Santas in July

Late July in Key West means a couple things. It's hotter than Hades. You start seeing interesting blobs on satellite images of the Atlantic. If you live in my house, you spend most of your nonworking waking time watching the Tour de France. And if you hang around Old Town, you suddenly have sightings of Santa wherever you look. Only it's not supposed to be Santa. The hale white-bearded fellows are entrants in the annual Ernest Hemingway Look-Alike Contest, a guaranteed publicity winner for the tourism council (and I've been as guilty as anyone; I once wrote a cover story called "The Papas and the Papas" for the late, lamented Tropic magazine, chronicling one year's contest). An earlier story I wrote about Hemingway's long, strong, posthumous celebrity pointed out that Amherst doesn't hold Emily Dickinson lookalike contests -- only now they do.

I've always hoped one year the winner would be the rare entrant who looks like the younger, darker-haired, nonbearded Hemingway -- as Hemingway looked when he actually lived here in the 1930s. You do get the occasional entrant who gives it a try but since previous winners serve as the judges, the late-Hemingway look appears to have a lock on the thing.

All of which is a longwinded introduction to a couple of recent book reviews, one of which has a strong Hemingway connection: My review of A Skeptic's Guide to Writers' Houses ran in Sunday's edition of Solares Hill. And a couple Sundays before that they ran my review of Janet Malcolm's Iphigenia in Forest Hills. Both interesting, well reported and written books of nonfiction, though naturally very different. I liked the Malcolm book a lot about the court system; not so much with her pronounciations on journalism. And I liked Trubek's tour of writers' house museums though she was a bit snarky in approach at times. I hadn't realized how many of these museums I had toured until I really thought about it though to be fair two of them are in my backyards, past and present (Emily Dickinson and Ernest Hemingway, whom Trubek holds up as sort of polar opposite of house museum ethos).

Like many a Key Wester, I'm almost as sick of Ernest Hemingway as I am of Jimmy Buffett -- but lately I've been thinking it might be time to read him again. One reason is the hilarious portrayal in Woody Allen's recent movie "Midnight in Paris" -- young Hemingway again, before he was the self-created celebrity and legend. Another is simply in reaction to all the late-Hemingway hysteria; I haven't read the short stories and early novels since I was in my 20s and I have learned that books take on a whole new dimension when you bring some life experience to them. Maybe it's time for A Farewell to Arms. After I finish re-reading Jane Austen.