Of all the emblems of masculinity in pop culture, one of the most enduring also happens to be one of our favorite writers: the big game hunting, gruff talking, bullfighting enthusiast war hero, Ernest Hemingway. Today being the 113th anniversary of the author’s birth, we decided to honor him with a little list of books that might help you live up to the Hemingway memory by putting a little hair on your chest — totally metaphoric hair, that is (well, probably). Click through to see our reading list for tough guys and gals of all persuasions, and let us know which books you’d add in the comments.
The Sound and the Fury , William Faulkner: 14 Colors of Hair
The Sound and the Fury is widely considered to be one of Faulkner’s most difficult works — not least because it’s filled with multiple perspectives and time periods that shift with very little indication, so many that Faulkner originally imagined it as being printed in fourteen different colors to make the whole thing easier to parse. “I’ll just have to save the idea until publishing grows up,” he said. Luckily for us, publishing has grown up enough to make an edition like that possible — but we still think everyone should read it in black first. That was the metaphorical chest hair can have all the colors.
A Widow’s Story , Joyce Carol Oates : Emotional Hair
It’s not just difficult reading or hardcore safaris that puts hair on our chests — it’s also books like this one, which tugs at our heartstrings so hard we fear they might tear as we mourn along with Oates in her most broken down state, dreaming of following her husband into the grave, and forcing herself almost bodily not to. If you can come out the other end of this one with your head held high, you’ll definitely be boasting some new chest armor.
Blood Meridian , Cormac McCarthy: May give you actual hair on your chest
By the end of McCarthy’s extraordinary, grueling voyage, you’ll be spitting imaginary sand and blood from your mouth and rubbing your scalp reflexively. Or at least, that’s how we felt. Nothing like a bloody, savage trip through the American West to make everyone grow up a little — though whether we want to grow up anymore, we couldn’t tell you.
The Orchard , Brigit Pegeen Kelly: Garden of Evil Hair
We think a little poetic hair could do us all some good — especially the ominous, hallucinatory magic garden that’s likely to sprout from your chest after reading this sinister, fantastical book of poems by Brigit Pegeen Kelly. There’s also likely to be a dog, feral and portentous, running through the trees. It will probably tickle.
Infinite Jest , David Foster Wallace: A Huge Footnote Fro
Well, obviously. Any book that requires the reader to use three bookmarks at once through all thousand-plus pages is going to grow you some serious footnote hair, not to mention test your stamina and the number of ideas you can hold in your head at one time. Soon you’ll be hearing it from all corners: that’s some serious literary chest hair, you’ve got there, ma’am.
Finnegans Wake , James Joyce: Epic Parsing Hair
Seriously, if you can get through this book and have any idea at all what happened, you will end up looking like a yeti. And we mean that in the best possible way.
To the Lighthouse , Virginia Woolf: Stream-of-Consciousness Hair
Like The Sound and the Fury, To the Lighthouse sweeps the reader through multiple characters and years so fluidly that you can’t do anything but give up and ride the wave through to the end, letting yourself be absorbed in the racing, leaping, overlapping consciousnesses. It can be exhausting, sure, but we promise it will be worth it in the end.
Moby-Dick , Herman Melville: Salty Sea Dog Hair
Because you know, nothing grows chest hair like spending months hunting a mythic white whale on the open sea. Except maybe reading pages upon pages on the specifics of whaling tools and actually paying attention.
We Need to Talk About Kevin , Lionel Shriver: Extreme Parenting Hair
Nothing can compare to the devastation of a mother when her child guns down his classmates, and she realizes that she may have given birth to a monster — or that she may have raised one. This harrowing, heartbreaking, phenomenally written epistolary novel will bring you as close (hopefully) to that feeling as you will ever get, and give you some serious emotional chest hair in the process.
For Whom the Bell Tolls , Ernest Hemingway: Wild War Hair
Well, we couldn’t finish a list like this without including one of Papa’s very own novels, now could we? Though several of his works would have fit the bill, we chose his riveting tale of the Spanish Civil War. Because if this feeling doesn’t put hair on your chest, we don’t know what will: “You learned the dry-mouthed, fear-purged purging ecstasy of battle and you fought that summer and that fall for all the poor in the world against all tyranny, for all the things you believed in and for the new world you had been educated into.”