My fascination with Ernest Hemingway waned sometime in the late 1960s, but was reawakened when a friend visited his home in Key West, Fla., now the Hemingway Museum.
She described it lovingly, how it contained much of the original furniture, his writing desk, and was home to lots of complacent cats. She brought me back a little etching of the house, which I love.
Thus began another of the curious and familiar paths that authors often take through my life, demanding that I pay attention, hold still, read, and truly appreciate.
I wondered how much Hemingway I had actually read since, "The Old Man and the Sea" — and that, in high school. Did I even own any of his books now?
My husband, who was an American Literature major in college, pointed out that there was plenty of Hemingway on his shelves.
Hemingway holds such a prominent place in American literature that many scholars deem him the greatest American writer, authoring some of the most important books our culture has produced. So familiar were their titles and themes that I felt I must have read them: "For Whom the Bell Tolls," "The Sun Also Rises," "A Farewell to Arms," "A Moveable Feast."
His work, his aura, kept popping up in my life. I mentioned to a friend an article I had read on Hemingway's years in the Finca Vigia, a farmhouse overlooking Cuba's Havana harbor, where he had lived with his wife and sons for some 20 years.
"Well, time to re-read. You should start with 'A Farewell to Arms,'" he said. "I taught a class on it at Louisiana State University. Surely it deserves another reading."
I went away for a couple weeks, to our home away from home where I frequent the local library, a testing ground for books of which I've read only reviews, and might want to own. Meandering through the stacks, which are sadly less full these days than they used to be now that library budgets are stressed and books must be shared among inter-library programs, I found only two Hemingways.
"Complete Short Stories" was so heavy that it was difficult to balance in my bike basket, but I managed to transport it home, and delve into it immediately, a decadent pleasure that vacation mode allows. I realized that I had read very few of the stories, but even those that struck some note of familiarity felt new because — well, things resonate differently when you're 65 than when you're 18.
I gobbled up Hemingway's words. I read "Old Man at the Bridge" four times, wiping my tears from its pages as the memory of my father, in the tender frailty of his old age, surfaced.
Then, "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place" spoke to me of the comfort, even the entitlement, we all feel at being at least acknowledged, if not welcome some times, by the various establishments that we frequent. Who wouldn't prefer to drink a cup of coffee, read a magazine, or listen to a song in the cozy company of one's own habits?
I wanted to get my own copy of "stories" when I returned home to Cape Ann. Before I could call The Bookstore, though, my daughter slung me a bag of clothes and books destined for our favorite land of surprises, Second Glance, on Pond Road. She wondered if I wanted to sort through before she relinquished it. Me, and a bag of free books? You bet.
When I emptied the bag onto my bed, there it was, a pristine copy of the book, looking as if it might never even have been opened. OK, Ernest, I feel your vibe.
The next morning, I mentioned that surprising good fortune to a friend, who returned later with a subtly worn blue hardcover in hand.
"Here, a gift for you, maybe the best book ever written."
Inside the cover of "A Farewell to Arms," I found Bob Ritchie's familiar, lightly penciled, "DB." Dogtown Book Shop — that's where I could search out few more Hemingway novels, although this one, along with the extensive collection of short stories might do to satisfy.
But what overkill was this?
I opened the mailbox to find that Woody Allen's film, "Midnight in Paris," the plot of which we knew nothing, had arrived from Netflix.
Another fantasy fulfilled: visiting Gertrude Stein's avant-garde Parisian salon in the 1920s to mingle with Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald, Alice B. Toklas, Pablo Picasso, and of course, Ernest Hemingway (brilliantly cast) — and I was in the company of the understated, dreamy, Owen Wilson!
I had the distinct sense that it was I for whom the bell tolled, I who had received a message from the grave, something like: "Welcome back."
Susan S. Emerson is a regular Time columnist.