The Letters of Ernest Hemingway: Volume 1, 1907-1922 (Volume 1)

Andrew O’Hagan writes:

Good reporters go hunting for nouns. They want the odd verb too, but the main thing is the nouns, especially the proper ones, the who, what and where. The thing British schoolchildren call a ‘naming word’ was, for Hemingway, a chance to reveal what he knew, an opportunity to be experienced, to discriminate, and his style depends on engorged nouns, not absent adjectives. But at times it strikes you that the cult of specificity in Hemingway is a drug you take in a cheap arcade: lights flash on the old machines and a piano plinks overhead. One evening it came to me as a small revelation that he takes too much pride in the nouns. (And pride ruined him.) He never takes nouns for granted. He invests his whole personality in them, because nouns are the part of speech where a person gets to show off. Papa gets busted on the nouns because he can’t place them on the page without ego. Too often they are there to attract attention. To cause a sensation. To make a blaze. Hemingway will never say someone had a drink when he can say they had a vermouth.

(LRB 7 June 2012)