In 1917 young Edward Estlin Cummings went to France as a volunteer with a Red Cross ambulance unit on the western front. But he soon finds himself tossed into a French concentration camp at La Ferte-Mace in Normandy. The Enormous Room is an autobiographical recount of his vile, four-month confinement, and reads like a observation of absurdity.
Cummings, who's known for his unique language structure and avant-garde writing style, writes with such wit and candour. And despite the cruel and harsh conditions, there's no bitterness, no self-pity, no despair - just a playful observation for the different people he's been locked up with.
Stephen Crane is an underrated author these days. He may be forgotten by the times, but his mastery of the language and his acute observation of the human condition is what makes his stories so compelling. The Blue Hotel is straightforward as it is - four men sit around a table playing poker, but a Swede gets increasingly paranoid that they're out to get him. But as the story moves on, you'll see the layers of irony building up, and just how much of an amazing writer he is. Read Stephen Crane closely - you'll definitely be able to see how Hemingway was influenced by his writing style.
Hemingway listed The Open Boat as one of the must-reads on the list. Based on Crane's experience of surviving a shipwreck off the coast of Florida, The Open Boat has been consistently praised as an exemplary work of literary Naturalism. The dreary setting and the sheer despair add to the desperation of the characters - making this a fine work of naturalist writing. H. G. Wells himself considered "The Open Boat" to be "beyond all question, the crown of all [Crane's] work". And we definitely know Hemingway is surely a Crane fan - he's the only author with two works listed.
Henry James is as classic American as it gets, and so is The American. Having landed in Europe wanting to escape from the harsh realities of 19th Century American business, Christopher Newman finds himself both awed yet shocked by the complexities of Europe. Coupled with his dalliances and courtship of a young widow from an aristocratic Parisian family, Christopher is bumbles around Europe.
Henry James skillfully uses comedy and melodrama to juxtapose the American's brash, uncouth nature and the traditionalist views of the aristocratic French. It's a clash between the old world and the new, and Henry James, using his unique narrative voice, manages to add a depth to his narrative fiction.
W.H. Hudson's Far Away and Long Ago is his own autobiography - written just four years before his death. Despite his old age, Hudson vividly recounts his childhood years in Argentina, recalling them with such tiny detail. Far Away & Long Ago is also a look into the natural world around Hudson, who spent his youth studying the local flora and fauna and observing both natural and human dramas on what was then a lawless frontier. Yes, it's an autobiography, but he also writes about the grassy plains of Argentina with such passion that it makes this non-fiction writing a great insight into natural history.
It's clear how much Ernest Hemingway himself appreciated and respected Hudson. He famously referred to Hudson's book The Purple Land (1885) in his novel The Sun Also Rises and referred to Hudson's Far Away and Long Ago (1918) in his posthumous novel The Garden of Eden.
Wuthering Heights is melodrama, revenge, love and feminist writing all bundled into one tight plot spanning generations. It's a masterpiece and a classic, no doubt. Emily Bronte is the only female author on the list, and for good reason - Catherine Earnshaw, the main protagonist, still remains one of the best female characters in literature today.
Ernest Hemingway's The Garden of Eden features Catherine Bourne, who may have been inspired by Catherine Earnshaw.
Dostoevsky last and possibly greatest novel, The Brothers Karamazov, is a passionate philosophical novel set against a increasingly modernising 19th century Russia, and enters deeply into the ethical debates of God, free will, and morality.
And it isn't just Hemingway who recommend this book. Franz Kakfa felt immensely indebted to Dostoevsky for influencing his work, Sigmund Freud called it "the most magnificent novel ever written", and James Joyce said it "made a deep impression on me".
If The Open Boat is the mark of naturalist fiction, the Anna Karenina is the pinnacle of realist fiction. Dostoevsky himself said it was a "flawless as a work of art" while Vladimir Nabokov admired "the flawless magic of Tolstoy's style".
It's a tragic novel befitting of Russian literature but Tolstoy delves through themes of the Russian feudal system, religion, morality, gender and social class. Hemingway doesn't explicitly say why this novel is a must-read, but it's clear that Anna Karenina takes top marks in all aspects of writing.
Though many critics and reviews alike have mentioned that Of Human Bondage is an autobiographical masterpiece, Maugham himself stated, "This is a novel, not an autobiography, though much in it is autobiographical, more is pure invention." Regardless of its classification, one cannot deny the savage honesty that Maugham presents in its writing, stripping the characters to its core and dissecting their desire and motivations.
Of Human Bondage is one boy's journey to adulthood, and an understanding of sexual infatuations, human longing and connection. This one's a must-read for writers on how to understand the human condition, and how to write with stark honesty.
The Red and the Black is a classic story of one man's rise to the top of the social ladder through a combination of talent, hard work, deception, and hypocrisy. Yet what makes this a masterpiece if Stendhal's prose structure, which was definitely way ahead of its time. Because he delved deep into the feelings, thoughts, interior monologues of the characters, he's said to be the founder of the psychological novel.
James Joyce's treatment of Dubliners is highly naturalistic, preferring the reader to slowly absorb and read through the surroundings and the voice of the textual character. Written during the time where Irish nationalism was at its highest, Dubliners paints a collective, unified picture of what Dublin was at that time. He said, "For myself, I always write about Dublin, because if I can get to the heart of Dublin I can get to the heart of all the cities of the world. In the particular is contained the universal."
Joyce and Hemingway shared a unique friendship and records state that when Joyce and drinking buddy Ernest Hemingway faced a potential brawl, Joyce would hide behind his more imposing comrade and shout “Deal with him, Hemingway, deal with him!"
Where to start with praises for this book? It's not just Hemingway who recommends it. Henry James wrote: "Madame Bovary has a perfection that not only stamps it, but that makes it stand almost alone: it holds itself with such a supreme unapproachable assurance as both excites and defies judgment." Milan Kundera wrote, "Not until the work of Flaubert did prose lose the stigma of aesthetic inferiority. Ever since Madame Bovary, the art of the novel has been considered equal to the art of poetry."
Madame Bovary is Gustave Flaubert's first novel, and also perhaps one of the first rooted in literary realism. It's a commentary on the bourgeoisie in France, yet also about gap between an unsatisfied woman, and a clueless man who doesn't know how to please her.