Ernest Hemingway’s Reading List for a Young Writer

“All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you: the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was. If you can get so that you can give that to people, then you are a writer.” 
― Ernest Hemingway

In 1934 aspiring writer and journalist Arnold Samuelson travelled over 2000 miles from Minnesota to Florida to meet Ernest Hemingway. He had read Hemingway’s ‘One Trip Across’, a short story published in Cosmopolitan that would later become the novel To Have and Have Not. Inspired, Samuelson wanted to meet the author in person and ask his advice on writing.

Initially Hemingway set him away telling him to come back the next day. When Samuelson returned he sat with Hemingway on his porch and discussed the short story as well as Samuelson’s struggles with writing fiction.

The two men went to Hemingway’s workshop where the author created the following reading list for Samuelson:

Ernest Hemingway Reading List for a Young Writer

The Blue Hotel by Stephen Crane
‘The Blue Hotel’ is a short story by American author Stephen Crane (1871–1900). The story first appeared in the 1899 collection entitled The Monster and Other Stories. 

The Open Boat by Stephen Crane
‘The Open Boat’ was first published in 1897. It was based on Crane’s experience of surviving a shipwreck off the coast of Florida earlier that year while travelling to Cuba to work as a newspaper correspondent. H. G. Wells considered it to be ‘beyond all question, the crown of all (Crane’s) work.’

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
Madame Bovary was published in 1856 and was Gustave Flaubert’s first published novel.  It was first serialised in La Revue de Paris between 1 October and 15 December 1856. In 2008 literary critic James Wood wrote that in Madame Bovary ‘Flaubert established for good or ill, what most readers think of as modern realist narration, and his influence is almost too familiar to be visible.’

Dubliners by James Joyce
This collection of 15 short stories offers vivid, tightly focused observations of the lives of Dublin’s poorer classes. The collection begins with stories of youth and progressing in age to culminate in the final story ‘The Dead’.

The Red and the Black by Stendhal
This novel’s full original title was Le Rouge et le Noir, Chronique du XIXe siècle (The Red and the Black: A Chronicle of the 19th Century). It follows the life of Julien Sorel who is determined to rise above his humble peasant origins and make something of his life by adopting the code of hypocrisy by which his society operates.

Of Human Bondage by Somerset Maugham
Of Human Bondage was named one of the 100 best English-language novels of the twentieth-century and is described by many as Maugham’s greatest masterpiece. An orphan with a clubfoot, Philip Carey grows into an impressionable young man with a voracious appetite for adventure and knowledge.

Anna KareninaAnna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Fyodor Dostoyevsky declared Anna Karenina to be ‘flawless as a work of art’. Vladimir Nabokov especially admired ‘the flawless magic of Tolstoy’s style’, and William Faulkner described the novel as ‘the best ever written’

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
War and Peace describes in graphic detail events surrounding the French invasion of Russia, and the impact of the Napoleonic era on Tsarist society, as seen through the eyes of five Russian aristocratic families. It is regarded as one of the most important works of world literature

Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann
Thomas Mann was awarded in Nobel Prize in literature in 1929. Buddenbrooks was first published in 1901 when Mann was only 25. It chronicles the decline of a wealthy German merchant family over the course of four generations

Hail and Farewell by George Moore
George Moore was an Irish novelist, playwright, poet and critic. Hail and Farewell is a three-volume semi autobiographical work; the three volumes are titles Ave, Salve and Vale.  It is said to have entertained its readers but infuriated former friends

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
When brutal landowner Fyodor Karamazov is murdered, the lives of his sons are changed irrevocably: Mitya is placed under suspicion, Ivan’s mental tortures drive him to breakdown, Alyosha tries to heal the family’s rifts, and there is always the shadow of their bastard half-brother, Smerdyakov. This was Dostoyevsky final novel.

The Oxford Book of English Verse
The Oxford Book of English Verse was first published in 1900 and it initiated the famous series of Oxford Books that has been running ever since. It quickly established itself as a classic and the foremost anthology of English poetry

The Enormous Room by E.E. Cummings
Drawing on his experiences in France as a volunteer ambulance driver, Cummings takes us through a series of mistakes that led to his being arrested for treason and sent to prison.  F. Scott Fitzgerald said ‘Of all the work by young men who have sprung up since 1920 one book survives—The Enormous Room by E.E. Cummings . . . Those few who cause books to live have not been able to endure the thought of its mortality’

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Wuthering Heights was Emily Brontë’s first and only published novel. After Emily’s death at age 30, her sister Charlotte edited the manuscript and arranged for it to be published as a posthumous second edition in 1850 (the previous edition has been published under a pseudonym).

Far Away and Long Ago by W.H. Hudson
William Henry Hudson was born in Buenos Aires and was an author, naturalist, and ornithologist. Hemingway refers to Hudson’s novel The Purple Land in The Sun Also Rises.

The American by Henry James
The American was original published as a serial in The Atlantic Monthly between 1876 and 1877. It tells of a classic collision of the New World with Old Europe, with James weaving a fable of thwarted desire that shifts between comedy, tragedy, romance, and melodrama.

After his visit with Hemingway, Samuelson stayed on in Florida. He lived aboard Hemingway’s boat and worked as the writer’s assistant. Samuelson’s adventures are detailed in With Hemingway: A Year in Key West and Cuba.

Image source: Open Culture

 

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6 Comments

  1. 23 October 2013 / 6:32 pm

    I’ve definitely read one of these, possibly two. I’m off to the library…

  2. Rhonda
    26 April 2014 / 11:48 am

    As a poet who is just delving into the world of creative writing – only feeling her way – I am encouraged by the advice of these famous writers. Thanks.

  3. 3 July 2014 / 8:57 am

    I respect Hemingway as a writer, but he eliminates from this list a writer who strongly influenced him, Gertrude Stein. Note that his reading list is 99% books by white Christian males. I would like to see more diversity in a list of books.

    Best wishes!

    Janet Ruth Heller, Ph.D.
    Author of the poetry books Exodus (WordTech Editions, 2014), Folk Concert: Changing Times (Anaphora Literary Press, 2012) and Traffic Stop (Finishing Line Press, 2011), the scholarly book Coleridge, Lamb, Hazlitt, and the Reader of Drama (University of Missouri Press, 1990), and the award-winning book for kids about bullying, How the Moon Regained Her Shape (Arbordale, 2006).
    Website is http://www.redroom.com/author/janet-ruth-heller

    • 12 August 2015 / 4:17 pm

      The lack of diversity bothers me too. Biggest problem with a single person giving out a general book list.

      • 22 October 2018 / 10:56 pm

        Please bear in mind that Hemingway created the book list 84 years ago. Published authors were overwhelmingly white and male.

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