Summer Reading Special: A Conversation with Seán Hemingway
O: Can you give examples of where he embellished or changed the facts?
Seán: In "Secret Pleasures," he says he and his wife Hadley had just had a baby. I was reading that chapter right after my wife and I adopted our daughter, and it didn't ring true to me that he would be so lovey-dovey with his wife. Does it work to insert more of the details here? [In this chapter, Hemingway recalls being playful with his wife and talking about cutting their hair together to the same length.] I mean you still love your partner when there's a baby, but it's a different thing.
I also found a reference to a letter where he talks about growing his hair the year before when he was going to Switzerland. So I think he wanted to tell the story about the hair and Switzerland in that chapter, but also wanted to talk about the baby to make the story sound better. If he hadn't, he would have had to introduce a new locale.
O: Did you learn anything about his process of writing memoir?
Seán: What amazed me is how well he was able to remember details. I write myself, and my first drafts are not nearly as descriptive as his were. I think what you can see from the manuscripts is that he wrote much of this when he was an old man looking back.
O: Do a lot of people in your family write?
Seán: My dad wrote a memoir, my uncle wrote a memoir, but in general everyone was much too intimidated to try to come and go in the same world. For my generation, it was too daunting to even consider English as a major.
O: What have you been reading this summer?
Seán: I was reading a book called Crescent and Star by Stephen Kinzer which is about Turkey, because I went on a trip to Turkey for the museum. Really, I like mysteries and lighter reading in the summer.
O: And what's your favorite Hemingway book?
Seán: A Moveable Feast has been the one, not surprisingly, that I've been reading and re-reading. That's what's so great about my grandfather's books. You can read them over and over again.
Start reading A Moveable Feast