Tag Archives: Ernest Hemingway

100 Books on a list of her own

I’ve been compiling this Zirro-centric Top 100 Books list for over a week now. It’s getting there! Not done, but thought I’d share the WIP.

I’ve got a side list going of nonfiction. You might argue that one or two of these titles belong on that list! Please advise or vent as you see fit.

Many of the hundred listed are authors, not books— if you always hear about Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain, but then Hemingway comes along and recommends Buddenkrooks, which do you choose?

  1. The Quran
  2. The Bible
  3. Bhagavad Gita
  4. Homer, The Iliad, The Odyssey
  5. Aeschylus, Agamemnon
  6. Virgil, The Aeneid
  7. Sophocles, The Oedipus Trilogy: Antigone, Oedipus Rex, Oedipus at Colonus
  8. Beowulf
  9. Song of Roland
  10. The Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer
  11. Edmund Spenser (The Faerie Queene 1590)
  12. William Shakespeare
  13. Christopher Marlowe, Doctor Faustus
  14. Goethe, Faust
  15. Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote (1605)
  16. Paradise Lost, John Milton (1667)
  17. Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe (1719), Moll Flanders (1722)
  18. Poor Richard’s Almanack, Benjamin Franklin
  19. Voltaire, Candide 1759
  20. Jean-Jacque Rousseau (Emile) 1762
  21. William Wordsworth
  22. Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Emma, Persuasion
  23. Frankenstein, Mary Shelley 1818
  24. Don Juan, Lord Byron 1819-1824
  25. Aleksandr Pushkin, Eugene Onegin (1825)
  26. Mark Twain, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court
  27. Henry James, The American, Daisy Miller, The Turn of the Screw
  28. Stendhal, The Red and the Black
  29. Honoré de Balzac
  30. Ralph Waldo Emerson 1830s
  31. Edgar Allan Poe, 1830s-40s
  32. Victor Hugo, Les Miserables (1862), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1831)
  33. Alexander Dumas, The Three Musketeers, The Count of Monte Cristo (1844)
  34. Margaret Fuller 1845
  35. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte 1847
  36. Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights 1847
  37. Lord Tennyson, In Memoriam 1849
  38. Henry David Thoreau 1840s,1850s
  39. Nathaniel Hawthorne Young Goodman Brown 1835, The Scarlet Letter 1850, The House of Seven Gables 1851
  40. Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852)
  41. Herman Melville, Moby Dick, Billy Budd 1850s
  42. Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass 1855
  43. Robert Browning, Men and Women 1855
  44. Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary
  45. Wilkie Collins, The Woman in White, The Moonstone 1860s
  46. Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (1859), Great Expectations (1860)
  47. George Eliot, Middlemarch
  48. Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Crime and Punishment (1866)
  49. Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina, War and Peace
  50. Chekhov, the Short Story master
  51. Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island (1883), Kidnapped (1886)
  52. Thomas Hardy, Tess of the D’Urbervilles (1891), Far From the Madding Crowd
  53. Edmond Rostand, Cyrano de Bergerac
  54. Henrik Ibsen, Hedda Gabler 1891, A Doll’s House, Ghosts, An Enemy of the People
  55. Emile Zola
  56. Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Ernest, The Picture of Dorian Gray
  57. Stephen Crane, The Red Badge of Courage (1895) The Blue Hotel, The Open Boat
  58. Frank Norris, McTeague (1899)
  59. Henry James, Daisy Miller, Portrait of a Lady, The Turn of the Screw
  60. H. G. Wells, War of the Worlds (1898), The Time Machine (1895)
  61. Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness, Lord Jim
  62. Theodore Dreiser, Sister Carrie (1900)
  63. Oxford Book of English Verse 1250-1900 (pub. 1900)
  64. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Hound of the Baskervilles 1901, Sherlock Holmes 1887
  65. Jack London, The Call of the Wild (1903)
  66. William Henry Hudson, Green Mansions (1904), Far Away & Long Ago, Purple Land
  67. Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own (1929)
  68. Edith Wharton, The House of Mirth (1905), Ethan Frome (1911), The Age of Innocence
  69. E. M. Forster, Howard’s End (1910), Passage to India, A Room with a View
  70. Willa Cather, O Pioneers! (1913), My Antonia (1918)
  71. Ford Madox Ford, The Good Soldier (1915)
  72. Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis (1915), The Trial (1925)
  73. James Joyce, Dubliners 1914 – Finnegan’s Wake 1939
  74. Vicente Blasco Ibanez, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1916)
  75. Lytton Strachey, Eminent Victorians (1918)
  76. Sherwood Anderson, Winesburg, Ohio (1919)
  77. T. S. Eliot, (Prufrock and Other Observations, The Waste Land, The Hollow Men)
  78. Robert Frost, Collected Poems
  79. ee cummings, the enormous room
  80. Sinclair Lewis, Main Street (1920), Babbitt (1922)
  81. F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby (1925)
  82. William Butler Yeats, The Tower (1928)
  83. Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms, The Sun Also Rises, The Old Man and the Sea 1920s-1950s
  84. William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury (1929)
  85. Thomas Mann, Magic Mountain, Buddenkrooks
  86. Of Human Bondage, Somerset Maugham
  87. Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged,
  88. Paul Sartre, Nausea (1938)
  89. John Steinbeck, Of Mice and Men (1937), The Grapes of Wrath (1939)
  90. Albert Camus, The Stranger (1942)
  91. Ezra Pound, The Cantos of Ezra Pound (1948)
  92. Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot (1949)
  93. J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye (1951), Nine Stories (1953)
  94. Flannery O’Connor, A Good Man is Hard to Find (1955)
  95. Nabokov, Lolita (1955), Pale Fire
  96. Allen Ginsberg, Howl (1956)
  97. Jack Kerouac, On the Road (1957)
  98. William S. Burroughs, Naked Lunch (1959)
  99. Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird (1960)
  100. Joseph Heller, Catch-22 (1961)

I think I’m going to be reading for a very long time, and this list didn’t even make it through the post-moderns.

What do you think? Anything or anyone I’ve shockingly overlooked? Any you’d skip?

Previous related posts:
Cooking Up My Own Top 100


Sadly, Hadley Richardson

Paris WifeA two word review of The Paris Wife, by Paula McLain:


“Hem’s Hadley.”

Yep, that pretty well sums it up. Thanks for reading.


Just kidding!

Much the same as Z was more about Scott Fitzgerald than Zelda, The Paris Wife is way more about Ernest Hemingway than it is about his first wife, Hadley.


Hadley is the narrator, but she is not the protagonist, hero or star of the book in any sense. She sits on the sidelines and watches. Maybe McLain started writing about her, assuming she’d be a compelling character, and realized too late there was nothing of genuine interest about Hadley at all. It’s not badly written, but she does little besides tell us what Hemingway thought.


“I want to write one true sentence,” he said. “If I can write one sentence, simple and true, every day, I’ll be satisfied.”

Corey Stoll dans le rôle d’Ernest Hemingway, M...
“No subject is terrible if the story is true, if the prose is clean and honest, if it affirms courage and grace under pressure.”

Yep, that’s exactly what I’d imagine Hemingway saying— and in exactly the serious, self-conscious delivery of actor Corey Stoll in Midnight in Paris. That was funny!


Every time it looked like Sadly Hadley was about to change, to stick up for herself, to actually do something, she disappointed me.

She went on for pages about fashion and hairstyles, insisting she hated them but refusing to shut up about them.

Frustratingly, she kept interrupting Hemingway for waffles when he was trying to write his one true sentence for the day.

She was going to play a piano concert— finally! she’s doing something! —no, wait; she’s backed out.

Maddeningly, she even lay there pretending not to notice her so-called friend had climbed into bed to shag her husband. That’s no frolicsome threesome. That’s a pathetic third wheel.


Hadley commanded no respect, maybe because she didn’t respect herself. She was weak, afraid to be a person, unwilling to discover any interests of her own, and content to find her identity in her husband (first Hemingway, then Paul Mowrer a few months after the divorce).

While I could identify with her codependent tendencies, I didn’t like them in Hadley any better than I do in myself, and I felt really angry at her for not trying. Even at the very end of the book, she says, “I’m not sure what I’m meant to have. Or be for that matter.”

Really? Over 300 pages about a woman who doesn’t know what she wants or even who she is?

Gladly, I came away newly resolved to keep searching for my true identity, and round-aboutly inspired to never be a doormat again. And for the record, Punk, if any woman climbs into my bed with my husband, you better believe I will be on that thing like white on rice, and it will most assuredly NOT be frolicsome.

And that is my one simple and true sentence for today.


Making the scene

Week 13: Picture This

I got busy, or lazy, and neglected to chronicle the lucky thirteenth week of the novel writing program (Is Life Like This?) on Monday. Then this crazy Micharctica weather. Our intrawebs connection is scared of thunderstorms. But today we’re back to snow, so it’s all good.

Right. I’ll just chisel away these frozen tears before I continue…

Ahem. Working on scene– specifically, the opening scene– took me to the halfway point. I’m halfway there. A semi-novelist!

NighthawksDufresne contrasts scene with summary, but then as his example he uses the first lines of Hemingway’s “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.” Which opens with… summary.

Ha! Just goes to show ya, you can show and tell if you’re a boss like Hemingway.

Scenes… do at least two of the following: advance the plot, reveal character, and express theme. And maybe they also establish a particular tone or amplify earlier images.
–John Dufresne

Writing scenes is tricky business for this journalista. A scene shows particular, emotion driven, dynamic, dramatic actions as they happen, in a focused, intimate present-tense (at least in feel) manner. Unlike what I do. Reporting is summary. Grabbing the gist of what happened in the past and summing it up in a distant, static, explanatory fashion.

As it happened, this week I had deadlines with the newspaper, and happily I find the novel is beginning to inform my journalism. I actually sneaked some dialogue into an article! Set the scene, gave each character a unique voice, the whole nine yards.

Back to the novel itself, I wrote the scene I felt defined the start of the story. But the Cat got me reconsidering. This scene drops the reader right into the action– what Blake Snyder would call the catalyst, which he reckons ought to come only after the “before” situation of the main character has been set up.

So I’m open to the idea that my scene will end up ten pages in, after another scene sets up my reader to know and hopefully care about the protagonist. Dufresne says “each of these scenes is a microcosm of the whole novel.” The opener must mirror the novel as a whole, in its own little story arc complete with beginning, middle, end; character conflict; and change. So as I continue to plot, I’m auditioning each scene as a potential Page 1 opener.

Like a boss.

To Have and Have Not

ToHaveAndHaveNotTo Have and Have Not, written by Ernest Hemingway in 1937, tells the story of Harry Morgan, an honest middle aged boat owner chartering swordfishing trips for wealthy clients in Cuba, until one client doesn’t pay and he resorts to smuggling and rum running in order to take home a paycheck.

The theme is right there in the title: the haves and the have nots. And in this story, the ones who have money have the most problems and the ones who don’t have the most sense.

“You called me a halfwit but I’ll see you get a full day’s charter.”

I read this book to determine why it works, to see how he organized scenes within the story, how the B story supports and meshes with the A story, and above all to analyze dialogue. I’m a halfwit when it comes to writing conversations, but Hemingway is known for strong dialogue and this is considered his best when it comes to the way the characters interact.

“You mustn’t mind her. She’s my wife,” the tall tourist said. “Have you two met?”
“Oh, nerts to him and double nerts to meeting him,” said the wife. “How do you do?”
“Not so badly,” said the green-visored man. “How do you do?”
“She does marvelously, the tall one said. “You ought to see her.”

Fun, right?

Hemingway often stinks at writing women. I thought so in high school and I still think so now.
I do like the way he writes about them, though.

…two or three of the hardest working married women in town
used to be sporting women
and this was a hard working woman, I tell you that.

He’s definitely stronger at characterizing men, but sometimes everyone talks the same.

“I tell you true.”
“It’s a pretty day all right.”
“Don’t get plugged.”

All fine things to say, if one guy says them. But when three of them are saying it, it feels amateur. Like he couldn’t think of something unique, to give each character his or her own voice. Dang if I didn’t just call Ernest Hemingway an amateur. I’m surprised I wasn’t struck by lightning.

Chapter 21 is the best exchange in the entire book. It’s flat out awe inspiring (with the exception of “hadn’t of” — but I won’t tempt the writing gods again by mentioning it).

“Don’t strut your illiteracy, dear.”

This is what they’re talking about when they talk about Hemingway’s genius. The scene is a realistic, convincingly written argument between Richard Gordon and his wife Helen. She is icy to start, even sarcastic. He’s defensive. He calls her names. She cries. She laughs, but doesn’t mean to. It makes her more determined to leave him. He doesn’t believe her. She has almost a monologue– several long paragraphs where she’s really letting him have it. (Okay, that bit is true to life. I’m pretty sure I out-shout Punk when we argue. So maybe Papa can write the ladies after all.)
Any way, Richard slaps her. Then we see inside his head, see the sadness, the way everything had gone wrong. She sits quietly, apologetic but insisting it is truly over. The final paragraph breaks your heart:

“Good-by,” she said, and he saw her face he always loved so much, that crying never spoiled, and her curly black hair… and he didn’t see the rest of her that he’d loved so much and thought he had pleased, but evidently hadn’t been any good to, that was all below the table, and as he went out the door she was looking at him across the table; and her chin was in her hands; and she was crying.

There’s plenty of good non-dialogue writing, too. Here are a few favorites:

I’ve got to think right all the time. I can’t make a mistake. Not a mistake. Not once. Well, I got something to think about now all right. Something to do and something to think about besides wondering what the hell’s going to happen.

He had abandoned anger, hatred and any dignity as luxuries, now, and had started to plan.

The wake ran into bubbling curves toward where the light, astern now, showed brown, conical and thinly latticed on the horizon.

Nice emotion, good characterization, strong description of setting.

Ernest Hemingway at the Finca Vigia, Cuba - NA...

Another thing I liked is the way Hemingway uses ambiguity. His genius lies not just in his economy of words, but in his ability to say so many things simultaneously with those few words. He makes sure we get a full day’s charter in this scene where Harry Morgan is about to kill some revolutionaries who are out to get him. After going below deck to get the gun, take a swallow of rum and remember his fallen mate, he says,

“what I’d give for another one. Well, there isn’t any other one now.”

Is Harry talking about another clip in his gun, another guy on his side, another swig of Bacardi, or his missing arm? We know from what’s gone before that it’s got to be all of the above. Because Hemingway is decidedly not an amateur.

Bad writing my brains out

I finally watched Bad Writing. There is definitely some bad poetry there! Vernon Lott, who “in the autumn of his twentieth year” was the world’s greatest poet, wrote thousands of lines about just three subjects: cigarettes, wine and ennui.
I’m not sure he used the word ennui.
So maybe he’s no poet, but there’s good stuff in this documentary! Lots of interviews with interesting people who happen to write great stuff. Watch it, and you might meet a new favorite author or get to know one you already like a little bit better.
For example, I wish Margaret Atwood was related to me. She was very reassuring, admitting that her own teenage writing was just that– teenage writing, “and that’s not bad.” Thanks for the encouragement, Auntie Mags! More tea?
I will forgive George Saunders for his cringe-worthy comments about his man crush on Ernest Hemingway, because so much of the other stuff he said was insightful. I’ve never read his stories, but I will now.
Jillian Weise, who is actually a really good poet, commented on the irrelevance of writing about archaic things, like roses, and asked, “Why doesn’t anyone write a poem about Skype?”
Yeah, relevant poetry. Exactly.
I would like to dedicate the following poem:
  • to Auntie Mags, because I was young when I wrote it and that’s okay
  • to Jillian, because it’s relevant (or was circa 1995)
  • and to Vernon, because it’s bad.


(Photo credit: lambdachialpha)
White Hat
It’s neon white, glows in the night
Shows my sideburns off just right
I think somebody stole my favorite hat.
I’ve got a date, I’ll be out late
I won’t feel safe to walk my date
Back home to Sigma Chi without my hat!
It’s really rad, goes with plaid
And every pair of wind pants that I have.
What am I supposed to wear without my hat?
The guys will be so mad at me
For losing the symbol of our fraternity
So help me out and bring me back my hat.
I’m a cool dude, don’t wanna be rude
But if I see you with it you’ll get sued.
Nothing is worth more than my white hat.
It could have been Mike or maybe a Pike
I don’t know— they we all look alike!
And I’m the only one without a hat.