Review of A Farewell to Arms

My undergraduate degree is in English Literature, and while I had English classes I rarely read for fun because I was so busy with reading for school. Now I’m working on a Masters in Secondary Education, and while that also requires a lot of reading, almost none of the things I read are novels, so I’ve gotten back into reading for pleasure. Typically I read for a little while at night before I go to bed.

I used to read so many books with “literary merit” when I was an undergrad, but now that I’m reading for pleasure, I find myself reading few classics. The books I have read over the past few months have been, for the most part, great, but far from the classics I was taught to snobbishly prefer. There’s a debate among high school English teachers about whether we should assign classics or more modern books. The classics people argue that classics are that for a reason–the have value that transcends time and reading them develops our students intellectually and culturally in ways that non-canonical reading material cannot. The other side of the argument is that most people find most classics unenjoyable, and that by assigning these to our students we are killing their love for reading. Right now, my opinion falls in the middle of this argument. I do believe that classics are important to present to our students and, if done right, they can be enjoyable. But I also plan on assigning more modern books to my students, because so many of them are good too, and my students will likely enjoy reading them more than they do classics. I want my students to love reading above all, even if the things they read aren’t prestigious in a academic snob sense.

Long story short, I decided because of my background (English major) and future (English teacher) that it was time to read a classic again. So I picked up A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway. It was first published in 1929 and tells the story of a romance between an American in WWI who is an ambulance driver for the Italian military and an English nurse also working in Italy.

It is considered a classic for a reason, and if you do a quick Google search you can find many people raving about how wonderful it is. I’m not questioning this novel’s literary merit with what I’m about to say, I’m just expressing a personal opinion. I didn’t like it. I struggled through Hemingway’s sparse prose which really lacks wordplay and descriptions. The story itself did not keep make me want to keep reading–I kept reading because I wanted to finish the book so I could move on to something else. The ending left me disappointed as well. I don’t plan on assigning this book to my students or recommending it to anyone. I’m not saying it does not have literary merit or good qualities, I’m just not a fan.

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