Perhaps it was my last blog about the Romance Writers that inspired today’s topic, but I’ve been thinking about bloke books.
Not your Matthew Reilly/Clive Cussler “Hey I know there’s no plot, but hey lookit ‘splosions” books. And not your Tom Clancy/James Patterson “Give Dad one every Father’s Day because otherwise it’s socks again” kind of books either. No, I’m talking about novels that delve deep into the male psyche. Books that are raw and unflinchingly male and force you to grow a Grisly Adams-esc beard by the time you’ve turned the first page.
The list is far from complete, but I’ve presented books that mean something to me and made me want to go wrestle a bear. Or maybe not an actual bear, more like look at YouTube clip of someone wrestling a bear. Same same.
Charles Bukowski – Ham on Rye
In this semi-autobiographical coming of age piece Bukowski spits venom on the page with an unlikable, morally reprehensible erasable drunkard; and it’s a brilliant ride. Only Bukowski could conceive of a thoroughly vile main character (I mentioned autobiographical, right?), who does appalling acts, and, makes it utterly compelling reading.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – Hunter S Thompson
In this autobiographical piece about Hunter S. Thomson’s alter ego, Raoul Duke, attempts to cover a motorcycle race in Vegas. It quickly descends into a glorious comical farce of drug binges, car wrecks and the loss of the American dream. Thompson not only steps over the line, he pole vaults over it into the abyss.
If you’ve only seen the so so Terry Gilliam movie starring Jonhny Depp, then you haven’t experienced a tiny fraction of the experience. Thompson’s prose, his wit, his sense of the absurd makes this (despite the overused cliché) unputdownable. It also makes you wonder how a human being can cast themselves into a debauched few days like this and not only survive, but come out the other end with a novel as clever, sharp and jaw dropping as this. The bats!
(Also, notice how I wrote about Hunter S. without once using the word “gonzo”….except here, obviously. Bonus point!)
For Whom the Bell Tolls – Ernest Hemingway
Hemingway didn’t just face down life’s adversities; he punched them in the throat. He practically lived his life to the extreme of what it is to be an old school M.A.N. (here).
In this 1940 novel Hemingway tells the tale of a republican guerrilla in the Spanish Civil War. It’s gritty, real and emotional. For the uninitiated, Hemingway’s clipped prose can be challenging at first, but very soon the man shines through. A life lived to the fullest bleeds from every page of a Hemingway book. In a style that is deceptively simple, when you reach the last page you can’t help realise you’ve just finished a work of staggering genius.
(This just pipped A Farewell to Arms, which may very well be a better read).
The Big Sleep – Raymond Chandler
The first and best Philip Marlowe novel, Chandler literally wrote the book on hardboiled crime, and all that followed this 1939 classic owe a great debt. For the time it is surprising that the themes of sex, violence, double-crossing, and pornography are all laid out in the open. At the centre of the storm is the always cool and calm Marlowe. There’s a reason Bogey was the only choice for the film version.
Read it and you’ll know why Time selected this baby in the list of 100 Best Novels (here).
The Outsiders – S.E Hinton
The fact that Hinton started this book when she was 18 only makes it stronger. Yes, she. I’m very happy to have a female writer is in this list.
Fight Club – Chuck Palahniuk
A fist in the face about what it means to be a modern male. It provides a (literally) brutal outlet for men who have lost their way and choose to embrace chaos – such as the urge to “destroy something beautiful”. It is a scream into the void about the lost nature of what it is to be a man in the world.
One of the few books on the list that the movie lives up to the book, thanks to David Fincher’s brilliant adaption.
Catcher in the Rye – J.D Salinger
There seems to be a theme to this list – the novels are either semi-autobiographical or coming of age. Salinger’s classic firmly sits in the latter. Holden Caulfield is full of angst, cynicism and anger. There’s a reason this book has sold a staggering 65 million copies – it resonates with the reader, back to their youth when teenage rebellion seemed like the only viable option. Deceptive genius.
To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
Can a lawyer be a real man? If you have to ask, you haven’t read this book. This 1960 Pulitzer Prize winning novel basically sets the template for being a man in the ‘civilised’ world. Atticus Finch is a man of morals, integrity and unwavering strength. He is the man all fathers strive to be.
Lee is also the second woman on the list!
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – Robert M. Pirsig
Intensely philosophical, this novel asks questions you never thought to ask about yourself. It is a powerful and touching novel on what it is to be a man, and how we can do it better. The story is about a father and son travelling across America’s Northwest and asks the big questions on life without interfering with the narrative.
All Quiet on the Western Front – Erich Maria Remarq
A war novel that depicts how war can and will destroy a man. Written about a German in World War 1, it follows a naive eager soldier’s descent into the madness of trench warfare. Leaving his innocent behind in the hell of the battlefield, he is left shell shocked and numb.
Even in translation this is profoundly moving stuff, even nearly a century on. Try this on for size: “I am young, I am twenty years old; yet I know nothing of life but despair, death, fear, and fatuous superficiality cast over an abyss of sorrow. I see how peoples are set against one another, and in silence, unknowingly, foolishly, obediently, innocently slay one another.”