Yesterday afternoon I took a break from reading and making notes for a review and messed around online for a bit. While on Twitter, author Ian Sales tweeted the following: “sigh. apparently starting up sf mistressworks is incompatible with liking books written by men: http://is.gd/r15GY8.” I followed the link and read the comment, which I found to be simultaneously defensive, snide, and patronizing. Not hugely so, mind you, but enough that I fired off an irritated tweet about the comment. Mr. Sales pointed out that it was not a comment made out of anger, but of a feeling that the individual’s own investment in the Masterworks series had likely inspired the comment. I withdrew my retort, but it still bugged me.
I have been very frustrated about a number of related incidents in the last few weeks that highlight sexist undertones in the “mainstream” view of certain literatures. We have the dust-up over the Guardian SF poll (which inspired Ian’s Mistressworks meme, and also resulted in Kari Sperring creating a version of it for fantasy). Then there was V. S. Naipaul and his sexist bullshit. We have a Wall Street Journal article on Young Adult literature that not only implies that much of it is decadent or “constantly reflecting back hideously distorted portrayals of what life is,” but makes heavily-demarcated suggestions for reading based on gender (with almost all of the suggestions’ authors also segregated to match the reader’s gender).
Finally, and this is what pushed me over the edge into anger, we have Esquire Magazine’s “75 Books Every Man Should Read,” a slideshow presentation of 75 titles that are “the greatest works of literature every published,” only one of which is written by a woman (Flannery O’Connor). I found it after going to read Emma Bull’s response to the YA article, but flipping through that gallery took me away from that debate and made me realize that all of these little moments of discursive idiocy added up to something, showed me parts of the puzzle that clicked together into an ugly puzzle. Patriarchy, gendered ideas of morality, cultural suppositions about art and authority, and echoes of hegemonic imaginative limits all collided.
Rather than pen some vast missive about it, however, I thought that responding in kind would be a better idea. To that end, I present a list of 75 books (in no particular order, except for the first one) that I think males should read, not to reinforce some prevailing gender notions or make them feel good about themselves and their taste in books, nor to reify certain ideas about what a canon should contain or who gets to be in it or what books are allegedly transcendent or special to men. If readers stick to “the classics” as prescribed in this manner they are cheating themselves out of what reading can show them.
I present this as a list of works that have the potential to shake a reader’s thinking up and create more perceptive discussions about the issues that these incidents have brought to the fore (including the idea of what “books for men” should address). The title of my post is a play on the Esquire title, these are books that I would recommend to anyone. Due to time constraints I have not added links, but Google and book sites and library catalogs can be easily employed to find most of these. I have tried to keep comments to a minimum for the same reason. Find out more for yourselves.
1) How to Suppress Women’s Writing, by Joanna Russ (Obvious? Yes. Dated? Read it and find out for yourself, for Athena’s sake).
2) Our Guys, by Bernard Lefkowitz.
3) The Dispossessed, by Ursula K. Le Guin
4) Feminism: The Essential Historical Writings, edited by Miriam Schneer.
5) The Human Condition, by Hannah Arendt.
6) To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee.
7) Angels’ Town: Chero Ways, Gang Life, and the Rhetorics of Everyday, by Ralph Cintron.
8) Living My Life, by Emma Goldman.
9) Myths of Male Dominance, by Eleanor Burke Leacock.
10) A Language Older Than Words, by Derrick Jensen.
11) Oh Pure and Radiant Heart, by Lydia Millett.
12) A Martian Muse, by Reginald Shepherd.
13) The Collected Poems, by Anna Akhmatova.
14) Veiled Sentiments: Honor and Poetry in a Bedouin Society, by Lila Abu–Lughod
15) The Stars Down to Heaven and Other Essays, by Theodore Adorno.
16) Life and Words: Violence and the Descent into the Ordinary, by Veena Das.
17) Civil Disobedience and Other Essays, by Henry David Thoreau
18) Mama Day, by Gloria Naylor.
19) Peace, by Gene Wolfe.
20) Pedagogy of the Oppressed, by Paolo Friere
21) Ka Whawhai Tonu Matou =: Struggle Without End, by Ranginui Walker.
22) Swagger and Remorse, by Richard Fox.
23) The Awakening, by Kate Chopin.
24) The Killer Inside Me, by Jim Thompson.
25) Wolf Totem, by Jiang Rong.
26) Palimpsest, by Catherynne Valente.
27) The Interpretation of Cultures, by Clifford Geertz
28) The Sultana’s Dream, by Rokheya Shekawat Hossein
29) Housekeeping, by Marilyn Robinson.
30) In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio, by Philippe Bourgeois.
31) The Alteration, by Kingsley Amis.
32) Flowers for Algernon, by Daniel Keyes.
33) So Long Been Dreaming, ed. by Nalo Hopkinson.
34) Payback, by Margaret Atwood.
35) Wizard of the Crow, by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o
36) The Fact of A Doorframe, by Adrienne Rich.
37) Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, by Shunryu Suzuki.
38) Lettres d’un Voyageur, by Georges Sand.
39) Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand, by Samuel R. Delany.
40) Waking the Moon, by Elizabeth Hand.
41) Hunger, by Knut Hamsun.
42) The Cancer Journals, by Audre Lorde
43) Dragonflies: Fiction by Chinese Women in the Twentieth Century, ed. by Shu–Ning Sciban
44) The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, by Carson McCullers.
45) The Tale of Genji, by Lady Shikibu Murasaki
46) The Sambia: Ritual, Sexuality, and Change in Papua New Guinea, by Gilbert Herdt.
47) Wide Sargasso Sea, by Jean Rhys.
48) Black Women in White America: A Documentary History, ed. by Gerda Lerner.
49) On Wings of Song, by Thomas M. Disch
50) Fear: A Cultural History, by Joanna Bourke
51) Between the Acts, by Virginia Woolf.
52) The House of Discarded Dreams, by Ekaterina Sedia. (Which I have written about at length on this blog)
53) The Man Who Folded Himself, by David Gerrold
54) Forms of Distance, by Bei Dao.
55) Bloodchild and Other Stories, by Octavia Butler.
56) Christopher and his Kind, by Christopher Isherwood.
57) Dust Tracks on the Road, by Zora Neale Hurston.
58) Lud-in-the-Mist, by Hope Mirrlees.
59) Selected Poems, by W. H. Auden.
60) Challenging Gender Norms: Five Genders Among Bugis in Indonesia, by Sharyn Graham Davies.
61) One-Dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society, by Herbert Marcuse.
62) Melmoth the Wanderer, by Charles Robert Maturin.
63) The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver.
64) Morning Star: surrealism, marxism, anarchism, situationism, utopia,by Michael Löwy.
65) The Second Sex, by Simone de Beauvoir
66) Her Smoke Rose Up Forever, by James Tiptree, Jr./Alice Sheldon
67) Manhood in the Making: Cultural Concepts of Masculinity, by David Gilmore.
68) Our Bodies, Ourselves, by The Boston Women’s Health Collective
69) Sensation, by Nick Mamatas.
70) I, Pierre Riviere, Having Slaughtered My Mother, My Sister & My Brother . . . , by Michel Foucault.
71) Deathbird Stories, by Harlan Ellison.
72) Ammonite, by Nicola Griffith.
73) Don Quixote, by Miguel de Cervantes.
74) A Space by the Side of the Road, by Kathleen Stewart.
75) The Female Man, by Joanna Russ.