When William Kent Krueger visited the Redwood Falls library last Wednesday, I accidentally impressed the heck out of everyone in the room.
It went like this.
Krueger stood up in front, talking about what he believes is the greatest opening paragraph in all literature. He pulled out a piece of paper and read:
“In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains. In the bed of the river there were pebbles and boulders, dry and white in the sun, and the water was clear and swiftly moving and blue in the channels. Troops went by the house and down the road and the dust they raised powdered the leaves of the trees. The trunks of the trees too were dusty and leaves fell early that year and we saw the troops marching along the road and the dust rising and leaves, stirred by the breeze, falling and the soldiers marching and afterward the road bare and white except for the leaves.”
Then Krueger asked if anyone knew who the author of that paragraph was.
I raised my hand and said, “Ernest Hemmingway.”
He looked startled, and said, “That’s right! Do you know what novel it’s from?”
I said, “A Farewell to Arms”.
Krueger looked thunderstruck and said, “In all the years I’ve been asking that, you’re the first person who’s ever known!”
And then he asked everyone in the room to applaud for me. Dr. Medrud even tapped my shoulder and gave me a fun-sized Snickers candy bar as a reward.
Here’s where we get to the confession: I’ve never actually read A Farewell to Arms.
In fact, I’ve only read the opening couple of paragraphs.
I’ve read all Hemingway’s short stories, but I’m hazier on his novels. I’ve got paperbacks of his early ones on a shelf in my closet, but I haven’t read all of them.
As it happens, every now and then, when I finish one book and am looking for a next one to read, I’ll pick up books at random and just browse the first few paragraphs to see if one grabs me.
So far, I’ve read the opening paragraphs of A Farewell to Arms maybe half a dozen times and always thought, ‘Nah, not this time. Maybe that book on that shelf above it will have something I feel like reading right now.”
And then I put A Farewell to Arms back on the shelf and glance over another book’s first page.
Page 2 of 2 - Now I feel like I have to sit down and actually read A Farewell to Arms. I hear it’s pretty good. And hey, I got a fun-sized Snickers out of the deal, so it’s a twofer.