Alaskan ex-pat pens Hemingway biography

Jeremia Schrock / Sun Star Reporter
July 1, 2011

When Marty Beckerman was a teenager growing up in Alaska – and writing a humor column for the Anchorage Daily News – he was obsessed with becoming the next Dave Berry. However, a read-through of “The Heming Way” will attest that Beckerman is not the next anybody, which is exactly the way he likes it. “It’s better to be the first you, then the next somebody,” Beckerman said.

Beckerman’s book doubles as part parody and part tribute, but it’s also a solid and interesting biography of the (in)famous 20th century author and journalist Ernest Hemingway. Beckerman’s meshing of humor and history is reminiscent of Marvin Kitman’s “The Making of the President 1789: The Unauthorized Campaign Biography of George Washington” and Mark Steel’s “Vive la Revolution: A Stand-up History of the French Revolution.” The only real difference between the three is that Beckerman is the more irreverent and sardonic of the bunch.

One of the books first paragraphs helps set the tone for Beckerman’s humorous and clever biography:

Mankind has accumulated more collective knowledge than ever before – go check Wikipedia – but the individual man knows less. We can all search Google and update our worthless status messages, but few of us can skin a fish, navigate by starlight, climb to the apex of a mountain or transform majestic creatures of the Southern Hemisphere into piano keyboards.

Beckerman’s book strikes much the same tone throughout, as he covers (to name a few) Hemingway’s views on war, sex, homosexuality, marriage, fatherhood, hunting, dietary habits and suicide. His main argument – oftentimes tongue-in-cheek – is that even with Hemingway’s “booze-inhaling, animal-slaughtering, war-glorifying, hairy-chested, retro-sexual” (to quote the book’s subtitle) lifestyle, there is still something worthy of admiration in the man.

“We shouldn’t follow his example in munching a bullet sandwich and blowing our heads off,” said Beckerman. “We’re so afraid of death because maybe we’ll die of skin cancer [or something else].” What example should we follow? Hemingway’s zest for life. What’s the point of living a long life if isn’t a good life, or at the very least, a colorful one, argues Beckerman.

Beckerman sees his work as a response to the “neutering of the American man.” According to Beckerman, “everything we learn comes from Wikipedia, but not adventure.” Life was the exact opposite for Hemingway, who, in addition to being an accomplished writer, was not afraid to gallivant, carouse or drink his way through existence.

Such a life is something Beckerman, a gonzo journalist, empathizes with. Beckerman’s exploits include receiving a Spermine (made from human sperm) “beauty treatment,” spending a day on a porn set, and testing Cosmopolitan magazines recommendations for a spicier boudoir (hint: his genitals end up rope-burned). If there is one thing Beckerman is, it’s colorful. “The Heming Way” is worth a read, if not for the history, then for his lampooning of modern American masculinity.

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