Ernest Hemingway bought about 200 new books every year and added them to the libraries of his various homes. I have been lucky enough to visit his home in Cuba, the ‘Finca Vigia’. Visitors are not permitted to enter the rooms, but you can stand at the doors and look in.
By the time Ernest and his wife Mary left the house in 1960, his library had about 9,000 volumes. Other books had been left behind at his home in Key West. His Cuban library measured about 20 by 30 feet, and its floor to ceiling shelves sagged with books. But his books managed to creep all over the house – stacked on windowsills, piled on tables and next to beds. I was intrigued that Hemingway shared the conviction I discussed in my last newsletter – that books and alcohol make a great combination – for he had drinks trays conveniently placed near any comfortable armchair where he might be tempted to sit and read. His wife Mary had about 400 cookbooks in her bedroom, in the writing tower in the grounds, Hemingway kept foreign editions of his own books, he had a large collection of maps, and even the guest house was filled with books. Hemingway collected books on France and Spain, history and military history, books about bullfighting, and autographed works by his friends and contemporaries.
Regular visitors to Hemingway’s Cuban and Key West libraries were his cats, which were allowed to roam where they liked. He adored his cats and would often sit and read, while a cat purred on his lap (by 1943 he had 11 cats in residence).
The furniture in the library was all locally made, and animal skins from his hunting safaris adorn a couch and desk (you can see these in the image above).
The John F. Kennedy Library in Boston (which I have also visited) has a superb Hemingway collection. They have created a digitized collection of his books.
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