Book Review: The Heming Way

August 3, 2011

The Heming Way: How to Unleash the Booze-Inhaling, Animal-Slaughtering, War-Glorifying, Hairy-Chested, Retro-Sexual Legend Within… Just Like Papa!

By Marty Beckerman

Published May 27, 2011

Infected Press

90 pp.

ISBN 0-970-06294-X

Reviewed July 31, 2011

In my time as a book critic, I’ve heard a lot of arguments about the dominance of white male authors in the popular culture – and if you had to pick the male-est of those authors, it would without question be Ernest Hemingway. Famous in literary circles for his sparse prose, tragically flawed protagonists and views on the generations lost from the war, Hemingway is also an author repeatedly criticized as overly masculine, misogynistic and homophobic. Still others have accused the Hemingway image as being a construction entirely apart from the man himself, with F. Scott. Fitzgerald biographer Matthew J. Bruccoli declaring the man his own greatest fictional creation.

But is that really such a bad thing? Not according to Marty Beckerman, who leaps to Papa’s defense in his parody/self-help book “The Heming Way.” Compared to the way we live today in our world of wireless Internet connections and malt beverages, the attitudes of Hemingway – a man who drank eight different types of alcohol for breakfast, sought the great adrenaline rush of hunting both beasts and men, and was so proud of his way of life that he was the only one who could end it – seems a marvelous alternative. In mapping these extremes, Beckerman not only delivers a brief and hilarious biography of the author but artfully twists it into a critique on modern society.

Beckerman lays out the case for Hemingway as “a great writer, a great hunter, a great fisherman, a great womanizer, a great drunkard, and a great man – but mostly a great drunkard” by regaling the reader with tales of the author’s exploits. He tells you how to hunt like Hemingway (pick your guns well, cook what you kill, don’t bring women along), how to drink like Hemingway (on safari, in wartime, and with your hungover ten-year-old son) and how to pursue women like Hemingway (marry often, swapping out as their psycho levels rise and they lose their taste for your beard and vomiting friends).

The humor here comes from the extremity of viewpoints presented, as well as how over-the-top Beckerman gets in embracing those viewpoints. He presents Hemingway in his own words and then almost immediately illustrates the flaws in those words with even more quotes, but never dares to question them even as they grow absurd. Of course Hemingway’s drinking burdened him with massive health problems, but how else could he reach such heights as shooting himself in the legs during a fishing trip? And of course Papa’s “outward misogyny” was just an offshoot of the harsh realities of war, not repressed homosexuality! (So what if there are eight or ten quotes to the contrary, the man’s balls overwhelm those!)

It would be easy to dismiss the book as nothing but a list of Hemingway jibes, but Beckerman’s commitment to the format is impressive. Much as he did in the excellent 2008 political dissection “Dumbocracy,” Beckerman backs up his jokes with considerable research, regularly sourcing Hemingway’s own writing as well as a variety of biographies and scholarly studies. The format, reminiscent of a Cracked article, also earns its laughs by inserting some biting comments underneath Hemingway photos periodically inserted into the text. (Particular favorite: Hemingway’s quote “Love is just another dirty lie” followed immediately with his wedding photo and the tip “Do not include the previous quote in your vows.)

And even as parody, there’s a sense that it might be sitting on something deeper. that Particularly as the book heads toward the end, there’s an odd seriousness that emerges from the parody, almost a rant taking over as our modern sense of safety is compared to Hemingway’s style. In fact, in some passages, it almost seems like he’s seriously viewing that style as the lesser of two evils:

“And we’ve become rich in the currency of cowardice. We have so many things and so few experiences. We are desperate to live as long as possible, not as large as possible. We are so afraid to say goodbye to the world that we never say hello. We are numbed in our high-def, wi-fi cocoons, eager for materialistic possessions – the newest, fastest, shiniest gadgets – instead of a fitting end to a life well-lived. If Papa hadn’t killed himself out of despair in 1961, he would kill himself out of disgust today.”

It’s impossible to say what Papa would have thought of this book (though based on history, he’d likely knock the author on his back with one punch) but the end result would probably have involved a laugh and six shared drinks. Beckerman has kicked a breath of fresh air into the Hemingway mythos fifty years after Papa ended his life, and “The Heming Way” should appeal to fans of its source material and anyone looking for a good joke. It’s well-researched, incredibly funny, and just the impetus you’ve been looking for to bring Wild Turkey and six grenades on your next fishing trip.


Links of Literacy – May 20, 2009

May 20, 2009

(As per the manifesto, here are five things I’ve found interesting in the field of books in the past week in addition to my comments on them. Note that relevance in the news is only one factor I use to select these articles – some might be older ones I’ve just been linked to and found to be interesting.)

1. Some Thoughts on the Lost Art of Reading Aloud, Verlyn Klinkenborg, The New York Times, May 16, 2009

A very well-written article I discovered thanks to Neil Gaiman’s blog, reminding me of just how much I appreciate author readings and the act of reading aloud. I’m a bit more sympathetic to audiobooks than she is, especially ones that are read by the authors (as I’ve said before), but I appreciate the clear emotional connection being made here to the physical act and the interpretative quality.

2. Could William Shatner Defeat Kirk? Marty Beckerman, The Daily Beast, May 16, 2009

A review by Beckerman, author of the excellent “Dumbocracy,” of a title he compares to “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” and which calls up my memory of the recent film “My Name Is Bruce.” It certainly looks like a fun title and worth checking out if you locate it.

3. Long-Borrowed Library Book Will Be Hard to Forget Now, Michael E. Ruane, The Washington Post, May 11, 2009

– This is just a good story all around, about someone who appreciates books and libraries, and an anecdote about just how books tend to get around.

4. Mom wants to ban, burn ‘Bunny Suicides,’ Joseph Rose, The Oregonian, October 20, 2008

– An older story I saved when it first popped up, it serves as an excellent parallel to the previous article, focusing on the sort of person who clearly has no idea of the function libraries are supposed to serve. Follow these links as well for the entertaining conclusion to the story.

5. Art of the Deal, Tom McCarthy, New York Times Book Review, May 14, 2009

– A review of Clancy Martin’s “How To Sell,” a book I would consider reviewing myself, but the original review I learned of it from is so well done I can’t think of what extra I’d say, except to emphasize his distaste for the gushing back jacket quotes (I used to work for a publishing house and know the procedure for soliciting those). I’m adding the title to my queue and after the review you might consider doing so yourself.

Book Review: Dumbocracy

November 19, 2008

Dumbocracy: Adventures with the Loony Left, the Rabid Right, and Other American Idiots

dumbocracyBy Marty Beckerman

Published September 1, 2008

The Disinformation Company

224 pp.

ISBN 1-934-70806-2

Reviewed November 17, 2008

Unless you have been living in a commune for the blind/deaf/mute with neither basic cable nor Internet access, you know that America recently concluded the most excruciating presidential election in its history. It was a novel-worthy affair loaded with grand promises, ancient history and truly absurd moments – Hillary Clinton’s sniper snafu and Sarah Palin’s shopping spree are personal favorites – but regularly distinguished by an extremist tone. Barack Obama painted the Republicans as irrevocably shackled to the single-minded Bush doctrine, while John McCain’s campaign came just short of calling Obama a pinko commie.

This is nothing new in the political climate, but it’s yet another reflection of the fact that our society loves to split itself apart. Left and right, red and blue – all with an “I’m better than you are” attitude disguising the fact that in virtually all cases they’re not. Few books illustrate this as well as Marty Beckerman’s “Dumbocracy: Adventures with the Loony Left, the Rabid Right, and Other American Idiots,” a breath of fresh air to clear out some of the smoke regularly blown up our asses.

In the spirit of gonzo journalism, Beckerman inserts himself directly into the poles of America. He walks through the March for Women’s Lives in Washington D.C. to confront marchers and protestors, watches right-wing preachers on New York streets before ducking into a gay bar, receives placid stares from college kids who support Palestine and weathers “righteous” indignation at a conservative conference. He looks at the effort to regulate our vices – pornography, cigarettes, marijuana, fast food and alcohol – and takes a trip to Jerusalem in an effort to understand what makes believers tick.

With an introduction titled “Douche Bag Nation,” “Dumbocracy” makes it clear from the start this search takes neither sides nor prisoners. Beckerman argues that the majority of those who hold zealous views on a subject turn out to be selfish morons, using both the implausibility of their arguments and the bile of their tone to leave readers wishing he’d made these points up. Magazine editors, talk show hosts, student activists and government officials are all seen taking matters into their own hands, and the resulting emotion is a desire to slap those hands with a ruler.

Its direct tone may make “Dumbocracy” appear little more than a diatribe against die-hards, but Beckerman gets past the jingoism of his subjects with two strengths. First is impressive research – he cites dozens of books, articles, interviews and broadcasts, from sources ranging from Fox News to “Fast Food Nation.” The research mostly serves to prove his point rather than open up debate, but it proves he’s not basing his point on isolated incidents the way his subjects do.

His second strength is his “smartass pipsqueak Jew” personality, which is refreshingly amusing when placed next to narrow-minded zealots. He regularly poses direct questions to his subjects but never attacks their beliefs, only offering a rational point that causes a fuse to pop in their heads when they see their rhetoric ignored. And while the writing does try too hard in some places – particularly with sarcastic replies interjecting fact lists – it’s never in a manner too grating to remove observer status or earn him a punch in the face.

Additional gonzo credit is also awarded for a drunken postscript to the prohibition section and downing hallucinogenic liquor during his Jerusalem visit.

To paraphrase Voltaire, Beckerman’s argument can be boiled into: “I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death my right to call you a jackass for saying it.” And that’s an argument desperately needed in today’s partisan culture, one that points out the common denominator of extreme left and extreme right is being extremely wrong. “Dumbocracy” is a compelling case for being a moderate in today’s world, and yet another reason to hope our new president means what he says about restoring America’s common purpose.

(Political disclaimer: The political beliefs of the reviewer played no role in the above article, and the review was based solely on quality of writing, depth of research and author arguments.)