10 reasons every man should read Ernest Hemingway

It's the birthday of one of literature's greatest writers today; the perfect occasion to get stuck in to some of the best novels of all time.

If ever there was a time to pick up a new book, it would be summer. These long, hazy, heady days were made for spine-cracking and page-turning; with the harsh sun making any other outdoor pastime far too arduous. 

But where to start on the bookshelf? We’d suggest Ernest Hemingway — especially as 2021 marks 60 years since the famous author’s death. And reading Hemingway is no chore. On the contrary, it’s a joy — thanks to the icon’s characteristically clipped sentences and no-nonsense prose. Below, we’ve rounded up 10 reasons every man should read Hemingway…

1. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954

If the guy won a Nobel Prize, it’s safe to say he’s pretty good. More than pretty good, actually; it’s safe to say he’s one of the all-time greats. If your bookshelf is currently lacking any Nobel Prize winners, we’d recommend adding to it just as soon as you can, to give it some extra credos — and you may want to start with The Old Man and the Sea, as that one played a central role in his Nobel Prize win.

2. He’s got a famously sparse writing style

If you’re thinking that books from the same era as Hemingway’s tend to be hopelessly dense, excessively overcomplicated and ridiculously lyrical, you’d be right. But Hemingway isn’t like that. He’s the exception — in fact, such an exception that his simple, succinct writing style is one of the most famous things about him. You won’t need to worry about ploughing through pages and pages of heavy duty rambling; he gets straight to the point.

3. He wrote short stories, too

Of course, you may be far too concerned with the recent ‘Freedom Day’, and all the myriad celebratory activities the day in question made possible, to think about starting a new novel. If you’re thinking that’s what lockdown was for; why not compromise this summer with a short story by Hemingway? You’ll rattle through one or two just while on the tube; and his short stories are every bit as brilliant as his longer works.

4. He worked his way up

Our favourite sort of successful person is one who’s worked his way up: and this is certainly true of Hemingway. Now, he’s one of the greatest writers who ever lived; but he worked hard to get there. He started writing in high school, and worked odd jobs for a while in Chicago before landing some valuable journalism work. He was then encouraged by some other literary greats (including F. Scott Fitzgerald) to keep going — and eventually, he started making a name for himself as a novelist.

5. He had a fascinating life outside of his writing

It’s not all about the novels, when it comes to Hemingway — he experienced more in a few short years than most of us will experience in a lifetime. He drove ambulances for the American Red Cross during World War I (having been rejected for military service due to a defective eye); and before he turned 19, he was injured on the Austro-Italian front, after which he was decorated for heroism. And that’s just the start – we could write pages on his work as a foreign correspondent.

6. He was an active, sporting gentleman

We all tend to think of great novelists as pasty, indoors types; curled over their typewriters in an attitude of intellectual despondence having not been outdoors or walked more than 10 steps for weeks. Not so, when it comes to Hemingway. He had a famous love of outdoor sports — deep sea fishing, for one — so if you’re thinking you’d much rather be pursuing an active pursuit than reading a novel, try reading some Hemingway anyway. You may even pick up some tips.

7. His work belies his public persona

Where you should not pick up tips, however, is the man’s public persona. As you likely already know, Hemingway has often been effectively described as an emblem of hyper-masculinity. He was a womaniser; a heavy drinker; a decorated war hero; a lover of bullfighting and ‘masculine’ sports — it’s all there. We don’t need to tell you how toxic such a persona can be, and we certainly don’t endorse the problematic elements of Hemingway’s lifestyle and treatment of others.

But according to the makers of a six-part documentary on Hemingway’s life, Hemingway was more than a poster boy for hypermasculinity — delving into, for example, gender fluidity in his writing.

8. He was a dedicated fan of understatement

We’re big advocates of the phrase ‘less is more’: and so was Hemingway. With his sparse writing style came a propensity for understatement — you’ll find a refreshing lack of superlatives and unnecessary paragraphs in Hemingway’s texts. Just the thing to keep you occupied on your commute, as you return to the office.

9. His humanity manifests in his writing

Another thing the aforementioned documentary explores is Hemingway’s deep — and often startling — complexity. He was not a simple fellow, by any means: he was vastly complex. Film-maker Ken Burns describes Hemingway as “tantalisingly complicated, which is what we like, because it is faithful to human beings”. It’s what we like, too — and it was doubtless this complexity that made Hemingway’s novels as exceptional as they are. And on that note…

10. He wrote some of the greatest novels of all time

This point probably seems obvious by now; but if you’re still on the fence when it comes to Hemingway, we feel it’s worth reiterating. Hemingway truly was a master of his craft, and anyone who reads his work is guaranteed to be moved, affected and likely to look at the world in a whole new way (plus, it’ll make your bookshelf look infinitely more cultured). We’d suggest starting with A Farewell to Arms or The Sun Also Rises: trust us, you won’t regret it.

Looking to immerse yourself even further in all things culture? Here’s every island James Bond has ever visited (fictional or otherwise)

Become a Gentleman’s Journal member. Find out more here.

Further Reading