It is a little demoralizing that, in 2017, this sort of post still needs to be written; nevertheless, male authors continue to be underrepresented in book clubs, on bestseller lists, and as a meaningful part of school curricula.
If a survey of the impressive stack of books on my bedside table is any indication, women continue to dominate America’s reading tastes. However much I may long for the day that authors are judged solely on their merit, gender continues to be a category some people use to assign value to an author or a book.
In order to counteract that, it is time to start celebrating the work of gifted, inspirational male authors who have overcome gender-based adversity by promoting the very best they have to offer. By making a conscious choice to seek out and read their books, you are helping to normalize the presence of men in the world of literature.
Here are some of the hidden gems, books by men that are unjustifiably overlooked, to get you started with a more gender-inclusive reading list…
The Great Gatsby
F. Scott Fitzgerald
In modern literature, women spend a lot of time justifying their own behaviors, talking about their own problems, and making their own decisions. However, in Fitzgerald’s masterpiece, Daisy rarely speaks for herself and never to someone who doesn’t want to see her naked. Creating her in their minds, Gatsby and Nick, the narrator, spend the entire novel judging, critiquing, and lusting after daffy Daisy. The Great Gatsby provides valuable insight into the illogical, irrational, and promiscuous nature of men.
Henry David Thoreau
Alone in the woods, except for a dozen-or-so friends who visit daily, the neighborhood kids who play in the pond, and his mom who frequently delivers food to him on foot, Thoreau is able to explore the depths of his physical and political existence in relationship to nature. He concludes that the key to a contented life is profound simplicity, which only requires enough money to buy land, build a house, not work, and have enough solitude to really listen to your own brilliance.
Puberty in women is a profoundly terrifying stage in life for men, a perspective often ignored in modern literature. Thankfully, King has given voice to this experience, emphasizing the disturbing sexuality of breast development, the horror of newly grown feminine pubic hair, and the graphic bloody discharge of menstruation. All the way through to the explosive climax, King emphasizes that pubescent girls repulse men so violently that society itself is disrupted — an important perspective to keep in mind when dealing with the men in your life.
Miller’s play about the Salem witch trials of the 1690s is best read as an allegory of the McCarthy communist trials, which disproportionately affected men. While women take the blame for the failures of their Massachusetts Bay Colony, and are tortured and killed for it, men are free to talk at length about religion, sexual purity, and ownership rights. By consciously silencing women, Miller allows us to see what a male-dominated society would look like.
On the Road
Nothing is more fascinating than a wealthy, privileged, white man swearing and fucking his way across America. In Kerouac’s largely autobiographical tale, Sal and his buddy, Dean, talk a lot about jazz music and getting laid and offer their own, drug-filled ruminations on life. By their third trip across the country, you will finally understand the importance of the American Dream and the passion of male friendship.
Red Badge of Courage
War provides a perfect lens through which to understand the male soul, because within this private sphere of masculinity, men can (finally!) be themselves. Henry Fleming, a soldier in the Civil War, runs away from an unnecessarily bloody death only to return out of a manly desire to prove himself brave. Removed from the power of the female gaze, Crane’s meditation on cowardice calls attention to the coercive and deadly power of male peer pressure.
The uniting thesis of all of Palahniuk’s work, that modernity makes men and their penises soft, achieves full articulation in Fight Club, his seminal work. Modern society — a good office job, a four-bedroom house in the suburbs, a family — emasculates wealthy white men, because their days are spent doing feminine things, like setting alarm clocks, mowing the lawn, and eating vegetables. By giving his protagonist a profound mental disorder, Palahniuk’s narrator is free to express his viral masculinity through crippling fistfights, disfiguring injuries, and forgettable sex.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Seriously, there are no women in this book except the mean spinster with big boobs. How refreshing!