It is better to be lucky, but I would rather be exact

Have you ever felt like a writer was speaking directly to you when you’re reading their work?

Ok, in my case, I’m listening to The Old Man and the Sea on the iPod on the way to work.  I must admit that in my long career as a reader I’ve read very little of Hemingway’s work.  I see now that this is a problem.  A void that must be filled.  I’m resolving to fix that problem, right here and right now.

I am a perfectionist, even though I’m far from perfect.  I am constantly striving to be exact and firmly believe that luck is merely that – a chance.   So, when I heard, “It is better to be lucky, but I would rather be exact” it struck a chord with me.  I immediately started committing it to memory.  (Since I’m not reading the book I can’t bookmark it or underline it — one of the many drawbacks to listening to a book rather than reading it.)

Contextually, the sentence is interesting in its own right — the old fisherman who hasn’t caught a fish in over 80 days, is thinking about the fact that his protégé is fishing with a luckier boat.  But there’s more here.

I’ve always been fascinated by how sounds fit together to become words, and words fit together to become sentences, and sentences…well, you get the picture.  Some writers (probably myself included) simply manage to put together a good sentence.  And maybe, if we’re lucky, we put together a few good sentences and have a good paragraph.

The Old Man and the Sea is not full of good sentences — it is full of great sentences.  Every one of them seems to be perfectly timed, measured, and exact.  It’s as if Hemingway is telling the reader that he’d rather be exact in his writing that be lucky (his previous writings had not enjoyed the commercial or critical success that this story would).

For me personally, the sentence is interesting because I’d rather be exact than be lucky.

One thought on “It is better to be lucky, but I would rather be exact

  1. The first Hemmingway I read was in college. I went to our all-night library after having drunk a whole pot of coffee. I couldn’t focus at all on my work and when I looked at the stacks behind my table, I saw “The Sun Also Rises”. I pulled it off the shelf and read it cover to cover then and there – compelling. There was no way to return to my studies after that so I packed up and went home. Finishing that book in one swallow makes me think I should go back and take some time with it again.

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