagree. Not only are they alive and well, this one brought my grandmother back to life, if only in my mind, if only for a time.

I just don’t have the heart to tell her it might be awhile before I try and tackle Tolstoy.

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