Firstly, he warned not to compete against contemporary authors, but rather writers of the past that haven't yet been forgotten. Samuelson told Hemingway that he had enjoyed Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped and Henry David Thoreau’s Walden. “Ever read War and Peace?”, asked Hemingway.
Samuelson replied that he had not, to which Hemingway said, “That’s a damned good book. You ought to read it. We’ll go up to my workshop and I’ll make out a list you ought to read.”
And so Samuelson left Hemingway's home with a list of fourteen novels and two short stories to get started on. What better list to follow when choosing our own reading resolutions for 2015 and onwards?
|Ernest Hemingway at the Finca Vigia, Cuba, in 1946.|
Hemingway handed Samuelson a copy of Stephen Crane's short stories before he left his home, alongside a copy of A Farewell to Arms (that he politely asked to be returned after he had read it).
"The Open Boat", found in the same collection as "The Blue Hotel", is based on the 1896 sinking of a ship on which the author himself was a passenger: an intriguingly harrowing story that helped marked the author as one of the most innovative of his generation.
“Human speech is like a cracked kettle on which we tap crude rhythms for bears to dance to, while we long to make music that will melt the stars.”
|Children's party, Dublin (1920s)|
“I am mad, I am going under, I must follow the advice of a friend, and pay no heed to myself.”
His habit of reading isolated him: it became such a need that after being in company for some time he grew tired and restless; he was vain of the wider knowledge he had acquired from the perusal of so many books, his mind was alert, and he had not the skill to hide his contempt for his companions' stupidity.
|Tolstoy with wife Sofya, his son, and his dog (c. 1870-90)|
“Often, the outward and visible material signs and symbols of happiness and success only show themselves when the process of decline has already set in. The outer manifestations take time - like the light of that star up there, which may in reality be already quenched, when it looks to us to be shining its brightest.”
|Manet - George Moore ou café (1878-9)|
A book that stands in a league of its own - unsettling, philosophical, and simply marvellous.
“The mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive, but in finding something to live for.”
The Enormous Room is the account of the famous poet's four-month confinement: a story of journeying into the greatest deprivation while retaining a degree of hope.
A novel that can't be read merely once. Also, somewhat surprisingly, a reminder of the virtues of waking early:
“A person who has not done one half his day's work by ten o'clock, runs a chance of leaving the other half undone.”
|The Brontë sisters, painted by their brother Branwell, c. 1834|
It had come back to him simply that what he had been looking at all summer was a very rich and beautiful world, and that it had not all been made by sharp railroad men and stock-brokers.
Hemingway's list (among a great range of similar ones) can be found in the brilliant Lists of Note anthology, compiled by Shaun Usher. You can also read more about Samuelson's meeting with Ernest Hemingway here, alongside the story of how he remarkably became the author's assistant for a year, during which time he wrote the memoir "With Hemingway: A Year in Key West and Cuba".