In the 1930s, Ernest Hemingway wrote a series of short pieces for Esquire magazine called the “Key West Letters.” One of those pieces, the 1935 “Remembering Shooting-Flying” has an interesting premise—Hemingway claims that remembering and writing about shooting are more pleasurable than shooting itself. Or at least that he’d rather remember shooting pheasant than actually shoot clay pigeons. In the next paragraph, this nostalgia for good shooting gets tied up with good books, such that the essay betrays its true desire—to be a meditation on reading. Before he catches himself and gets back on topic, Hemingway launches into a long parenthetical:
I would rather read again for the first time Anna Karenina, Far Away and Long Ago, Buddenbrooks, Wuthering Heights, Madame Bovary, War and Peace, A Sportsman’s Sketches, The Brothers Karamazov, Hail and Farewell, Huckleberry Finn, Winesburg, Ohio, La Reine Margot, La Maison Tellier, Le Rouge et le Noire, La Chartreuse de Parme, Dubliners, Yeat’s Autobiographies and a few others than have an assured income of a million dollars a year.
Is this hyperbole? Literary bluster? The genuine desire to encounter again “for the first time” the literature that transformed and widened his world? Maybe all of the above. Better to stay home and remember the greats—write about them and hope for a time when they’re new again—than to fill one’s time with mediocre and forgettable books. At least that seems to be his argument. And while I’m sure you have your own lists (feel free to add them to the comments section below!), some of you may wish to take a shot at Hemingway’s and savor those works that for him overshadowed nearly every other.
To that end, we’ve compiled a list of the books he names, with links to online texts and audio, where available. Enjoy them for the first time, or read (and listen) to them once again. And remember that the texts are permanently housed in our collections of Free Book Audio Books and Free eBooks.
Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann (eBook)
A Sportsman’s Sketches by Ivan Turgenev (eBook)
Hail and Farewell by George Moore (eBook)
Queen Margot by Alexandre Dumas (eBook)
La Maison Tellier by Guy de Maupassant (eBook)
La Chartreuse de Parme by Stendhal (eBook)
Reveries over Childhood and Youth by William Butler Yeats (eBook)
The Trembling of the Veil by William Butler Yeats (eBook)
via Lists of Note