What Were Ernest Hemingway’s Parisian Reading Habits?

Newly digitized information offers some insight

Ernest Hemingway
Ernest Hemingway and Carlos Gutierrez aboard Hemingway's boat, the Pilar, 1934.
John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum

For some enthusiasts, just reading the work of their favorite writer isn’t enough. Sometimes there’s a way to better understand how that writer’s mind worked. It what leads some to check out collected diaries or letters, in the event that those are published. Some museums and libraries go even deeper than that: Austin’s Harry Ransom Center recently opened an exhibit which included the correspondence of Gabriel García Márquez, for instance.

Exhibits like these can be a revelation, revealing the inner thoughts and working processes of some of the world’s most beloved authors. At The Guardian, Alison Flood has the details on another trove of information that was recently unearthed.

A number of records from the Parisian bookstore Shakespeare and Company were recently digitized, via a project at Princeton University. This includes records from its time as a lending library, when the likes of Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein and Walter Benjamin all checked books in and out.

What can these records show us about Hemingway’s reading habits? Plenty, it turns out.

The records reveal that Hemingway borrowed more than 90 books, from PT Barnum’s autobiography to Lady Chatterley’s Lover, which he checked out for eight days in September 1929 – the year DH Lawrence’s novel first appeared in France, 30 years before it was published in the US. In 1926, he borrowed a copy of Tom Jones’s Bull Fighting – the running of the bulls played a central part in his 1926 novel The Sun Also Rises.

Hemingway might be the best known member of the lending library, but he’s far from the only one — and the records that have been digitized offer fascinating insights about figures both famous and obscure. It’s a welcome glimpse at literary history.

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