Hemingway’s Reading List for Aspiring Writers

Straight from the hand of Papa himself comes a list of 16 must-read books for aspiring writers everywhere.

Miss Rosenby Miss Rosen
Photo: Ernest Hemingway and Carlos Gutierrez aboard Hemingway’s boat Pilar, 1934 (detail). Photograph in the Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In 1934, 22-year-old aspiring writer Arnold Samuelson hopped a ride on top of a coal car on a freight train bound from Minnesota to Key West. His mission: to meet Ernest Hemingway. Samuelson had just completed his degree in journalism at the University of Minnesota, but refused to pay the $5 diploma fee—recognizing the jig for what it was and realizing his money would be better spent during the Great Depression in pursuit of his literary hero.

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Down in Key West, Samuelson caught the biggest fish of them all. For a year, he was mentored by the great Hemingway and became the writer’s only true protégé. When Samuelson died in 1981, his daughter discovered a manuscript her father had wrote about all that he had discovered about life with Papa. The manuscript was published as With Hemingway: A Year in Key West and Cuba, and chronicles all that he had learned from the legendary man of letters.

Hemingway posing for a dust jacket photo by Lloyd Arnold for the first edition of "For Whom the Bell Tolls", at the Sun Valley Lodge, Idaho, late 1939. Photo by Lloyd Arnold. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Hemingway posing for a dust jacket photo by Lloyd Arnold for the first edition of “For Whom the Bell Tolls”, at the Sun Valley Lodge, Idaho, late 1939. Photo by Lloyd Arnold. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Among the many gems scattered throughout the book is a handwritten list of books that Hemingway recommended with the words, “Here’s a list of books any writer should have read as part of his education… If you haven’t read these, you just aren’t educated. They represent different types of writing. Some may bore you, others might inspire you and others are so beautifully written they’ll make you feel it’s hopeless for you to try to write.”

Crave has compiled the list along with links to purchase the books, or obtain free ebooks where available. Also included is information on Samuelson’s book, which is filled with gold nuggets of wisdom from the man who modernized literature. Although it is out of print, it’s a tremendous volume for anyone who is looking for unfettered insights into how to live and work as a writer.


Miss Rosen is a journalist covering art, photography, culture, and books. Her byline has appeared in L’Uomo Vogue, Vogue Online, Whitewall, The Undefeated, Dazed Digital, Jocks and Nerds, and L’Oeil de la Photographie. Follow her on Twitter @Miss_Rosen.