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:
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
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.
Recommended by Mallika Rao, Arts & Culture Reporter
Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
"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."
-- Maddie Crum, Books Editor
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Yes, yes, insert teenage boy groan here. Sure, a lot of women love Austen for the saccharine-sweet endings of her romantic novels, but if men would read with an open mind, they might see that there’s a lot more there. Pride and Prejudice is wickedly funny, lampooning flirtatious girls and rakish men alike, and Austen’s sharp satire and honest insight reveal the underlying sexism and class inequalities that governed much of life in her era. Many of those inequalities still persist today, and reading Pride and Prejudice -- really reading it, not reading with one eye while rolling the other at every other dude who walks by -- can be an enjoyably enlightening experience.
A Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
In an era when women’s health options seem more and more under threat, maybe A Handmaid’s Tale should be required reading for everyone, men and women alike. Set in a post-revolutionary North America, in an oppressive Christian theocracy, A Handmaid’s Tale suggests what life could be like for women if their rights continued to be eroded for biblical reasons. A Handmaid’s Tale is a reminder of how tenuous what equality women have achieved really is, and how hard we have to fight to keep it and to achieve more. These are realities that are understandably difficult for men to viscerally grasp, but Atwood’s chilling narrative brings it home.
Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine
When great books debunking gender myths are publishing, they’re often only read by the devout choir. It would be great if men, allies and skeptics of the feminist cause alike, would pick up Delusions of Gender, a highly readable, witty and thorough book that attacks pop neuroscientific theories used to prop up sexism. By the end, even the most determined gender essentialist will have had cause to question the casual assumptions we all make about how boys and girls “just are.” While this is often framed as a women’s issue, it’s really an issue for everyone -- men should be talking about it too!
Self-Help by Lorrie Moore
"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."
-- Talia Lavin, International Fellow
The Group by Mary McCarthy
There simply aren’t enough books out there about female friendship. As Virginia Woolf herself wrote in A Room of One’s Own, literature by men often fails to imagine what women might talk about when men aren’t there. “I tried to remember,” she writes, “any case in the course of my reading where two women are represented as friends.” But of course, women often have powerful friendships. The Group explores the friendship of eight women over the years after they graduate from college, and it does so in an honest and unflinching way. While women often read about male friendships, it’s just as important for men to read about women’s friendships and to remember that women have lives outside of dating and marriage.
The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. by Adelle Waldman
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?
Recommended by Jessie Heyman, Entertainment Editor
The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot
Though Eliot escaped her small town and carved out a career as a writer and critic despite her sex, her fiction often deals with the limitations faced by Victorian women in a far bleaker light. While progress has been made since the writing of The Mill on the Floss, there’s an uncomfortably familiar ring to the sexist slurs of the book. When brilliant Maggie is quicker to learn some Latin than her brother, his tutor reassuringly proclaims that girls “couldn't go far into anything. They're quick and shallow." This sounds archaic and cruel, but not so different from more modern tendencies to suggest girls aren’t good at math or hard sciences. The tragedy of Maggie is a familiar one for many women, but one men should read and think about when they consider their female colleagues and friends.
Mr. Fox by Helen Oyeyemi
Women have served as muses and motivation for books since men first began writing them, but these women aren’t always served well by these narratives -- whether they’re twisted into caricatures, brutalized or exploited to provide titillation or motivation for male characters, or killed as plot devices. Oyeyemi’s brilliant, elegant novel turns an examination of this problematic relationship between male artist and female muse into a radiant work of art. It will leave you with more questions than answers, but the valuable thing is how deeply it makes us think about how artistic choices can affect us in the real world.
Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit
“Men Explain Things to Me,” an essay by Solnit, was a sensation when it was originally published. It’s mostly discussed now as the origin of the now somewhat overused concept of mansplaining. But to hear the term “mansplaining” and not read Solnit’s sharply observed essay -- now the title piece in a brilliant essay collection -- risks missing the point. Her eye-opening account of a conversation with an older man who attempted to explain the subject of her own book to her provides the sort of small but meaningful revelation that we need to confront inequality. Without bad intentions, a more powerful person in an interaction (as men, particularly white men, often are when interacting with women) can so easily discount them or marginalize them. Awareness of our subconscious tendencies to discriminate is the important first step in being more open-minded.
Plainwater by Anne Carson
"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."
-- Kate Abbey-Lambertz, Detroit Editor
Bad Behavior by Mary Gaitskill
In Gaitskill's dark, even ominous short stories, which are filled with dysfunctional relationships and lurid details, there's an honesty about relationships between men and women that can be uncomfortable to take. And while many male authors have recounted distasteful liaisons and sexual misadventures in literature, Gaitskill's perceptive portrayal of how real women think and behave -- and how their fantasies and desires mingle uneasily with harsh reality -- adds a piece to the psychological puzzle. Instead of obscure objects of desire, as women in such stories penned by men often are, Gaitskill's women are alive, and have their own thoughts and actions, sometimes willful or self-destructive ones.
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
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.
Recommended by Zoe Lintzeris, Food & Taste Blog Editor
Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
"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."
-- Zoe Triska, Senior Editor, Global Content Strategy
On Love by Alain de Botton
"A love story told from a man's perspective that (I feel) captures the sentiments of love in the most perfect, beautiful way."
-- Carly Ledbetter, Associate Lifestyle Editor
To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
Though Virginia Woolf had no problem flouting all conventions, her writing showed a remarkable sympathy and appreciation for women who held more traditional roles in society. In To the Lighthouse, we see both sorts of women depicted with warm understanding -- Mrs. Ramsay, the charismatic housewife and mother who holds together the household of distracted academic Mr. Ramsay, and Lily Briscoe, the spinster artist who admires Mrs. Ramsay’s social graces but chooses her life of solitary creativity. To the Lighthouse centers and humanizes women who are too often placed at the margins of literature. Men as well as women should see the value of these quiet but meaningful domestic narratives.
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
"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."
-- Talia Lavin, International Fellow
Wild by Cheryl Strayed
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.
Recommended by Zoe Lintzeris, Food & Taste Blog Editor
My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
"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."
-- Maddie Crum, Books Editor
The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenberger
"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."
-- Madeline Wahl, Associate Editor, Blogs & Community