Carolyn’s Team Pick: Responses to Esquire’s List of “75 Books Every Man Should Read”

Edith F*cking Wharton

Esquire releases a slideshow (usually the same slideshow, actually) of “75 books every man should read” every year or so, and they have a habit of being flawed the same way — nearly every author is white, and all but one are dudes (the only woman in the list is Flannery O’Connor, with A Good Man is Hard to Find).

Yes, most classic reading lists are full of old straight white dudes, because for a long time classic literature was full of old straight white dudes (though not exclusively. See also: Victorian sensation novels; post-sensation gothic writing; Eliza Haywood; Frances Burney; female authors writing under male pen-names — and all of that falls before you even end the 18th century). And yes, Esquire caters to an old straight white dude-friendly audience.

But also, seriously?

+ At HTMLgiant, Roxane Gay responds to this list and to gender binaries in reading and genre more generally:

“Yesterday, Esquire released a list of 75 books every man should read. They make such lists regularly so the list, in and of itself, is not remarkable. There are some really great books included like Lolita and Call of the Wild and The Things They Carried and Winter’s Bone and The Spy Who Came In From the Cold. The list offers a nice blend of contemporary and classic fiction. I was particularly pleased to see Edward P. Jones’s outstanding The Known World mentioned. I cannot say there’s a book on that list that doesn’t deserve the recognition. The list is certainly very masculine in tone, but there’s nothing wrong with that. Great books are great books and there’s something to be said for muscular prose. My list would probably look somewhat different but so would yours. Reading is personal and taste is subjective.

It is curious, though, that out of all 75 books every man should read, only one, not two or five or seventeen, but one of those books, A Good Man Is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor, is written by a woman. I should be surprised by this imbalance but I’m not.”

+ At Joyland, there’s a much-improved list of 250 books by female authors, including Zadie Smith, Aline Munro, Chris Kraus, George Eliot (because hello, Middlemarch!), and Mary Shelley.

+ And at the Atlantic, there’s this:

“This is not a favor to feminists. This is not about how to pick up chicks. This is about hunger, greed and acquisition. Do not read books by women to murder your inner sexist pig. Do it because Edith Wharton can fucking write. It’s that simple.”

Feature image from Things Organized Neatly.

Avatar of Carolyn

Carolyn is the NSFW Editor for Autostraddle.com. She is also a freelance copy editor and writer, and her work has appeared in Bitch, Xtra!, Jezebel, the Billfold, and other places. Find her on twitter.

Carolyn has written 282 articles for us.

12 Comments

  1. Thumb up 1

    Please log in to vote

    The huge disparity between men and women writers really is some thing that needs to be talked about. My friends at Vida: Women in Literary Arts did something called The Count. They simply counted the number of women and men published in all the big lit mags, all the men and women who won awards, ect and made pie charts. The disparity was pretty stark and pretty sad if you are a women. But, it needs to be talked about and women have to keep making great art that can not be ignored.

    http://vidaweb.org/

  2. Thumb up 1

    Please log in to vote

    Roxane Gay! Roxane Gay! I love her. Also, HTML GIANT is fucking fantastic. I am lucky to be able to be able to knwo and learn from some of those guys, specifically Gay and Sean Lovelace. I am so happy to see a post mentioning these things. AWESOME.

  3. Thumb up 1

    Please log in to vote

    I think this is the same issue that’s addressed in “A Room of One’s Own” by Virginia Woolf (which I coincidentally finished reading this morning). I’ll sum up the points Woolf made:
    - It’s difficult to write well when you lack the space (literally and socially) and education to do so. If a woman managed to write at all, her writing was poisoned by her lack of experience or by her bitterness at being contained.
    That was the condition of women up until about the 1800′s. After that, women managed to make some headway, becoming, in general, more educated and interested in expressing themselves in the new medium, the novel. Here, however, they encountered a different obstacle:
    - There is no history of women’s writing, and therefore no paradigm to follow. Men have a continous body of literature narrated in the language particular to men; women’s collective narrative voice is less established.

    She goes on to say that the best writer’s are those who are capable of blending the two styles and writing with an androgynous voice. But that’s a whole ‘nother story.
    In any case, I guess Esquire has done wrong by its readers, suggesting only books about men or women in relation to men are important. It would be nice to see books like “The Bell Jar”, “To Kill a Mockingbird”, “Wuthering Heights”, “Their Eyes Were Watching God”… you know, other books that have a lot to offer someone who reads critically.

    • Thumb up 1

      Please log in to vote

      That’s very interesting. I really need to read more Woolf. She was too intimidating to me in high school and so I feel like my minimal experience with her was tainted. Also, I was a lazy senior who didn’t really find literary analysis terribly important.

      Also I agree with everything you said, 100 percent. Especially the androgynous voice part. Yes. Hopefully I’m not actually as incoherent and/or shallow as I sound to myself….

      • Thumb up 1

        Please log in to vote

        Not at all. The whole time I was typing I felt like I was talking to myself… -__-
        because literature IS really intimidating. High school made sure I would never open a book by Jane Austen again. I probably started reading Woolf’s book five times before I finally forced myself to finish it. In the end, thinking about the ideas on their own is way more interesting than reading about the ideas.

        • Thumb up 1

          Please log in to vote

          Last year I wrote a paper for a political thought course based around A Room of One’s Own and the novel Indiana by George Sand (woman writing under a man’s name!)

          While I don’t really remember what I wrote in my paper, I do remember finding that particular essay/book of Woolf’s a million times easier to understand than her fiction that I read: The Voyage Out. Maybe it had more to do with my education and knowledge a the time of reading, but I do think A Room of One’s Own was much more accessible than The Voyage Out. It’s definitely a good read, but as you say, it’s even better to discuss the ideas, and study them and think of the context they were written in, than to just read them.

        • Thumb up 1

          Please log in to vote

          The one Woolf book I return to again and again is Mrs Dalloway. At least for me it is her most accessible. And ten times more interesting than The Hours, that Micheal Cunningham book that the movie is based on. Reading that made me so angry cos he got so much attention with it, and it’s so poorly written in comparison.

          And EVERYONE should read a Jane Austen book once a year, in my opinon. They get better the more times you read them. I can never decide if I like Emma or Sense and Sensibility more. Jane Austen is a pioneer of snarky, smart-ass comments about ppl and their hangups. Awesome, and hilariously funny.

  4. Thumb up 1

    Please log in to vote

    I just read an infuriating article quoting VS Naipaul
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/jun/02/vs-naipaul-jane-austen-women-writers

    Particularly dreadful quotes from him where
    “I read a piece of writing and within a paragraph or two I know whether it is by a woman or not. I think [it is] unequal to me.”

    “(This is) sentimentality, the narrow view of the world”…. inevitably for a woman, she is not a complete master of a house, so that comes over in her writing too”

    • Thumb up 1

      Please log in to vote

      See I had a French Lit Prof (I was in France, he is French and was “teaching” French Lit.) who basically said the same thing, unless you were male, or a gay woman you couldn’t be an artist because you’d must then be a straight woman who is too occupied by babies to create. I couldn’t stand him. Sometimes I still get mad and write angry letters to him about how sexist and stupid he was.

Contribute to the conversation...

You must be logged in to post a comment.