“All” of the Hemingway Novels, Objectively Ranked

I read a lot of Hemingway because when I was young because I needed another male role model and my father was altogether too good, proper, caring, and well-adjusted to seem dangerous. And so, I read Hemingway, starting with the Sun Also Rises and ending with Islands in the Stream. It wasn’t particularly rewarding and I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone. Hemingway has only one story: there’s an upperclass white male who feels guilt over a past romantic failure; this male is more skilled and authentic than everybody else because he sees the world how it really is; he is direct and insightful, and this insight gains him the abject admiration of the only realized female character; this female is subordinate to the male protagonist and exists only in relation to the man (often she wants to cut her hair to look like a man, this occurs in multiple texts, Hemingway had a peculiar preconception with subordinating and removing the fairer sex); the woman loves the man, and then the man dies protecting the woman, because the woman is generally too dumb or incapable to protect herself. Every fucking book.

But still, I read them, and for you, I ranked them. Not ranked: Islands in the Stream, Love at First Light, and his nonfiction writing.

  1. For Whom the Bell Tolls – this is the only great novel Hemingway ever wrote and anyone who tries to tell you otherwise is a lying high school teacher who, for the record, only studies pedestrian literature for the purposes of their education degree. Seriously, they take like four classes. Half of any 200-level literature course is spent making fun of the ‘Ed Kids’.
  2. A Moveable Feast (Revised) – Hemingway, towards the end of his life, was so concerned with his declining legacy (as well as his string of literary failures) that he fabricated a ‘biography’ wherein he recalls an assuredly false story of better-writer Scott Fitzgerald coming to visit a young Hemingway and complain that his (Scott’s) penis was too small. Narrator-Hemingway assures us that Scott’s dick was fine, just smaller than Hemingway’s. He wrote a whole book about this kind of shit. And it’s kind of great.
  3. A Farewell to Arms – Quick. Someone name the protagonist of this book. You can’t, can you? This novel has, perhaps, Hemingway’s blandest protagonist. He has no personality characteristics whatsoever except that he’s: A) Authentic, B) Sexually Magnetic, and C) Authentic. This novel is about a hundred times better if you read it as a prequel to Bell Tolls. This novel will also, forever be, ‘Exhibit A’ when discussing Hemingway’s failure to write female characters. The female character, Catherine, lives only to bang the protagonist, Blandy McBorington, and has no features outside of that. Sure, there’s some window-dressing (‘Catherine liked puppies and enjoyed the still summer morning blah blah’) but the prose, when trying to develop her, gets so lifeless and stillborn that it becomes almost impossible to read. Sometimes I pretend Catherine is a cactus, and it gives the scenes with her, at the very least, an element of physical comedy.
  4. A Moveable Feast (Original) – Damn, those revisions were good.
  5. The Old Man and The Sea – Oh, the fucking ego. This novella is about some sharks (critics) that rip apart the Old Man (Hemingway)’s amazing catch (his novel Across the River and Into the Trees) until there’s nothing left but the bones (Hemingway’s presumably barren bank account) and then the Old Man (Hemingway, again) collapses into a Christ-like fugue state. Yes, you read that right, not liking Across the River and Into the Trees is basically the same thing as murdering Jesus. Having said that, at least it’s a thematically focussed novel, as opposed to Sun (which doesn’t focus into itself until the final six or so pages) and Farewell (which sacrifices an entire novel of build up for a conclusion that’s equal parts saccharine and needless).
  6. In Our Time – Indian Camp is a legitimate masterpiece. The rest? Not so much. Hemingway was a wildly uneven short story writer; he tries to write around a problem (iceberg theory), but it always falls flat when the ice berg is just another boring fucking bull fight or veiled racism.
  7. All the Other Short Stories – They’re amalgamated here. Some are good (Francis Macomber, Clean Well-Lighted Place) most are not. Avoid most.
  8. The Sun Also Rises – It’s just not that interesting. A bunch of people meander around Europe for a bit and one of them boxes and then the female character has an affair with a bullfighter and spends the entire novel pining for the protagonist, Jake, who’s more authentic then all the other characters because he really sees the world, man, and was also in the war. The book doesn’t come into focus before the last couple of pages, which are wonderful, and almost make reading the whole thing worth it. Almost. It’s annoying because there is a really good short story in all this mess, Hemingway just felt like he needed a 300-page prologue.
  9. To Have and Have Not – This novel is the clean delineation between ‘worthwhile Hemingway’ and ‘Boring Fucking Pretentious Sexist Asshole Hemingway’. As it is, it’s somewhere in the middle. Is it worth reading? No. Is it interesting? No. Should it exist? Probably not. It follows a white male who’s more authentic than all the people around him because he really gets the world. He has a wife, who he’s estranged from, and everyone around him admires him, at least a little bit, because he really sees the world, man. Ugh. Next.
  10. The Torrents of Spring – I’ve seen this sort of writing a thousand times throughout my creative writing courses and it’s always a bad idea. This book has plot and characters and narrative and setting, but it’s really about the author, Hemingway, trying desperately to prove that he is: A) Not really trying and B) The smartest man in the room. He’s neither.
  11. Islands in the Stream – The most boring novel of all time. The first part has some nice prose, particularly in the first two pages, but that is the ONLY REDEEMING QUALITY OF THE ENTIRE NOVEL. It’s an exercise in literary excess and it’s ridiculously obvious why Hemingway never published it in his lifetime.
  12. Across the River and Into The Trees – This book is a horrible fucking joke and the worst novel, perhaps, ever written. It’s about this old man (Hemingway) who bangs this super-hot female character with no defining features and talks about the war. It’s tone-deaf and stupid and self-indulgent and deluded to the point that the cover, of most editions, has a literal penis on it. I can’t believe I read the whole thing. This book stole life away from me, life I will never get back. Fuck you, Hemingway, fuck you.
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