This is the era of the book round-up. 30 books everyone should read before they're 30; 20 books they should read in their 20s; 50 books all women should read; 12 books introverts will love. Fortunately, despite their reputation for reading fewer books, especially fiction, than women, men have their fair share of such lists enumerating which books to read in order to burnish their masculinity. And with list after nearly identical list, it's become clear: Men think men should read books by men, about men.
Time and again, lists of required reading for men circulate that seem more like lists of required reading BY men. Esquire’s list of 80 books all men should read included just one by a woman; AskMen’s 10 books men should read before 30 did as well -- a cookbook. Shortlist’s 14 Daunting Books Every Man Must Read were all by men; a list from The Art of Manliness includes an impressive four books by women -- out of 100. Out of 21 books from the 21st century GQ recommends for men, they fit in four by women, all but one of which are explicitly described as books ABOUT men and manhood.
Why is it that we don’t think men should read books by and about women? In a canon and culture flooded with the perspectives and stories of men, men have no difficulty finding books that reaffirm their self-images and explore their masculinity. Why aren’t we encouraging men to also read great books that widen their horizons and show them life through the eyes of people unlike them? Reading great books reportedly has the capacity to strengthen our emotional intelligence, empathy, and understanding of others, and investing ourselves in the stories of people we don't easily relate to can only magnify these benefits.
So, to supplement all those hypermasculine lists (which, of course, feature incredible literature!), we asked women from the HuffPost newsroom to suggest books they believe men should read. Here are 22 books we recommend all men (and women!) should read:
We'll start off with an easy one. Who wouldn't want to read Gone Girl? Maybe you've already checked it off your list! (If not, block the weekend out; in case no one's informed you, it's a page-turner.) To be clear, Gone Girl is a thriller, not a treatise on gender politics, but everyone should at least read the infamous "Cool Girl" rant to get a hint of the kind of pressure women are under to be effortlessly hot and yet bro-ish these days. Plus, Flynn perfects the domestic thriller often considered a bit more the domain of women than political or spy thrillers, demonstrating that the dynamics of a marriage can be just as subtle and dark as the workings of the CIA.
"Roxane Gay writes bluntly and honestly about feminism, elucidating a concept that shouldn't be so difficult to grasp. She analyzes novels by women thoughtfully, weaving in her own personal experiences. Most touching is an essay in which she uses her own adolescent obsession with the blonde, immaculately dressed Sweet Valley High twins to remind us that there's no feminine or feminist ideal: all women deserve respect. Plus, she's funny as hell."
"With her signature sharp wit and take-no-prisoners style, Moore explores facets of the contemporary female experience in wry second person, from how to be a mistress to 'the kid's guide to divorce.' For all men who worry they'll never be able to relate to a female character, crack open this book and find yourself transformed by Moore's barbed prose, equal parts hilarious and poignant, and entirely unforgettable."
While men have been writing about the innermost thoughts of women for centuries -- think Juliet, or Emma Bovary -- people often feel uncomfortable with women daring to write about men’s innermost thoughts, especially as those thoughts pertain to women. Waldman’s novel tells the story of a rather self-satisfied Brooklyn writer, Nathaniel, who thinks he’s pretty feminist and egalitarian. He begins dating a woman with whom he seems to have a lot in common. As a woman, his internal monologue during their dates and eventual arguments is painful to read, but he’s not an unsympathetic character, just pretty oblivious about how he treats women. Perhaps reading a woman’s take on this sort of male psychology might help some men understand the seemingly mysterious behavior of women in relationships a bit better?
"The New York Times said Anne Carson gives the impression of “someone from another world, either extraterrestrial or ancient.” But she isn’t removed on the page; she writes with abandon, in beautiful but plain language that sucks you into her narrative prose-poetry, a form all her own and peppered with allusions to ancient Greek.
"All of her books are remarkable and can offer a nuanced perspective on a woman’s inner life. 'The Anthropology of Water,' a section of the book Plainwater, contains a perfectly fractured and complex portrait of a woman in love, in pain and in search of herself. While the female character, written in first person, may be utterly vulnerable, she wields self-effacing wit and introspection like a shield, her restless spirit keeping her in constant pursuit of answers to difficult questions."
Middlesex at many points reads as a story about a girl, but it's actually a story about a man -- an intersex man who is identified as a girl at birth. The book explores how Cal, who we first know as Callie, finds out about and grapples with his gender identity. It may be less easy and comfortable to read for the average man than Hemingway on the macho joys of hunting, but masculinity is a complex and variegated experience that Middlesex helps elucidate.
"I think every man should read Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence, not only because Edith Wharton is the biggest badass of all time (she was the first lady author to win a Pulitzer, FOR THIS VERY BOOK), but also because it is the quintessential 'nice guy' novel. A 'nice guy' is a guy who thinks he's a real gentleman/upstanding citizen/sweetheart/feminist, but is really just a self-obsessed, self-righteous, obliviously misogynist asshole. Unfortunately, women deal with 'nice guys' all the time. I imagine there might be fewer 'nice guys' in the world if they just read The Age of Innocence and realized that they all sounded like the biggest douchebags ever."
"A love story told from a man's perspective that (I feel) captures the sentiments of love in the most perfect, beautiful way."
"It's such a perfect encapsulation of coming to grips with female sexuality in a hostile world -- and such a beautiful depiction of mental illness, from a deeply female, deeply wounded, unforgettable perspective."
What do men love more than a tale of man vs. wild, right? Well ... why not woman vs. wild? Cheryl Strayed's runaway bestseller has been marketed with the same cozy, woman-focused angle as Eat Pray Love, but it's a powerful read for men and women alike. Strayed's gorgeous, acutely observed nature writing and her unflinching confrontation of her personal demons should enrapture men who loved reads like Into the Wild, while reminding us that women, too, have a place as dauntless solitary travelers navigating unexpected corners of the earth.
"What begins as a series of novels about a quiet friendship between two young, jealous friends ripples into a thoughtful critique of social injustice in Naples and beyond. Narrator Elena's feelings towards her best friend Lila are complicated: the two hope to escape their unfortunate family situations by learning to read and write. While one tries to leave her economic situation behind by marrying a wealthy shop owner, another takes the arduous education route, and both remind us that truly transcending your fate is a costly ambition. Like the works of Jane Austen, Ferrante's books are important not only in their quiet analysis of interpersonal relationships, but in their deft and sometimes humorous mockery of harmful social norms."
"Men should read this book because it talks about love and women in a raw, unflinching way. It doesn't shy away from mistakes -- rather, it casts a spotlight on the essence of the relationship itself: trust. The love story of Clare Abshire and Henry DeTamble starts off with an awkward chance meeting (relatable to both men and women) and evolves into friendship and then deeper into an actual, meaningful relationship.
"Few books are able to balance a woman's honest point of view in a relationship with a man's point of view. This love story isn't like other love stories. Reading this book allows men to dive into the thoughts of a woman and know exactly what she is thinking and analyzing in various situations while in a relationship.
"Men should read it because trust is paramount. Henry and Clare love each other freely and consistently talk about their relationship. They learn the most intimate details of each other's lives. They don't judge, make fun of, or break down their significant other. Rather, Clare and Henry trust, love, and work together to improve their relationship. Their relationship isn't perfect (no relationship is) and they work together even in the most difficult of times to the best of their ability."