We’ll Always Have Paris: Five Books About Hemingway’s Greatest Era

The 1920s formed the writer we know today

Paul Combs

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Hemingway in Paris, 1924 (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

If you’ve read my ramblings over the past three years, you know most of my heroes: John Wayne, Steve McQueen, Bill Murray, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and a guy named Springsteen. As a writer, however, there is no one I place higher than Ernest Hemingway, and I realized the other day that we are well into 2024 and I have yet to write about him. It’s time to correct that.

Like most people today, when I think of Papa, I immediately picture the white-bearded icon he was in the last years of his life (a picture from that period has sat on my desk for years). This image is only reinforced by the annual Hemingway Lookalike Contest held on his birthday every year in Key West, Florida. But he did not spring to life from a battered Underwood typewriter as a 50-year-old literary icon (though that would be pretty damn cool). Like all of us, at one point he was a young man wondering if he would ever make it as a writer.

There were two key periods during his early years that formed the writer we know today: his experiences during World War I and his time in Paris from December 1921 until he moved to Key West in 1928. The 1920s in Paris were a transformative period both for literature and history itself, and Hemingway was a huge part of that transformation.

For my first Hemingway story of the year, I have five book recommendations from or about his pivotal time in France; they include both fiction and non-fiction and should be a part of everyone’s library.

1. A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway. There is no better place to start than with the great man’s own words. While it’s true that this memoir of Hemingway’s Paris years was written more than 30 years after the fact (and not published until three years after his death on July 2, 1961), he is not relying solely on distant, often unreliable memory. An employee of the Ritz Hotel in Paris reminded Hemingway during a 1956 stay that he still had a trunk stored in the hotel’s basement from 1930. That trunk, which had survived the Nazi occupation of Paris intact, contained personal letters and two stacks of notebooks from his early days in the city; that material makes up the bulk of A Moveable Feast.

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Paul Combs

Writer, bookseller, would-be roadie for the E Street Band. My ultimate goal is to make books as popular in Texas as high school football...it may take a while.