Are you a man? Do you love to read? Well, you're in luck. The Internet really, really loves to tell you what you should be reading (we admit, we're guilty of doing this, too. But how can you blame us? We work for the Internet!). Countless websites have compiled lists of the books every man should read, and apparently, most of them are in broad agreement on what the manliest-of-the-manly books are (see here, here, here, and here).
Apparently, the Internet has decided all by itself that men love the same things. There's enough overlap on these lists to make you wonder if the publications that put them together are all cribbing from some universal guy cheat-sheet. But what's more interesting is that the themes that underlie these book choices all make assumptions about men that, well, men themselves might not be comfortable with. It's not that these are bad books individually; many of them are classics and most of them are worth a look. It's just that, taken together and put in these lists, they seem to showcase an infantile, reductive version of what our culture sees as "masculinity."
So let's take a look at what the almighty Internet says men love, according to the books they "must read":
1. Every man is secretly itching to sign up for the Army and/or kill a man with his bare hands and/or utilize his really big weapon (pun intended).
"Slaughterhouse 5" by Kurt Vonnegut: Basically, a bunch of aliens abduct a soldier named Billy straight out of World War II. Sci-fi + war= ultimate man book.
"For Whom The Bell Tolls" by Ernest Hemingway: This book is set during the Spanish Civil War and features a dynamiter named Robert Jordan, who is assigned to blow up a bridge during an attack. It is primary a war novel, which apparently makes it the ultimate man book.
"Catch 22" by Joseph Heller: While at war, an Air Force captain and his men try to stay sane while serving their time. This book can get quite gruesome, so it's unclear whether or not women are able to handle it.
"War and Peace" by Leo Tolstoy: It's got "war" in the title! Granted, it's also got "peace" in the title, but apparently men can let that one slide. Women: If you're looking to read Tolstoy, perhaps a nice domestic story, such as "Anna Karenina," will suit you better.
"The Naked and the Dead" by Norman Mailer: Another war book, "The Naked and the Dead" is based on Mailer's experience during World War II in the 112th Cavalry Regiment. Also, Norman Mailer once punched Gore Vidal in the face. Men don't talk. Men take action.
2. You know what they say: bros before...well, everything else.
"The Brothers Karamazov" by Fyodor Dostoyevsky: "The Brothers K" follows the relationship of, you guessed it, three brothers over a period of years. It's majorly philosophical and focuses on debates about God, free will and mortality. This book also has only male main characters. Must be for men.
"Hamlet" by William Shakespeare: Hamlet is the biggest baller in all of literary history. He is the best male character in a Shakespeare play (according to us). Every man wants to be Hamlet. He is just so witty! He has even been likened to President Obama. Also, Hamlet is trying to avenge his father's death. Only a man would do that. But really what this book focuses on is male relationships: Hamlet and his father, Hamlet and his two school friends (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern), and Hamlet and his BEST bro, Horatio (also one of the best characters of all time).
"Collected Short Stories Of John Cheever": He's been called the poet of suburbia, and he wrote a lot of short stories about brothers. Enough said.
"The Road" by Cormac McCarthy: A father and son wander around a post-apocalyptic wasteland, searching for food and shelter. We repeat: a father and son -- only men could possibly care about that relationship!
3. Politics is a dirty business. Best left to men only.
"The Autobiography of Malcolm X": First off, Malcolm X was a man. There is prison in this book. And sex. Lots of sex. And debauchery and drugs. Further more, Malcolm X was a political, religious activist. Women don't understand racial politics. Everyone knows that. This book also covers Malcolm X's assassination. Too gory for the women!
"American Pastoral" by Philip Roth: "American Pastoral" follows Seymour "Swede" Levov, a Jewish American businessman. His conventional life is ruined by the political and social turmoil of the 1960s. Such muscular prose.
"Lord of the Flies" by William Golding: A group of boys (Did you hear that, ladies? Boys) gets stranded on an island and it quickly becomes clear who are the strongest among the group. "Survival of the fittest" was a man's idea.
"CivilWarLand in Bad Decline" by George Saunders: Haven't we mentioned that men love science-fiction? Not only does Saunders's short story collection feature dystopian settings, but political themes are heavily prominent.
"All The King's Men" by Robert Penn Warren: Politics! Men are all about politics! If "House of Cards" weren't a fantastic Netflix series that all men love (because, as we may have mentioned, men are all about politics), but instead was a novel set in the American South in the 30s, it'd be just like "All The King's Men."
4. Sex is great, and it's all men think about... but, man, girls are seriously the worst. All that nagging? Ugh.
"Tropic of Cancer" by Henry Miller: Miller's stream-of-consciousness style of writing describes nomadic life in Paris. What does "nomadic life" mean, exactly? Lots of eating. And lots of sex, sex, sex. The book was banned for years, and deemed pornographic. Seems a little racy, eh, girls?
"Brave New World" by Aldous Huxley: Society has become addicted to pleasure and distractions rather than genuinely engaging relationships. You know what that means: orgy time!
"Rabbit, Run" by John Updike: "If you just have the guts to be yourself, other people’ll pay your price," Updike poetically muses in his story about an ex-athlete (Rabbit) who absolutely must escape the restricting confines of his marriage by, you guessed it, running away.
"Lucky Jim" by Kingsley Amis: This book, written by Martin Amis's father, is about a guy trying to deal with how annoying it is to try to get tenure, and we all know women don't really get tenure. What's even worse is, while Jim is trying so hard to earn tenure, he gets distracted by a pretty girl.
"The Picture of Dorian Gray" by Oscar Wilde: This book focuses on a vain, beautiful man who lives a rich life and has sex with all the ladies. Every man's dream, except he eventually finds out that women are a total drag.
5. A quiet night in? No way. Men have to be out doing adventurous stuff like fighting cheetahs, hanging out on boats and/or joining motorcycle gangs.
"Treasure Island" by Robert Louis Stevenson: Firstly, this is an ADVENTURE novel. That word essentially signals "MALES ONLY." This is about the ambiguity of morality, which may be difficult for you non-male readers to understand, and also, pirates! But don't worry, ladies. There is an appropriate version for non-males: it's called "Muppet Treasure Island."
"Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" by Mark Twain: Twain's epic boy-becomes-man journey along the Mississippi may be an American classic, but women just don't get it! "Adventures"? Sounds scary, right girls?
"The Call of the Wild" by Jack London: London's novel focuses on a dog, Buck, who is stolen from his loving owner, and eventually becomes a sled dog. Dog competition ensues. Buck, of course, is the alpha male and becomes the leader of the pack. Can you think of a better man book than a story about an alpha male dog?! We didn't think so. You know what they say: "Dogs are a man's best friend."
"Don Quixote" by Cervantes: First of all, this is an adventure story. Don Quixote is an adventurer at heart. He reads a lot of chivalric stories and, because he loves them so much, he sets out to revive chivalry, with very hilarious results. Delusions of grandeur! Manly!
"Hell's Angels" by Hunter. S. Thompson: This non-fiction book looks up close, sparing no gritty detail, at the notorious motorcycle gang, The Hell's Angels. The New York Times described the book as "a world most of us would never dare encounter." That is, no one but MEN, of course.
"Master and Commander" by Patrick O'Brian: "Master and Commander" is a historical naval novel set during the Napoleonic Wars. We all know that every man secretly wants to be a sailor.
"Heart of Darkness" by Joseph Conrad:Charles Marlow is an ivory transporter down the Congo River in central Africa who becomes obsessed with another man (not sexually?). Only men are brave enough to venture into the jungle and grapple with the concept of colonialism.
"Americana" by Don Delillo: A narcissist recalls his relationship and breakup with a cute blonde, and leaves his Patrick Bateman-like lifestyle to drive across the country, filming the entire thing. We all know road trips are so masculine.
"The Dharma Bums" by Jack Kerouac: This book is essentially autobiographical, like most of Kerouac's work. It mostly deals with Kerouac's love of doing "guy things" (bicycling, mountaineering, hitchhiking, jazz clubs, boozy parties). Duh, only men like books about these things. Also, you can't really be a bum if you're a woman.
"Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" by Robert M. Pirsig: ANOTHER road trip story: a man's first-person narrationof his 17-day journey from Minnesota to California. If there's anything women are worse at than driving, it's reading about driving. Also, women don't drive motorcycles!
"Ulysses" by James Joyce: First of all, "Ulysses" is much too complicated a book for women to comprehend! It doesn't even make any sense. On top of this, it's about men! On a journey! There's also a whorehouse! AND a masturbation scene. Clearly for male eyes only.
"Blood Meridian" by Cormac McCarthy: A young man ("the kid") with a propensity for violence runs away from home. A whole lot of killing ensues. It's a Western. Must be for men!
Moby-Dick" by Herman Melville: "Moby-Dick" is about one man's obsession with catching the infamous White Whale, but it's really a metaphor for something entirely different (read the book to find out, but only if you're a man). Also, this opening sentence: "Call me Ishmael." Very commanding.
CORRECTION: The description of the plot of Ernest Hemingway's "For Whom The Bell Tolls" incorrectly initially described Hemingway's "A Farewell to Arms."
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