The books every young writer should read, according to Ernest Hemingway

In 1934, a young man named Arnold Samuelson was fresh out of journalism school at the University of Minnesota when he read “One Way Across,” a short story by Ernest Hemingway.

The story later became part of Hemingway’s fourth novel “To Have and Have Not.”

Samuelson admired the story so much that he traveled from Minnesota to Florida to meet Hemingway and ask him for writing advice.

As chronicled in a 1935 article published in Esquire, “Monologue to the Maestro: A High Seas Letter,” (which you can read in full on the website of screenwriter Diane Drake) Hemingway told the young writer he should only compare himself to the great dead writers, not contemporary ones.

He then gave Samuelson a list of books to read, detailed in Samuelson’s memoir “With Hemingway: A Year in Key West and Cuba.” Open Culture — which offers free digital copies of most of the texts — collected the list, which can be found below.

‘Madame Bovary’ by Gustave Flaubert

This exquisite novel tells the story of one of the most compelling heroines in modern literature—Emma Bovary. Unhappily married to a devoted, clumsy provincial doctor, Emma revolts against the ordinariness of her life by pursuing voluptuous dreams of ecstasy and love. But her sensuous and sentimental desires lead her only to suffering corruption and downfall.

‘Anna Karenina’ by Leo Tolstoy

Considered by some to be the greatest novel ever written, Anna Karenina is Tolstoy’s classic tale of love and adultery set against the backdrop of high society in Moscow and Saint Petersburg.

A rich and complex masterpiece, the novel charts the disastrous course of a love affair between Anna, a beautiful married woman, and Count Vronsky, a wealthy army officer. Tolstoy seamlessly weaves together the lives of dozens of characters, and in doing so captures a breathtaking tapestry of late-nineteenth-century Russian society.

‘Dubliners’ by James Joyce

James Joyce’s “Dubliners” is a vivid and unflinching portrait of “dear dirty Dublin” at the turn of the twentieth century. These fifteen stories, including such unforgettable ones as “Araby,” “Grace,” and “The Dead,” delve into the heart of the city of Joyce’s birth, capturing the cadences of Dubliners’ speech and portraying with an almost brute realism their outer and inner lives.

‘Of Human Bondage’ by Somerset Maugham

Originally published in 1915, “Of Human Bondage” is a potent expression of the power of sexual obsession and of modern man’s yearning for freedom. This classic bildungsroman tells the story of Philip Carey, a sensitive boy born with a clubfoot who is orphaned and raised by a religious aunt and uncle.

Philip yearns for adventure, and at eighteen leaves home, eventually pursuing a career as an artist in Paris. When he returns to London to study medicine, he meets the androgynous but alluring Mildred and begins a doomed love affair that will change the course of his life.

‘The Red and Black’ by Stendhal

Handsome and ambitious, Julien Sorel 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. Julien ultimately commits a crime — out of passion, principle, or insanity — that will bring about his downfall. The Red and the Black is a lively, satirical picture of French Restoration society after Waterloo, riddled with corruption, greed, and ennui.

‘War and Peace’ by Leo Tolstoy

Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” tells the story of five families struggling for survival during Napoleon’s invasion of Russia. Among its many unforgettable characters is Prince Andrey Bolkonsky, a proud, dashing man who, despising the artifice of high society, joins the army to achieve glory.

Badly wounded at Austerlitz, he begins to discover the emptiness of everything to which he has devoted himself. His death scene is considered one of the greatest passages in Russian literature.

‘Buddenbrooks’ by Thomas Mann

Buddenbrooks, first published in Germany in 1900, when Mann was only twenty-five, has become a classic of modem literature — the story of four generations of a wealthy bourgeois family in northern Germany.

With consummate skill, Mann draws a rounded picture of middle-class life: births and christenings; marriages, divorces, and deaths; successes and failures. These commonplace occurrences, intrinsically the same, vary slightly as they recur in each succeeding generation.

‘Hail and Farewell’ by George Moore

Considered Moore’s masterpiece, this has greatly influenced both past and contemporary views of the Irish Literary Revival and its members — Yeats, Lady Gregory, G.W. Russell (AE), Plunkett, and Synge.

It is a prodigious work, containing Moore’s assessment of the Revival, the Abbey Theatre and its predecessors, as well as remarkable insights into not only the literature and art of the period, but also its social and religious life.

‘The Brothers Karamazov’ by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

When brutal landowner Fyodor Karamazov is murdered, the lives of his sons are changed irrevocably: Mitya, the sensualist, whose bitter rivalry with his father immediately places him under suspicion for parricide; Ivan, the intellectual, whose mental tortures drive him to breakdown; the spiritual Alyosha, who tries to heal the family’s rifts; and the shadowy figure of their bastard half-brother Smerdyakov.

‘The Enormous Room’ by E.E Cummings

“The Enormous Room” is a 1922 autobiographical novel by the poet and novelist E. E. Cummings about his temporary imprisonment in France during World War I. Cummings served as an ambulance driver during the war.

In late August 1917 his friend and colleague, William Slater Brown, were arrested by French authorities as a result of anti-war sentiments B. had expressed in some letters. When questioned, Cummings stood by his friend and was also arrested.

‘Wuthering Heights’ by Emily Bronte

Lockwood, the new tenant of Thrushcross Grange, situated on the bleak Yorkshire moors, is forced to seek shelter one night at Wuthering Heights, the home of his landlord. There he discovers the history of the tempestuous events that took place years before.

‘Far Away and Long Ago’ by W.H. Hudson

William Henry Hudson was an author, naturalist, and ornithologist. Life and work: Hudson was born in the borough of Quilmes, now Florencio Varela of the greater Buenos Aires, in Buenos Aires Province, Argentina.

He spent his youth studying the local flora and fauna and observing both natural and human dramas on what was then a lawless frontier.

‘The American’ by Henry James

“The American” by Henry James is an uneasy combination of social comedy and melodrama concerning the adventures and misadventures of Christopher Newman, an essentially good-hearted but rather gauche American businessman on his first tour of Europe.

Newman is looking for a world different from the simple, harsh realities of 19th-century American business. He encounters both the beauty and the ugliness of Europe, and learns not to take either for granted. The core of the novel concerns Newman’s courtship of a young widow from an aristocratic Parisian family.


Written by Catherine Rice


Published by oranabutterfly

Just a woman curating this life one blog post at a time.

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