Professor Wu's Rulebook

16 books all writers should read – according to Hemingway


As any aspiring writer or artist will attest, there will always be a natural desire to meet those whose creative works have inspired you. The longing to meet and converse with the men and women whose artistic works have connected with you on some biological – perhaps even ethereal – level, is one that many of us will sadly never see fulfilled; especially since, unfortunately, many of those great cultural titans are no longer with us (not to bring the mood down here at all).

Yet in 1934, a 22-year old aspiring writer named Arnold Samuelson was granted this most precious of meetings. Having set out with one goal – to meet Ernest Hemingway and become his literary apprentice – this young son of Norwegian immigrant wheat farmers spent almost an entire year staying with one of the most important writers of the 20th century.

“It seemed like a damn fool thing to do,” Samuelson recalled, “but a twenty-two-year-old tramp during the Great Depression didn’t have much reason for what he did.”

Yet Samuelson’s quest was not in vain. Shortly after the young man’s arrival in Key West, Hemingway got right down to granting him what he had traveled there seeking. In one of their first exchanges, he hands Samuelson a handwritten list and instructs him:

“Here’s a list of books any writer should have read as a 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.”

The full list is here below:


  1. The Blue Hotel(public library) by Stephen Crane
  2. The Open Boat(public library) by Stephen Crane
  3. Madame Bovary(free ebook | public library) by Gustave Flaubert
  4. Dubliners(public library) by James Joyce
  5. The Red and the Black(public library) by Stendhal
  6. Of Human Bondage(free ebook | public library) by  Somerset Maugham
  7. Anna Karenina(free ebook | public library) by Leo Tolstoy
  8. War and Peace(free ebook | public library) by Leo Tolstoy
  9. Buddenbrooks(public library) by Thomas Mann
  10. Hail and Farewell(public library) by George Moore
  11. The Brothers Karamazov(public library) by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  12. The Oxford Book of English Verse(public library)
  13. The Enormous Room(public library) by E. Cummings
  14. Wuthering Heights(free ebookpublic library) by Emily Brontë
  15. Far Away and Long Ago(free ebookpublic library) by H. Hudson
  16. The American(free ebookpublic library) by Henry James


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: