For whatever reason — maybe it’s that I can start over fresh, or the inspiration from seeing other writers getting to work on new projects, or the long and cold winter — when a new year rolls around, I find myself reaching for the same books, over and over, by some of my favorite authors. These are generally the classics, such as Steinbeck or Hemingway books, but also include novels by contemporary writers like Philipp Meyer and Mitch Albom.
When it comes to my own writing, I think all of these writers have had an influence. For example, while I was writing Somewhere More Than Free, I was reading a lot of Hemingway — a man who has ties to the same area of northern Michigan that I love to visit. Before I wrote Between Two Slopes, I read Philipp Meyer’s American Rust twice.
Prior to reading books by any of these authors, I did what many readers do: Looked online for recommendations, whether that be in the form of individual reviews by notable publications, reviews from fans or lit website ranking lists. Now, some of these critiques were spot on — others, not so much.
I thought in the spirit of inspiration, I’d countdown some of my favorite Ernest Hemingway books. Whether you agree or disagree with my list, feel free to sound off in the comments below!
Honorable Mention: Hemingway In Love by A.E. Hotchner
Okay, this isn’t technically a Hemingway novel, but it was written by one of his close friends and it offers some interesting insight into the lost love that the famous author grappled with for most of his incredible life. It’s a quick memoir, but definitely worth a read.
The Top 5 Ernest Hemingway Books
By far Hemingway’s longest book on this list, For Whom the Bell Tolls tells the story of a young American soldier during the Spanish Civil War. Much like many of his other works, the characters and setting of this novel come from first-hand experience — as Hemingway spent time in the war as a correspondent. Similarly to The Old Man and the Sea, this book is written from a third-person narration.
All in all, it might be Hemingway’s best — if, of course, he didn’t write four other masterpieces.
Alright, I will rightfully admit that this book lands in the fourth spot on this list due to my northern Michigan bias. I picked up a copy of this one at the McLean and Eakin bookstore in Petoskey, Michigan, and this was the first Hemingway I ever read (believe it or not, we never read any Hemingway books in school). What first drew me to it were the short stories that took place in those same woods in which I vacationed as a kid. The Hemingway family cottage was on Walloon Lake, only a short drive from Petoskey.
Nick Adams is an interesting character and semi-autobiographical. Hemingway developed him in some of the first stories that he wrote while abroad in Paris, and Adams continued to appear in stories even shortly before the author’s death. If you haven’t read any of these, I recommend you give them a try.
If you’re interested in Hemingway’s connection to northern Michigan, I wrote an article about it last year.
McLean and Eakin has an entire section in the front left of the store that is solely dedicated to Ernest Hemingway, so when I was inspired to pick up a copy of A Farewell to Arms, I waited until my next trip to Petoskey to make the purchase.
This book surprised me. I had read plenty of reviews beforehand, and I had also read plenty of articles comparing Hemingway books to one another. I knew I was going to like this — I just didn’t realize how much.
The first-person narrative was likely the biggest reason for my enjoyment. Hemingway is famous for his unique voice, so when he writes in the first-person it feels like a more personal experience reading one of his books.
Though not quite as long as For Whom the Bell Tolls, this is still a more lengthy Hemingway book, so you have to be committed to reading his style before you open this one.
Winning him the Pulitzer Prize in 1953 and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954, The Old Man and the Sea is essential reading for any Hemingway fan — and it’s a breeze at only 128 pages. What stands officially as a novella at under thirty-thousand words, the book was the famed author’s final masterpiece published in his lifetime.
It tells the story of an old man who grapples with a giant marlin off the coast of Cuba. In many ways, it was the story of Hemingway coming to terms with the stage he’d entered in his writing career and life.
There’s not much more to say about this little book. If you haven’t read any Hemingway, maybe start here to get your feet wet.
Of his famous novels, this was the first one I read, which I thought made sense given that it was the first one he wrote. Hemingway was only 27 when the novel was published, giving rise to a promising literary career and introducing the world to a man who would become a global celebrity.
If you check out the honorable mention on this list, Hemingway In Love, A.E. Hotchner gives some interesting detail about the time period in Hemingway’s life when he was writing and publishing this book.
At the end of the day, this book — at least to me — felt the most real. It felt like he put himself into it completely and the result was a very personal novel that was uniquely Hemingway.