How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book.
– Henry David Thoreau
In my life, books have brought me knowledge, entertainment, comfort and challenge. Just about all that life has to offer I have either read first and experienced later, or experienced first and read (and learned more about) later. Reading a book is a crutch that allows me to run into worlds both known and undiscovered. Below are ten such vehicles to help you do the same.
1. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
A good book for any man in love with a woman who has a habit of loving one man until she falls in love with a different one. There is also some of the most epic bullfight scenes in literary history in the novel. Hemingway considered himself an alpha male in real life, but this book chips away at the masculine ideal one economical sentence at a time, creating, in Jake, his main character, a more vulnerable, and certainly more realistic, masculine ideal.
2. The Last Tycoon by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald’s final (and never finished) novel, as he succumbed to an alcoholism-induced heart attack half-way through (it was completed by his publisher based on his notes). A peek into Hollywood storytelling genius and falsehood, and a glimpse into what F. Scott was becoming as a maturing writer. The aforementioned notes, available in some texts, are really worth the price of admission, as they reveal Scott’s process: his struggles to understand the characters, to streamline the plot, even to encourage himself to keep on with the writing. It’s a good example of how one can be at the top and the bottom at the same time.
(3-5) Somerset Maugham
Maugham was one of the first celebrity writers, a social gadfly of the most debauched order in the early 1920’s and extending well into the century. In his day, he never got the respect of critics for his work (probably because it was popular), but his prose, the cleanest and purest I’ve ever found, continues to gain and hold fans. For men who are prone to talk before listening, Maugham’s writing style, as evidenced by his characters, is a model of restraint and decorum, reactive and in tuned with the conversation of humanity. Here are three of his books I recommend that demonstrate his unique take on the male psyche in progress:
3. Of Human Bondage
An abusive woman has a stranglehold on a young man’s emotions until she doesn’t. They say Maugham wrote this novel based on events in his own life, although it might have been a man and not a woman who served as his torturer. Either way, it is a good book to read if you’re walking barefoot on eggshells in a relationship and deciding whether to put on steel-toed boots or not.
4. Ashenden, Or the British Agent
The stories that inspired Ian Fleming to create James Bond. If Flaubert was the first king of realism, Maugham did it best with the spy genre. Maugham himself was a spook for England during World War I, cashing in on his proximity to society dames and counts and other upper-crust vagabonds to gather and pass intelligence under the guise of researching books and plays. The stories of Ashenden at work are without pyrotechnics, but strong on common sense, with wry humor that looks with delighted disgust at the intrigue and deception brought on by war.
5. The Razor’s Edge
Two movies were based on the book, including one starring a young Bill Murray testing out for the first time his serious acting chops. A tightening-of-the-screw exploration of the impact battle trauma has on young men.
6. Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin
A white journalist in the early 1960’s darkens the pigment of his skin and disappears into the fractured south to experience first-hand the damage racism does on the victim and the racist. Not only does this book demand one to be empathic in the reading, building a skill and igniting a mindset crucial to a healthy, balanced life, it also reinforces the old proverb – “before you criticize a man, walk a mile in his shoes”…or in this case, his skin.
(7-9) Graham Greene
Greene, like Maugham, worked for a time as a spy for England, more on behind-the-scenes intelligence gathering and analyzing, particularly during the early days of the Cold War with the Soviet Union. But this was very much a side vocation: Greene was a writer’s writer, prolific in output and personality, creating the vivid scene balanced with a delicate psychology of character which, when balanced out, seemed simplistic and comprehensible. He felt as a man and wrote what he felt, not afraid to take a side and then undermine it. Here are three of my favorites from this juggernaut:
7. Travels with My Aunt
A confirmed bachelor a stagnant funk finds liberation and adventure traveling with a wild aunt through Europe and South America. A good read for any man who thinks he is either too old or too removed from life to start living it.
8. The End of the Affair
Infidelity is a touchstone for exploration of morality, religion and fate. A must-read for anyone who needs a kick in the behind to love without convention, judgment or control.
9. The Power and the Glory
A story of heroism perpetrated by a coward. If anyone wants to explore the importance of faith, or the importance of freedom to have faith, this is the book for you.
10. Follow the Joy by Jason Kurtz
A memoir about a young man who buys a one-way ticket to India to find answers and purpose to a life unmoored. This book shows that the power to change and find purpose in life requires one to change and find purpose in life; meaning, moving away from one’s comfort zone can bring lasting comfort to the soul.
Previously Published here