A Moveable Feast of Goats


I’ve been writing about my trip to Paris recently, and because I have a copy sitting around, I picked up Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, his memoir of living in Paris as part of the American expatriate circle of writers in the 1920s.

I’m not all the way through it, but I happened to wander over to the Wikipedia page (linked above), where I learned it was published after his death, and been edited by his fourth wife. Apparently Hemingway returned to the memoir shortly before his death, and it included a lengthy apology to Hadley, his first wife (which got cut).

Not only that, “literary critic J. Gerald Kennedy of Louisiana State University pointed out the artificially heroic nature of Hemingway’s self-portrait in A Moveable Feast. He contrasted it with the sexual ambiguity and fascination with androgyny found in Hemingway’s unfinished novel, The Garden of Eden.”

Not only that, I found another lengthy piece about the memoir that appeared in the Huffington Post, which was written because Hemingway’s grandson was going to published a “restored edition.” It goes even further down the rabbit hole about the sad, sordid family history, and how the various wives and children of wives might have affected the books’ edits.

Wow. I’m not even going to weigh in on that. Instead, I got about fifty pages in, and found this:

The goatherd came up the street blowing his pipes and a woman who lived on the floor above us came out to the sidewalk with a big pot. The goatherd chose one of the heavy-bagged, black milk-goats and milked her into the pot while his dog pushed the others onto the sidewalk. The goats looked around, turning their necks like sightseers.

Goats! Cruising around Paris! Sure, it was 80-plus years ago, but still. When I was in Paris, I saw a lot of cars and tour buses. But no goats.

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I Write Like … Well, Lots of People

My writer friends all atwitter about I Write Like, a “statistical analysis tool, which analyzes your word choice and writing style and compares them to those of the famous writers.”

People who get results that they write like James Joyce, or Chuck Palahniuk? Excellent! People who write like Dan Brown? Bummer. (Unless they cash his checks, I wager.)

Anyhow, we’ve all been giving it a whirl. I put in the first page of the last book I wrote, and got Margaret Atwood. Excellent! Poet, novelist, winner of the Booker Prize — and even Canadian. Not too shabby, eh?

But then I had to check. Does Margaret Atwood write like Margaret Atwood? I copied a bit of The Blind Assassin into the text box, and … yes. OK, good. (And Dan Brown writes like Dan Brown, in case you were wondering.)

I stress-tested a little more. A friend who got the Dan Brown Bummer Result said “at least it wasn’t Edward Bulwer-Lytton” (he of “dark and stormy night” infamy, as well as having a famous bad-writing contest named after him). So who does Edward Bulwer-Lytton write like? Charles Dickens.

Obviously it’s not perfect, and not every writer with a famous style is represented. For example, Hemingway’s so distinctive that for years there’s been a “Bad Hemingway Contest.” Yet when I put in a page of “The Old Man and the Sea,” I got James Joyce.

But it’s still fun to play with. A thriller writer I know writes like Ian Fleming, a crime writer I know writes like Nabokov, and a romance writer I know writes like Bram Stoker (huh?)

What’s also cool is that the same writer can get different results. I wrote a satirical short story that came back as James Joyce, not Atwood.

And the text of this blog post? H.P. Lovecraft.

Go figure.