The “Lost generation” is a term popularized by Ernest Hemingway and credited to Gertrude Stein. It refers to the persons who came of age and were called to service during the “Great War.” Many of the writers of the “lost generation” had gathered in Paris during the 1920s, and formed a literary circle that experimented with a modernist style and expression. See Wikipedia for more details.
Because this subject can technically include many authors, I’ve felt the need to limit this introductory post in some way. I’ve listed below details and books by some of the main authors of the American expatriate “lost generation.” These authors were part of the movement in Paris. The following authors link to more information below.
- Gertrude Stein (who coined the term and coached the writers)
- Ernest Hemingway
- F. Scott Fitzgerald
- T.S. Eliot
- Ezra Pound
Other authors that may be considered lost generation are listed without book lists. Their names link to a Wikipedia page about them so you can do further research if you’d like to read one of these authors for the tour. These authors may not have been expatriates in the tight circle of “lost generation” writers, but they still may be considered “lost generation.”
- Sherwood Anderson
- Hart Crane
- E.E. Cummings
- John Dos Passos
- William Faulkner
- Zelda Fitzgerald
- Alan Seeger
If you want to read someone not on these lists, I ask that at least the author you choose to read is an American who was writing in the 1920s or 1930s. The work does not need to have been written in the 1920s (it may have been written sooner or later than that), but since those are the active years of the “lost generation,” the author you choose to read should have been a writer during those years.
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Living from 1874 to 1946, Gertrude Stein was an American writer and art critic who lived in Paris for most of her life. She was central to the expatriate literary circle in Paris and is credited with defining the “lost generation.”
- Three Lives (1909). Three stories/novellas taking place in a fictional American town.
- “Through the use of repetition, the author draws you so thoroughly into the lives of the characters that it is somewhat uncomfortable for the reader. …. Brilliant proof that poetry and realism mix well, or that at least they can when Gertrude Stein is the writer.” FredSmeegle at LibraryThing
- Tender buttons: objects, food, rooms (1914) read online
- “One of my very favorite books to read aloud for pleasure on sunny lazy weekend mornings over breakfast, or late into the evening with wine. The linguistic equivalent of putting on a jazz album or painting the room a new color–gratifies the senses.” Ifjuly at LibraryThing
- Geography and Plays (1922). “A generous collection of poems, stories and plays—all dating from 1910-1920. Wide range of the author’s styles reveal Stein as philosopher, poet, portraitist, dramatist and short story writer, as the investigator of the nature of language, and much more.” Summary from Amazon.
- “Yes. Geography and Plays. Since I’m not quite ready for the density in “how to write” but I’m past the autobiography, this was perfect.” Dawnpen at LibraryThing
- The Making of Americans: Being a History of a Family’s Progress (written 1906-1908, published 1925). Genealogy, history and psychological development of a fictional family.
- “What starts of as an anecdotal recounting of what I imagine is Stein’s forefathers and foremothers immigrant experience launches off into a brilliant, highly intellectual examination and rhapsody of individuality and conformity among other things (like death and consciousness and the battle between the sexes). This book will literally change the way you think you think. I think it should.” A Customer at Amazon
- Four Saints in Three Acts (libretto, 1929: music by Virgil Thomson, 1934). Opera, ground-breaking for form, content, and its all-black cast. Summary from Wikipedia.
- Useful Knowledge (1929). “[T]his private remembrance … is both tender and humorous. War, Woodrow Wilson, Chicago, Sherwood Anderson–such is the range of her intimate concerns.” Summary from Amazon.
- How to Write (1931).
- “This book makes a lot of sense. This book makes a lot of nonsense. this book is fun” ganeshaka at LibraryThing
- They must. Be Wedded. To Their Wife (1931)
- Operas and Plays (1932)
- The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933). A fictionalized memoir of Paris told through the lens of Stein’s secretary.
- “I can’t say whether this book could be completely “autobiographical” or biographical — somehow it’s hard for me to imagine Toklas actually teaching Hemingway how to bull-fight, for instance – but it does give a flavor of the Paris full of artistic and literary expatriates in the 1920s and for the several years afterwards. But, it’s not an easy book to stay with for a long period of time; and … better taken in small doses.” Valerie at Life is a Patchwork Quilt
- “Important literary and artistic figures abound. Aside from the sheer energy of Stein’s writing, a historical glimpse into Bohemian life of the time makes the book essential.” AlextheHunn at LibraryThing
- Blood on the Dining Room Floor: A Murder Mystery (1934). A murder mystery in which a writer is looking for inspiration.
- “Did you know that Gertrude Stein wrote a Murder Mystery? No neither did I until I came across this book. Did she in fact write a Murder Mystery? Well I’ve just read this book which tells me that I’ve just read one, but I’m still not sure! Help, I’m starting to sound like Stein herself. … Weird though the whole thing is, there is nevertheless something lurking here which works.” Devenish at LibraryThing
- Lectures in America (1935). Essays prepared for her lecture tour of the U.S. in the 1930s.
- “Lectures in America is among the most lucid of her prose work; perhaps I should say it is among the most easily accessible of her books in general.” Frumiousb at Amazon
- The Geographical History of America or the Relation of Human Nature to the Human Mind (1936). “Both the plays and the history of America are presented here in her own inimitable style. For the serious literati.” Summary at Amazon.
- Everybody’s Autobiography (1937). Her continued autobiography (picks up where Alice stops).
- “Stein finds many things interesting about America, and through her descriptions, so does the reader. Her descriptions of the habits, manners, lifestyle, and thoughts of Americans are very simple but profoundly accurate. Being a Gertrude Stein work, Everybody’s Autobiography also features amazing prose that is often challenging but always rewarding. Surprisingly, Everybody’s Autobiography is very approachable once one adjusts to Stein’s style.” Matthew Carcara at Amazon
- Picasso (1938). Memoir/biography of Picasso.
- “Stein does not overindulge herself, however, and imparts a generous amount of lucid thought on how Picasso created and from what and whom he drew his influences. She progresses chronologically through his periods-the blue, the rose, the harlequin, Cubist, calligraphic, etc., up to the point she was writing. This plus salient insights into society, war, creative artists and the 20th century in general make the volume quite a deal in a small package (50 pages).” C. Ebeling ctlpareader at Amazon
- Doctor Faustus Lights the Lights (1938). An avant-garde opera libretto.
- Paris France (1940).
- “”America is my country and Paris is my home town.” If you love The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas, love Paris, and enjoy playful, inventive langusge, then this is a book for you!” saliero at LibraryThing
- Ida: A Novel (1941). “This is the story of Ida, whose life consists mainly of resting, because she is always tired; of talking to herself; and of getting married, time after time.” Summary from Amazon.
- “This seemingly nonsensical book has a magical lyricism, a genius, that surfaces stronger and stronger with each reading. Her every paragraph is composed of triple entendres that are fraught with humor and meaning.” A Customer at Amazon.
- The Mother of Us All (libretto, 1946: music by Virgil Thompson 1947). Opera chronicling the life of Susan B. Anthony.
- Works with no summaries or reviews found: White Wines, (1913). An Exercise in Analysis (1917). A Circular Play (1920). Three Sisters Who Are Not Sisters (1943), libretto. Wars I Have Seen (1945). Reflections on the Atom Bomb (1946) online version. Brewsie and Willie (1946). Last Operas and Plays (1949). The Things as They Are (written as Q.E.D. in 1903, published 1950). Patriarchal Poetry (1953). Alphabets and Birthdays (1957)
Ernest Hemingway lived from 1899 to 1961, producing most of his work between the 1920s and mid-1950s. He is known for his understated writing style. Living in Paris in the 1920s, he was a key part of the expatriate lost generation.
- The Torrents of Spring (1926). A spoof of the world of writers.
- “When I read that it was a parody, I thought I might not get it, since it had been a long time since I’d read any of the authors he was targeting. Instead I found myself laughing out loud.” LaLoren at Amazon
- The Sun Also Rises (1926). The post-World War “lost generation” of expatriates in Paris and Spain.
- “At first glance, I thought, why should I care? These people aren’t hugely sympathetic characters, drinking their lives away, saying things like ‘swell’ and ‘darling’ too often for my tastes. But once I understood more of the characters and had read further into the book I realised that my emotional investment in these people had crept up on me out of nowhere. I’m still surprised.” Fluttering Butterflies
- A Farewell to Arms (1929). A semi-autobiographical novel of life during the Italian campaign of the first World War.
- “I thought the images of war in the book were fascinating and despite the sparcity of the language I did really feel like I was in Italy along with the characters in this book and I liked how Hemingway coupled the scenes of war with his romance of Catherine.” Fluttering Butterflies
- To Have and Have Not (1937). During the Great Depression in the United States, a man is forced to work the black market.
- “This book is great!! It’s gritty, realistic, and the characters are consistent in their characterizations and actions throughout. The bar dialogue, Harry’s actions as he delves into crime, they’re all dead on. The plot-line really comes together with the juxtaposition of the rich and the poor … This book is macho, poignantly sad, exciting, and full of heart wrenching loneliness throughout.” Michael B. at Amazon
- For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940). An American in Spain fights the guerilla forces during the Spanish Civil War.
- “It is the latter pages that Hemingway shows his skill as a writer, painting the tragedy of war in broad strokes and revealing the humanity of his characters.” Caribousmom
- Across the River and Into the Trees (1950). On the last day of his life, a retired soldier remembers his life during the war.
- “This is a book meant, like most of Hemingway, to be read slowly. Originally received with mixed reviews, now unhesitatingly dismissed, it is his most culturally rich, most allusionistic, most finely structured novel. … The elegaic, autumnal beauty alone will bring the poetic reader back.” A Customer at Amazon
- The Old Man and the Sea (1952). An aging fisherman struggles with a huge marlin far out at sea.
- “In prose as simple and straight forward as anything you are likely to read, The Old Man and the Sea is a fantastic fable, beautifully erudite and fantastically realised. It is inspiring, and tragic, and beautiful, all at the same time.” Books, Time and Silence
- Islands in the Stream (1970).
- “Hemingway is at his best throughout much of the book, his men are all striving to prove that they are, well, men, or at least the ideal of what a man should be in Hemingway’s eyes.” James Sadler at Amazon
- The Garden of Eden (1986). An exploration of gender roles, this is a story of a newlywed couple on the Riviera. It was left unfinished at Hemingway’s death and published posthumously.
- “In this book, Hemingway finally takes on some of the painful issues of his life. There’s a great deal of sexual intrigue in The Garden of Eden, specifically about gender and identity. … We are also able to see in The Garden of Eden a more complex heroine and a more fragile and intertwined relationship than is presented in any of Hemingway’s other works.” J. Hill at Amazon
- True at First Light (1999). A blend of memoir and fiction about a safari in Africa, it was left unfinished at Hemingway’s suicide, and his son finished editing it and published it posthumously.
- “True at First Light is a gorgeous, tantalizing description of his time as a game warden, with phrasing so rich and narrative so taut, one can barely refrain from booking a one-way flight to Kenya. Hemingway deftly transforms what one American reader may consider the somewhat mundane business of hunting, washing and drinking into an extraordinarily attractive life; the allure is in the escape from this complicated and hectic society.” Rebecca swanson at Amazon
- Men Without Women: “Men Without Women covers a lot of the same ground of his novels… there’s the bull-fighting, and the boxing. There’s the relationships between men and women, there’s the effect of war, of being too old. I’m constantly surprised how well Hemingway pulls off heart-wrenching and emotional with so few words. I can’t say that I had a favourite out of the short stories, but when I was finished, I almost felt exhausted.” Fluttering Butterflies
- In Our Time: “So, up until very recently, I’d always avoided Ernest Hemingway because I assumed that his books were basically all macho bull-fighting. Which is a ridiculous assumption to make, but that’s the way my brain seems to work. I develop these completely irrational prejudices and for the most part, stick to them. … I’m dumb because I didn’t give him a chance sooner. I’m dumb because I was stubborn for so long. … My favorites were varied–I especially loved “The End of Something”, “The Battler”, “Indian Camp” and “Soldier’s Home.”” Bookshelves of Doom
- Death in the Afternoon (1932). An account of the history and “magnificence” of bull-fighting.
- “I’m very left, and against animal cruelty – but I find myself conflicted after reading this. … It’s more of a history of bull fighting of the time, with long comments on the bull fighters, their history, their fame (and how often their fame causes their downfall) but with such a vivid sense of what it must be life to watch. … Is it unnecessary? Probably. Is it cultural history? Yes. Does that mean it should continue? I don’t know.” The Parenthesis and the Footnote
- Green Hills of Africa (1935). Hemingway’s journals of a safari in East Africa in the 1930s.
- “Green Hills of Africa is lush with descriptions of landscape, people, animals, hunting … and killing. Whilst I enjoyed the dialogue, the slanted critiques of writers, and the journey through the landscape, I found the gratuitous killing very difficult to deal with. … Which does lead on to the way in which Hemingway presents himself within the book: the man had a massive ego.” Desert Book Chic
- A Moveable Feast (1964). A memoir of his years in Paris with others of the “lost generation.”
- “By the end of the book, I had a new respect for Hemingway. I don’t think I’m likely to run out and read more of his novels, but I now think of him as someone who valued honesty and wit, who worked at his craft, who respected women (or, at any rate, one woman), and who could admit mistakes. If a memoir can show that kind of decency, and also show me Paris, it’s more than worth my time.” Shelf Love
- Hemingway, The Wild Years (1962)
- By-Line: Ernest Hemingway (1967)
- Ernest Hemingway: Cub Reporter (1970)
- Ernest Hemingway Selected Letters 1917–1961 (1981)
- The Dangerous Summer (1985). A description of the rivalry between bull-fighting brothers.
- Dateline: Toronto (1985). A collection of the newspaper stories Hemingway wrote between 1920 and 1924.
- Under Kilimanjaro (2005). Published posthumously, this is based on his journals of an African Safari.
F. Scott Fitzgerald
F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940) coined the term Jazz Age, and his writings are prime examples of that age.
- This Side of Paradise (1920). A story of the morality of post-WWI youth, focusing on love corrupted by greed and status-seeking.
- The Beautiful and Damned (1922). A story of a 1920s socialite and his relationship with his wife.
- “The way this book depresses is not about physical perishing … but a perishing from within, a perishing from a lack of sensibility. The book is a devastating portrait of the debauchery of the Jazz Age, when socially elite and privileged make up the Cafe Society. … Fitzgerald’s masterful prose, filled with romantic imagination, guides this couple, doomed from the beginning,” A Guy’s Moleskin Notebook
- The Great Gatsby (1925). A life of decadence among the wealthy in post-war Prohibition New York City.
- “The farther I get from the moment I closed this book, the more it resonates. I could go back and leaf through the pages, look at the pages and passages that I’ve marked, and I am immediately brought back. … It could be read as a novel of class, of how the roaring 20s — the Jazz Age, as Fitzgerald himself coined so — lived glamor, and especially anomie; ridiculously wealthy people with attitude problems and an atrocious lack of child-rearing abilities. Likable or not, these was how people lived then, at least this was how Nick Carraway showed us.” Sasha and the Silverfish
- Tender Is the Night (1934). The rise and fall of a young psychoanylyst and his wife, who is also one of his patients.
- “There is nothing romantic or soppy in here and it is by far not a romance novel. Instead, it is an exploration of human weaknesses and ideologies and their dance with darkness.” Mad Bibliophile
- The Last Tycoon – originally The Love of the Last Tycoon – (1941). A film producers’ rise to power in Hollywood.
- “This would have been one of Fitgerald’s best books if he had lived to revised the narration and tie together loose ends. As it stands this work is a glimpse through the Hollywood keyhole of the golden studio era. A well written and spun tole of greed, sex and power in the California sun.” Michael Mills at Amazon
- The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. “While ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’ is an interesting story, it is dated in it’s language and cultural sense … This is a short story that I very much wish had been fleshed out into a novel. It leaves out so much detail and is over so quickly.” In the Shadow of Mt TBR
- Bernice Bobs Her Hair. “We enter his world of glittering young things through a young buck, striding about at a party and commenting to himself on the people he sees. While this sets a generally frivolous mood, there are some luminous Fitzgerald touches.” A Striped Armchair
- Babylon Revisited. “”Babylon Revisited” is told mostly in dialogue. It takes a bit to figure out exactly what has happened to our lead character as he is very misleading in his conversations and may in fact be in bad faith himself. … If you are a fan of the work of Fitzgerald or are interested in American literature in the 1930s, you really will be rewarded by this story. The Great Gatsby is for sure a canon status work and I would also include this wonderful story.” The Reading Life
T.S. Eliot is an American who later immigrated to England. He was part of the expatriate generation in Paris in the 1920s.
- The Waste Land. “The Waste Land is like a giant crossword puzzle. You can read pretty much anything and everything into it and there are so many angles to take – personal, universal, political, mythological – take your pick. … My advice to anyone wanting to engage with and enjoy The Waste Land is to not expect to understand it in the usual sense. … Listen to the words, the voices – like a chorus. Let it wash over you – like music…” Vulpes Libris
- Four Quartets. “The main theme is time, which is explored in convoluted ways and here is where Fiennes’ reading helps, by making the repetitions less tangled. There is almost a Zen attitude to the progression of Self, how a person changes, whether they are aware of it or not.” Vulpes Libris
- “This poet rattled the universe and simultaneously whispered solace in our ears like few others have done.” Grady Harp at Amazon
Ezra Pound (1885-1972) was a major figure in the modernist poetry movement, especially his development of imagist poetry.
- “Pound’s work encompasses entire cultures, eras, and languages. It is a work of poetry, an economic treatise, a defense of Italian fascist politics, and a commentary on Modern Culture. The only way Pound could get all his ideas down was to enumerate them in a “poem of some length.” And it is long. There’s truth in advertising when considering the Cantos as an epic.” The Driftless Area Review
- “Ezra Pound’s work is exciting and really important for poets writing today. It’s impossible to see how we got to where we are now without reading Ezra Pound.” Katie at Amazon