The Shortest Best Story Ever

This post originally appeared in Old Road Apples’ very first week of existence. No one noticed it. No one even read it. So, I’m giving it a chance at new life, as I will be doing with other, carefully selected posts in the coming weeks.

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Among the students voted “best…” and “most likely to…” for the Senior Class Personalities in my kids’ yearbooks, I noted what has to be the most flattering and impressive designation, “Talks the least. Says the Most.”  I can’t think of a higher salute from one’s peers.

Now I’m thinking about the writer Ernest Hemingway.

Hemingway was one of those “gateway writers” who collectively inspired me to study literature and read obsessively.  An early selection of my adolescence-generated prose stinks of derivation, but as I stumbled into my pretentious twenties I mocked him along with other, equally unsubtle critics.  He ate a sandwich.  It was a good, moist sandwich with meat and cheese. The cheese was yellow and good. He had eaten kind of sandwich Nick ate in Italy.  I fell in love with bombast, magical realism, what I jokingly called “maximumism.”  That passed, too, and I’ve come full circle to recognize the subtle  genius behind the man who writes the least  and says, or at least edits, the most.

My favorite story about Hemingway involves him sitting around a table, possibly at The Algonquin, with his friends, a few of whom were towering talents in their own right, and betting the house that he could write an entire story with just a few words.  His eager companions bade him put his money where he mouth (and pen) was.  Hemingway replied with a 6-word novel, hastily scribbled onto a napkin  It read:

“For sale: baby shoes.  Never worn.”

His companions read the words, probably grumbled a little, and paid the man.

6 responses to “The Shortest Best Story Ever”

  1. I’ve never heard the story behind the story. But those six words are always cited as an example of just how short a story can be.

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  2. Well worth reading.

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  3. Master of the understatement. People don’t realise quite what a skill that is. It’s all in the intent behind the words. As you say, “Talks the least, says the most”. Intent is everything.
    I like that you are recycling.

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    1. Yeh, I always talk to too much, but it’s like a compulsion. Hemingway was a genius. Recycling is just being responsible, and doing it here is a lot easier than washing out all those tin cans. (Thanks, by the way. I was oddly uncomfortable about the reposts but the encouragement made it a no brainer).

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      1. You’re most welcome. Cynicism and genius seem to go hand in hand I find. I had a friend long ago who berated Hemingway for being simple and a bore. This was someone who believed himself a great literary intellect, but couldn’t really write for toffee, insomuch as he couldn’t engage an audience with his work, despite being highly educated. That, takes something else. The fact that this friend went on to interview many famous authors over the years, but never managed to publish one single novel he wrote, to me speaks volumes. So, it isn’t about what you know, but how you use what you know. Not the same at all.

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  4. Yeh. That’s very cool.

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