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  • Writer's pictureCraig Messenger

Judging Books by Their Covers | 005

And yet we can also judge them by their titles, which was how I was first introduced to my first Hemingway – that novel which itself marred Hemingway’s own authorial celibacy – The Sun Also Rises. A few of Hemingway’s titles have transcended their print-bound bodies and become tangible markers of American literature itself: genotypic building blocks of the discipline rather than simply physical examples of its output. A Corolla is a car, a four wheeled vessel, while the word Mustang denotes something less somatic.

Yet, for whatever reason, The Sun Also Rises has not garnered as much notoriety as The Old Man and the Sea or A Farewell to Arms. This is despite the fact that it is far better named. Apparently quality of name is not a heavily weighted category in the census of American literary paradigms. Well I do weigh it heavily, and so was instantly intrigued at this title.

The short novel is a tale of Americans abroad, wandering about Paris and Spain and cafes and really a lot of bars and of course those fabled bullfights. The story is rich in plainness, at times difficult to understand with its simplicity – this style personifying what became the trademark and novelty of Hemingway, and also which perplexed me for a while until I oriented myself in his words’ universe. The author surely has his flourishes of captivating lines and phrases, but I generally envision his narrators sitting behind courtroom Mahogany giving resigned, unembellished testimony, so help them God. And yet there I remain engrossed. Embellishment is what covers are for.


We start out with another greeting from our friend Art Deco, explaining to us that while the Real Life Hemingway was out in Europe documenting his crew’s shenanigans, old F. Scott was typing up a fictionalized account of his own young adult life in the west.

The two books were published one year apart. This cover is bathed in the crimsons that so excite young bulls, but not much else, and by it I am left, unfortunately, unexcited.


In an effort to convince would-be readers that this story is actually a bull fighting handbook, I’ll include another bovine example, this one much more animated. Romero, in full color, elicits the unrelenting attention of the nebulous crowd, assuming his rightful position as Tonight’s Entertainment. Despite the physical certainty that his silhouette’s figure is indeed unmoving on the page, something about his stance and posture is dynamic and elegantly so. We, like so many bold cattle on death’s course, remain transfixed.

I really like this cover.


This is the first edition cover and with this knowledge, I think I understand its symbols even less, despite the fact that it turned out to be wildly prophetic. Most of the images here, cloaked in antiquity, are probably lost on me, but I will blanket them under the umbrella of ancient philosophy and just go from there. With this framework, we can ponder the significance of The Sun Also Rises in relation to Hemingway’s ensuing works. Like I said, this is his first novel, one built upon his real life experiences – a pattern Hemingway would return to for the rest of his classics. And this book was written with an unadorned pen, with a certain reservedness in the vitality department, another comfort Hemingway would default back to throughout his career. So in this sense, we can view this debut novel as the notable seed to an ensuing literary forest, the originating philosopher to a millennium of well-read disciples. But again, this was the first edition cover so really none of what I just said makes any sense.


My favorite. The plot of The Sun Also Rises really boils down to one central idea: a promiscuous woman, wrestled over by man and friend and fighter, in a time when women were expected to be abstinent and obedient. Hemingway gave Brett, pictured greenly here, a predominantly-male name to highlight the point. Brett is far from the main character, albeit more central than the photogenic bullfighter, yet she is the throughline that strings together all the disparate events of the novel. I love her depiction here, painted in green envy, floating? Dancing? Compressed between enclosing elevator doors? Facing leeward amidst a dress-blowing gust? Whichever, this is the mercurial Brett – international capturer of male imagination.

And if used books give you the heebie jeebies, or maybe an old Eucalyptus wronged your family in the past, you can buy a brand new Sun Also Rises here.

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