Just over a year ago, we wrote a post on why men should read more fiction. I asked readers to suggest their favorite pieces of manly fiction in the comments so I could create a master “AoM Fiction for Men” list. We got a really good response, and we finally finished compiling the suggestions into a list. If you’re looking for some ideas on what to read this summer, check it out. The list has a nice mix of genres so you’re bound to find something that suits your tastes. I’ve added several of them to my own “to-read” list. If you have any more recommendations for books you think an AoM Man would enjoy, please share them in the comments, and we’ll add them to the master list. Enjoy!
American Gods by Neil Gaiman. Shadow Moon tries to rebuild his life after being released from prison, but gets caught up in a showdown between the old gods who came over to America with the country’s early immigrants and the new gods “of credit card and freeway, of Internet and telephone, of radio and hospital and television, gods of plastic and of beeper and of neon.” Musings about the role of technology in modern life and the meaning of death, set in the real and mythical American landscape.
Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson. This long novel leaps between the story of a secret WWII Allied unit who try to keep the Nazis from discovering they have cracked their Enigma code, and the cryptanalysts’ grandchildren who seek to create a secure data haven in the modern age, and discover a far-reaching conspiracy in the process.
A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Readers said that the Princess of Mars is much, much better than the blockbuster movie-version flop John Carter. This book is the first in the Barsoom series, consisting of ten novels, the first five of which, it should be noted, are available for free at Project Gutenberg. This sci-fi adventure is said to have inspired some of the science fiction greats like Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein, and others.
Musashi by Eiji Yoshikawa. This historical novel is a fictionalized account of real-life Samurai warrior Miyamoto Musashi as he seeks to master not only the Way of the Sword, but the path to honorable, spirited manliness. Musashi is famous in Japan for being a master swordsman and also writing the philosophy/tactical work, The Book of Five Rings, which is still studied today.
The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach. This book received a ton of accolades when it was published in 2011, including being named in the NY Times Top Ten of the Year and Amazon’s Best Book of the Year. USA Today said this about it: “The Art of Fielding belongs in the upper echelon of anybody’s league, in this case alongside Bernard Malamud’s The Natural, Scott Lasser’s Battle Creek, and W.P. Kinsella’s Shoeless Joe.” I read this book earlier this year and really enjoyed it. It’s a coming-of-age story with baseball serving as the backdrop. One of the better modern novels I’ve read in a long time.
Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien. This well-known fantasy favorite was unsurprisingly recommended numerous times by readers. Follow Frodo Baggins and his trustworthy friend Samwise Gamgee and learn about friendship, loyalty, dedication to a good cause, and many other manly virtues. You’ll also find one of the wisest characters in literature in Gandalf. J.R.R. Tolkien had one of the greatest imaginations of his time and created an entire LOTR universe, complete with new languages, maps of various lands, and even histories of how these lands came to be. If you’re interested in some of the Middle-earth back story, get your hands on The Silmarillion.
From Here to Eternity by James Jones. I read From Here to Eternity this year at my father-in-law’s suggestion. One of the best war novels I’ve read. The movie adaptation from 1953 happens to have made it onto our Top 100 Movies list, so be sure to check that out as well. Set in Hawaii, the novel is loosely based on author James Jones’ own experiences.
Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. This is a behemoth of a book, coming in at over half a million words, but from what people say, the effort is well worth it. Wallace took the title from a line in Hamlet (another work that all men should read), and although he committed suicide in 2008, has lately become regarded as one of the more influential writers of the latter part of the 20th century. As this is his magnum opus, it’s a great place to start.
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John le Carré. le Carré is considered the greatest spy novelist of all time. Check out his most lauded work and what is often called the greatest spy novel of all time, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. This particular novel was influential in informing the public about common Cold War espionage practices. Whereas James Bond novels and movies romanticize the world of spies, le Carre gives us brutal realism.
Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott. Many readers suggested checking out the work of Sir Walter Scott, who James Bowman called “the man who did the most to resuscitate honor for the modern era.” This work from 1820 is a great adventure story set in medieval times and deals with knighthood and chivalry. We also see appearances from Knights Templar and Robin Hood (Locksley, in this novel). What fella doesn’t want to read about that? Available for free as an ebook.
Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry. This book was recommended to me by small town advocate, Uncle Buzz. Turned out to be one of my favorite books of all time. A book about the life and unrequited love of a rural barber named Jayber Crow. From his barber chair, he learns about listening, community, life’s tough questions, and much more. The book really made me want to move to the country to become a barber.
World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks. This popular book is a fictional account of the zombie war, told from the point of view of a journalist who is conducting interviews many years later. It’s not so much blood and gore, but about the political and sociological ramifications of such a catastrophe. It’s set as a series of interviews, so it somewhat lacks a cohesive plot, but it’s still riveting. I’ve also heard the audio version of this is fantastic. You’ll want to read/listen to it before this summer’s release of the film version starring Brad Pitt.
The Aubrey/Maturin Series by Patrick O’Brian. Reader Tom Smedely said this of the 20+ volume series: “Patrick O’Brian’s novels probe the mysteries of manliness. 20+ volumes starting with Master and Commander take us into a lost world of wooden ships and iron men. Even a patriotic American will find himself grieving the setbacks of the British navy during the War of 1812!” Even more awesome is that the series closely follows the heroics of real-life captain Thomas Cochrane.
Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis. One of the best novels on what it means to get in touch with your inner Wild Man. The narrator is a young intellectual who is in love with his books. After a stinging encounter, he decides to leave his books behind for a while, and do some self-discovery. You’ll be dancing and shouting “Opa!” like Zorba by the end.
All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren. This 1947 Pulitzer winner is one of the best pieces of political fiction ever written. It’s loosely based on the career of Louisiana governor Huey P. Long. Interestingly enough, the author said it was “never meant to be a book about politics.” Indeed, there are larger lessons about humanity to be learned, and this is a great example of how hubris can destroy a man.
Independent People by Halldór Laxness. Reader Jordan explains this pick: “Iceland’s Laxness won the Nobel Prize in Literature the year after another great manly fiction writer, Hemingway. Independent People is his most important work about an Icelandic farmer who strives to be his own independent man when all else is against him. Laxness’ prose captures the harsh beauty of the Icelandic way of life and poetically blends myth and reality in this moving epic.”
Legends of the Fall by Jim Harrison. You’ve seen the movie, now read the novella that it’s based on. Here’s what dannyb278 had to say about Harrison: “Nobody writes better concerning the 20th century male. Ignore the movie, the novellaLegends of the Fall is one of the greatest works in modern American Fiction.”
Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry. I kicked off 2012 by reading this classic Western. It’s a new favorite of mine, and I can’t wait to read it again in a few years. Another Pulitzer winner here, this is the third installment of the Lonesome Dove series of four novels (although the first published). This story of some retired cattle drivers carries lots of insight on what it means to be a man (look for a post in the future on that very theme!).
Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. This oft-suggested sci-fi classic is supposedly one of the funniest books ever written. It’s been on my to-read list for while. Think I’ll get to it next. This wildly successful franchise includes six novels, video games, stage acts, TV series, movies, comic books, etc. Must have somethin’ going for it!
Masters of Rome Series by Colleen McCullough. If you’re a Roman history buff, reader Evan M. suggests checking out theMasters of Rome series. It chronicles the end of the Roman empire and the lives and careers of Gaius Marius, Lucius Cornelius Sulla, Pompeius Magnus, and Gaius Julius Caesar. There are seven books in the series.
For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway. Naturally, several readers suggested “anything by Hemingway.” If you’ve never read Hemingway, start with For Whom the Bell Tolls. In the novel, we follow the experiences of a young American dynamiter in the Spanish Civil War. Much of it is pulled from Hemingway’s own experiences as a journalist reporting on the war.
A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin. Thanks to HBO, many gents are now discovering this series. A Game of Thrones is the first of the five-part series (with more coming) which is a classic fantasy epic set in a world invented by Martin. The series is known for killing off main characters to keep you on your toes.
Blood Meridian or The Road by Cormac McCarthy. Lots of commenters said, “Anything by Cormac McCarthy,” and I couldn’t agree more. Blood Meridian explores the violence between Native Americans and the white settlers in the 19th century, while The Road follows a father and son as they walk through a post-apocalyptic America. Both terrifying and touching — one of the only books that has ever made me cry.
What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver. This collection of short stories by Raymond Carver center on uneducated, seemingly normal American people. They have problems, and they aren’t all shiny and polished. His writing is often compared to Hemingway’s in its simplistic style. Anything compared to Papa is good enough for me!
Raise a Holler by Jason Stuart. If you’re a Southern gent, Nick suggests Raise a Holler. According to Jedidiah Ayers, “It’s, more or less, The Hobbit re-imagined as a series of southern-fried crime misadventures.”
Discworld Series by Terry Pratchett. While it’s a young adult fantasy series, several people suggested the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett. Its 39 novels will keep you busy for a very long time, and there are supposedly more to come. As the title suggests, this world is a flat disc that is set upon the backs of four elephants. The books often focus and speak to a specific theme, such as religion, business, current events, etc. They also parody many common elements and cliches of fantasy and sci-fi literature.
The Plot Against America and American Pastoral by Philip Roth. Reader Hal said, “Philip Roth is good and comes with the added benefit that you can then say you have read Philip Roth. The Plot Against America is a good way in.” American Pastoral won a Pulitzer for its portrayal of life in the Lyndon Johnson years, and The Plot Against America is an alternate history novel in which FDR is defeated by Charles Lindbergh in the 1940 election.
The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene. Reader Caleb S. suggested anything by Graham Greene. “He is a twentieth-century writer of novels and short stories, and his works are filled with men faced with complex moral conflicts. All of his novels are both entertaining and literary, which is a rarity these days, and perfect for someone looking to begin a fiction-reading habit.” Check out The Power and the Glory,which deals with the power struggle between the Roman Catholic church and the Mexican government, to get started with Mr. Greene.
The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler. Several readers suggested Raymond Chandler. If you like detective stories, you can’t go wrong with this master of the genre, who is praised as being the most lyrical of crime writers, as well as having some of the best dialogue in the genre. The Big Sleep (his first) is a favorite of mine.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. My favorite of all time. Read it again (yes, I’ll assume you’ve already read it at least once) before you go see DiCaprio take on the iconic role of Jay Gatsby at the movies. We learn about the fallacy of the American dream in this short 1920s classic.
Deadwood by Pete Dexter. Marc has something in common with my dad. They both recommend western author Pete Dexter’s Deadwood, a fictional narrative of Wild Bill’s last days.
Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein. Reader Tom G. likes sci-fi writer Robert Heinlein. “His characters have, in a very large part, defined what I conceptualize ‘manliness’ to be.” If you’re a man who likes to think deep, Tom suggests Stranger in a Strange Land. It’s considered to be essential sci-fi, and tells the story of a Martian human who comes to Earth in early adulthood.
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. Several recommendations for Ender’s Game. I finally got around to reading it this year. It’s a kid’s book, but it tackles some pretty adult themes. Another sci-fi classic, this novel is set during Earth’s future, when kids are trained for battle in preparation for an expected attack. It is still suggested reading in many military organizations, and has ballooned into a series of 12 novels and 12 short stories.
David Copperfield by Charles Dickens. Dickens had several votes, and is widely considered the greatest novelist of the Victorian era. That means you should read his works. You can’t go wrong withDavid Copperfield, which Dickens himself called his favorite. It’s a semi-autobiographical work that tells the life story of a boy who grows up in poverty in London, but escapes his miserable childhood to be become a successful novelist. Available free as an ebook.
Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield. A fictional account of the Spartan 300. Manly. This book is a military favorite and is taught at West Point, the Naval Academy, VMI, and Marine Corps Basic School. If those guys read it, so should you.
Southern Victory Series by Harry Turtledove. Gabe recommended alternate history writer Harry Turtledove. Find out what would have happened had the South won the Civil War, all the way through 1940, in the eleven novels of the Southern Victory Series. Hint: The world is a very different place; your globe would not have the same boundaries.
Captains Courageous by Rudyard Kipling. Hearty recommendations for anything by Rudyard Kipling, author of the manliest poem ever written, “If.” Most people suggested starting off with Kipling’s Captains Courageous. The story tells of a wealthy young boy’s transition to manhood after being saved from drowning by a fishing boat in the North Atlantic. Fun Fact: This novel was written while Kipling was living in Vermont, which is our favorite vacation spot. Free as an ebook.
Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk. An insomniac finds relief in a secret club. No explanation needed for this one. If you’ve seen the movie, it’s time to read the book. It’s also interesting to note the author’s intent in writing: “…bookstores were full of books like The Joy Luck Club and The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood and How to Make an American Quilt. These were all novels that presented a social model for women to be together. But there was no novel that presented a new social model for men to share their lives.”
Metro 2033 by Dmitry Glukhovsky. Reader Jake Warner suggested Russian post-apocalyptic novelMetro 2033: “It’s a bit hard to find in English, but Dmitry Glukhovsky’s Metro 2033 is an excellent post-apocalyptic novel.” The name comes from survivors of a nuclear holocaust retreating to metro train tunnels, in which they begin their new way of life. The book has spawned a very popular video game as well.
Water Music by T.C. Boyle. Water Music follows the wild adventures of Ned Rise, thief and whoremaster, and Mungo Park, a Scottish explorer, through London’s seamy gutters and Scotland’s scenic highlands, to their grand meeting in the heart of darkest Africa. Sounds good.
The Rediscovery of Man by Cordwainer Smith. Kent said everyone should check out the The Rediscovery of Man, a collection of sci-fi short stories by Cordwainer Smith. “His science fiction explores the nature of humanity after mankind has spread out among the stars and begun to diverge.”
His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman. Grumpy Typewriter (fantastic pseudonym, by the way) is a fan of the His Dark Materials trilogy. You’ve probably seen the movie the book inspired, The Golden Compass. Grumpy Typewriter says the books are much better. Always are, always are. The epic trilogy is a coming of age story of two kids who travel through a series of alternate universes, and is said to be a re-telling and repudiation of John Milton’s classic, Paradise Lost.
Lord Jim and Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. Several readers suggested anything by Joseph Conrad. ”He speaks to the masculine in all of us to some extent,” said commenter Graham. If you’ve already read Heart of Darkness, try reading Lord Jim. There are also expanded versions of Heart of Darkness based on Conrad’s notes if you just can’t get enough. Conrad’s works are available free as ebooks.
A Good Man Is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor. A few suggested Flannery O’Connor, a female author known for her Southern Gothic style. Her stories are pretty raw and highlight complex ethical and moral questions. For a good sampling of her work, pick up the collection of her short stories entitled, A Good Man Is Hard to Find.
The Sportswriter by Richard Ford. This is a novel about a failed novelist turned sportswriter who experiences an existential crisis after the death of his son. Its sequel, Independence Day, won a Pulitzer, and there is also a third installment.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. You might be surprised, but several readers suggested Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. LG, a ninth-grade English teacher, said this about the book: “Although all of Austen’s novels are great, I think Pride and Prejudice especially is worth a man’s time to read for its examples of good, noble, self-sacrificing men from every social class, as well as its counter-examples. On the ‘bad guy’ side, you’ve got a womanizing manipulator, a father who shirks his duties and lives to regret it, a pompous moral weakling, and a man whose arrogance blinds him to his own faults.” If you still think Austen is too girly for your tastes, Chris suggests Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.
The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett. Several recommendations for Hammett’s Sam Spade detective novels. Couldn’t agree more. Start off with The Maltese Falcon. If you need convincing, the New York Times calls Hammett the dean of the school of detective fiction.