Several folks have mentioned this recent list of essential books for men. What I found was not an impressive group of books to appeal to 21st century male readers, in fact I'd hazard that this is one of the laziest books lists I've ever come across. What really bugs me though is how Caucasian-centric it is. The more appropriate title would be "Must Read Books for White American Men Who Don't Want to Leave Their Comfort Zone - Ever." (An addendum might include the words "prepare to be bored".)
First up, you've got the classics - a bunch of titles straight off of every high school or college freshman recommended reading list in the country. Gatsby is here, along with Huck Finn, Hemingway (twice), Steinbeck (FOUR times), Shakespeare, Lord of the Flies, Red Badge of Courage, Moby Dick, Frankenstein, Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson. There is not a single surprise in these books, other than the weirdness of seeing Steinbeck so many times. (And of course we have The Catcher in the Rye because as we all know, you can not attend American high school without brushing up against Holden Caulfield at one point.)
You've also got what I considered the "Classic Comic Books" titles, like Robinson Crusoe, Treasure Island, Swiss Family Robinson, The Call of the Wild and The Count of Monte Cristo (Huck Finn would work here too as would Moby Dick). Most of these are encountered in one way or another in elementary school - which makes the exclusion of The Three Musketeers, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Peter Pan or Last of the Mohicans that much more glaring. (Not to mention that it would be nice to see at least one title on Native Americans somewhere in this list - or even a book by an Indian. (Sherman Alexie, anyone???)
Then you've got a lot of love for the Greeks as in the Illiad and the Odyssey, Herodotus' Histories, Plato's Republic and Aristotle's Politics. Greeks good, apparently.
There are plenty of war books, but oddly military history seems to stop at WWII. We've got all the usual suspects here: Killer Angels, All Quiet on the Western Front, Catch 22, Slaughterhouse Five, The Naked and the Dead, From Here to Eternity (the movie yes - the book no), The Thin Red Line and Hemingway, of course. No Korea, No Vietnam (which blows my mind), No Iraq, No Rwanda, No Somalia, No War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning by Chris Hedges or A Problem From Hell by Samantha Power. Not even Black Hawk Down.
How can you put a list like this together without a single book on Vietnam, the war that pretty much blew the doors off of war reporting and war literature? Do we only like wars that are more glorious - or wars we are more insulated from? Do we want to read about war but not have to actively think about it now?
No The Things They Carried, or Dispatches or Bright Shining Lie? (But four Steinbecks, thee Dostoevskys, two Hemingways and here's something interesting - two biographies of Teddy Roosevelt and two books by Teddy Roosevelt. Hmmmm.)
For genre fiction there is one western - Larry McMurty's Lonesome Dove and one kinda western, Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian. (I say kinds because this book always seems to be more about violence than the west itself.) No Louis L'Amour or Zane Grey of course. (Please - how is that possible in a just world?). For mystery there are exactly what you would expect: Chandler and Hammet. I have their books, enjoy their books but please - why must mystery always end with noir and why must noir always end with these two men (plus James Cain)? What about John D. MacDonald and his transformation of the detective with Travis McGee? Or dare I suggest Easy Rawlins or Spenser and Hawk (the early years) or Dave Robicheaux? Chandler and Hammet are dated. Doesn't mean they aren't good but they are really really dated. Does a book have to be old to be worthy - or does age merely make it safe? (Especially as so many of these later detectives strayed into political territory.)
As to science fiction or fantasy, well...not so much. We've got The Hobbit (boy that's brave) and Island of Dr. Moreau and Orwell and Huxley. But again, all of this reads like parts of those school lists again. (Except The Hobbit but most of us read that on our own by 12.) No Ray Bradbury, no Arthur C. Clark, no Asimov, no Heinlein, no Philip K. Dick. Not one single Arthurian title (no Once and Future King???) I have to say, this really blew my mind. I don't know a single guy who hasn't read SFF at some point in his life and loved it. Not to include anything from this area while a 15th century title on chivalry is listed really seems bizarre - and dare I say, a bit snobbish. You put Dale Carnegie but not Isaac Asimov? Why would you ignore these authors?
For poetry there is Milton, of course, - but no Sigefried Sassoon or Wilfred Owen on the horrors of war; no Langston Hughes or Countee Cullen. (But of course not! They are black!) There's also no nature or science to speak of - no Mr. Feynman, no Stephen Jay Gould, no Oliver Sacks, no Gerald Durrell or Richard Ellis. No books to suggest that men really like nature or science or at all - not even Aldo Leopold. (And the only fishing title is A River Runs Through It which is fine but seems to be here more for the movie then to celebrate fishing.)
And finally, for sports we've got one book - Roger Kahn's Boys of Summer. I do love this book but again, one title from a subject that men dominate? With so many amazing titles, this is the only baseball book? (A. Bartlett Giamatti's Great and Glorious Game is amazing.) Nothing on football and nothing on boxing? And while I'm talking about boxing - no book on the greatest American athlete of all time, Muhammad Ali? Not one biography of him? But then again that would mean having more than one book - one book out of one hundred - on an African American. This is a list that has room for three books by Dostoevsky, for Plutarch and Camus but no biography of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The Autobiography of Malcolm X is the only book on an African American here. I'm at a loss to see this as a simple oversight. It makes no sense if you want the list to include all men and not just one particular ethnic group. (And yes - the Hispanic experience is absent as well.)
Oh, and how weird is it to see a list of essential books for men that does not include The Right Stuff? Very weird.
In putting together Guys Lit Wire we have begun drafting a bunch of lists for SF titles, War, Coming-of-Age, etc. They are all works in progress and will likely be added to for years to come. But one thing we have consciously tried to do is make sure that out lists are representative of our audience - all teenage boys. We don't see colors or religions or ethnicities. We just see guys and good books. I hope we are brave when it comes to our list making because honestly, the alternative is something I want no part of. (Guys LIt Wire goes active next Monday, but feel free to check out our "Live Wire" lists now!)