The Complete Sherlock Holmes , Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
We don’t know about you, but we think our favorite consulting detective’s ability to apply his acute logical reasoning skills to nearly every situation is pretty darn manly. A loner who nonetheless values his true friends deeply, a troublemaker who is also an authority figure, he is something of a double-edged sword. Not to mention his special manner of household organization, where he “keeps his cigars in the coal-scuttle, his tobacco in the toe end of a Persian slipper, and his unanswered correspondence transfixed by a jack-knife into the very centre of his wooden mantelpiece…” Sounds pretty manly to us.
Blood Meridian , Cormac McCarthy
What list of manly books would be complete without a Western written by one of the reigning kings of masculine fiction? As is perhaps fitting for this heavily researched adventure tale set in the American Southwest, McCarthy’s prose is as expansive and sparse as his landscape, his off-kilter grammatical sense stoic and experimental all at once. Though critics argue over McCarthy’s use of violence and the underlying meaning of the ending, is is widely considered to be the author’s masterpiece.
CivilWarLand in Bad Decline , George Saunders
Manliness isn’t just about adventure stories and detectives. It’s also about appreciating the best in surreal literature and satire — not to mention having a killer sense of humor. In George Saunders’ first short story collection, he imagines several possibilities of a dystopian America in the near future, the irony and nudging cynicism of his stories always interwoven with a profound sense of humanity and sympathy. Which is pretty manly, we’d say.
Ulysses , James Joyce
How could we leave off this classic giant of modernist literature? Lyric and obscene in equal measure, recalling the epic story of Odysseus in a single day in Dublin, this novel is a feat to read, but we promise, it’s good for you — after all, it was ranked first on the Modern Library’s list of the 100 Best Novels of the 20th Century. Plus, there’s nothing more manly than a fellow who can eat seriously, like a certain Mr. Leopold Bloom, who “ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liverslices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencods’ roes. Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine.”
The Professional , W.C. Heinz
Yes, we felt we had to include a sports book. But this is a sports book that Ernest Hemingway called “the only good novel about a fighter that I’ve ever read,” which we think counts for something. The story of a boxer striving towards a championship, the real power of the novel lies in Heinz’s taught prose, perfected during his years of covering boxing matches as a journalist. One, two, punch.
War and Peace , Leo Tolstoy
If nothing else, it’s a very manly feat to even get through the 1350-or-so pages of prose that make up this Great Big Russian Novel. But barring that, it’s an absolute must-read, an all-encompassing meditation on power, individuality, sacrifice, agony, and of course, war and peace.
Moby Dick , Herman Melville
Obviously, we think it’s pretty manly to read the classics. But come on, an epic battle between a megalomaniacal seaman and his monstrous bestial foe? We don’t think we even have to explain ourselves on this one.
The Call of the Wild , Jack London
Ah, the wild, and how it calls to each of us. We understand, which is why we suggest this book, about Buck, a St. Bernard/Scotch Shepherd who is stolen from his California home and pressed into service as a sled dog in Alaska. Sounds like the premise of a Disney movie, we know, and well it could be, for its universal themes of home, conflict, freedom and the laws of nature.
A Farewell to Arms , Ernest Hemingway
How could we make a list about manly literature without a nod to Papa? Though many of the notoriously masculine writer’s books would have fit well, we prefer this early WWI tale based on Hemingway’s own experiences on the battlefield. Tragic, even sentimental in parts, but steeped in honor and dignity, not to mention perfectly rendered in Hemingway’s terse, stoic prose, the book reveals in many ways the full measure of what it is to be a man.
Between a Rock and a Hard Place , Aron Ralston
Yes, this is the book (and the man) that 127 Hours was based on. Though we think the manliest course would be to read the book before seeing the film, that ship may have sailed, and that’s okay. This true tale is still a harrowing, inspiring read, that will doubtless raise the very question in you that it raised in us: would I be able to do that? One thing’s for sure: Aron Ralston is extremely manly.