We have to begin with Papa because this novel is set in both Paris and Pamplona and revels in overindulgence, anomie, and bull running. Jake Barnes is our woeful narrator, who is desperately in love with a sexually liberated Brit named Brett, but is unable to have a lasting relationship with her because he is impotent. What’s a man to do, but travel to Spain and drink himself to death and fight with his friends?
Sabbath’s Theater by Philip Roth
Mickey Sabbath is the bad boy protagonist of Roth’s novel, which won the National Book Award in 1995. He’s an unemployed former puppeteer in his mid-sixties and the highlight of his days is looking for ladies to manipulate. An incorrigible philanderer, he finds himself increasingly confronted by the ghost of his mother, urging him to commit suicide. Michiko Kakutani compares Sabbath to Alexander Portnoy in her review, writing, “Sabbath, in contrast, pursues sex and subversion out of weary habit and selfish desire.” Lecherous men unite!
The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
This marks the first of the Philip Marlowe novels, and it’s a doozy. Sex, violence, and double-crossing characters make it one of the best hard-boiled crime novels in print. Through everything, though, Marlow is calm, cool, and collected. He says, “I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn’t care who knew it. I was everything the well-dressed private detective ought to be.”
A Sport and a Pastime by James Salter
In this literary tour de force, a Yale dropout named Phillip Dean meets a young French lass named Anne-Marie, and they begin a torrid affair in rural France during the 1960s. As the novel’s narrator explains, via Rilke: “There are no classes for beginners in life, the most difficult thing is always asked of one right away.”
Hell’s Angels by Hunter S. Thompson
Hunter S. Thompson writes about the baddest boys around, the Hells Angels, in his groundbreaking 1966 novel about the outlaw motorcycle group. You can read the article the book was based on in The Nation here. One Angel is quoted in the article saying, “When you walk into a place where people can see you, you want to look as repulsive and repugnant as possible. We are complete social outcasts–outsiders against society.”
The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer
This weighty tome concerns an American recon platoon that tries to drive out Japanese troops on an island in the South Pacific during World War II. After publication, Mailer got a lot of flack for censoring himself and using the word “fug” instead of our four-letter friend. The good thing: The Fugs got a band name out of it. The Naked and the Dead is perhaps one of the manliest novels about WWII in print, as it details the inner thoughts and fears of fourteen men in the platoon who have to take up arms and complete a bloody task for the good of their country. See? Manly.
Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
“I am Jack’s raging bile duct.” What’s more manly than shirtless, sweaty men who fight each other for sport in a novel about the neutering of the contemporary American male? What, you say? That’s homoerotic? Perhaps you’re right, dear reader, but it’s more than that. Stop thinking of Jared Leto and start reading the novel.
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
Who is more manly than our favorite libertarian, Ayn Rand? We would argue that no one is. This novel about stone cold capitalists who disengage from modern society and create a utopian land where people aren’t freeloaders, socialists, or homosexuals: they are men, or they are the women who love their capitalist god: John Galt. By the way, there’s a hilarious essay by Andrew Corsello in GQ about his foray into Objectivism here.
A Sense of Where You Are, by John McPhee
McPhee’s 1965 book about the legendary basketball star (and future US Senator) Bill Bradley still resonates today, because it is an extraordinarily detailed investigation into competitive sports and how one man had such control over the game. McPhee’s book was based on an earlier New Yorker article, which is available here.
Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller
We end with Tropic of Cancer, Miller’s classic, banned semi-autobiographical novel, which we featured last week during the 50th anniversary of its U.S. publication. As he writes in the introduction: “This is not a book, in the ordinary sense of the word. No, this is a prolonged insult, a gob of spit in the face of Art, a kick in the pants to God, Man, Destiny, Time, Love, [and] Beauty.” What’s more manly than fighting God, really?