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Books that every man should read

By Kobo • June 15, 2024Big Ideas in Books

Books that contemplate manifold representations of masculinity

Amidst messages about "what's wrong with boys", "what's wrong with men", and how "it's all the patriarchy's fault", a guy just trying to get to know himself could easily get discouraged or frustrated. To help untangle some ideas about what it means to be a man—and how one might grow and learn to be a good person while also being a good man—here are books that will entertain, provoke thought, and possibly even elicit a laugh or two.

Stay True: A Memoir by Hua Hsu

If one’s taste in music and clothes was enough to make a personality, then Ken would have been instantly forgettable, especially to someone like Hua with his many esoteric interests and studiously refined tastes. But the memory of Ken has lived with Hua for decades, and he wonders what might have become of him if he hadn’t been the victim of a senseless act. This is a book about the people we carry inside of us, and the people we become.

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All We Want: Building the Life We Cannot Buy by Michael Harris

Most of us know deep down that buying more stuff won’t make us happy. Yet we go on consuming, thinking about consuming, and all the while judging the consumption of others. It doesn’t feel good, but what’s the alternative? And is buying stuff just inherently bad? Writer Michael Harris offers some clues to where we might find the kind of fulfillment that we’re often seeking through the acquisition that next thing, whatever it is.

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The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love by bell hooks

For anyone curious—or even skeptical—about claims that feminism is intended for the benefit of men as well, the brilliant essayist and cultural critic bell hooks lays it out here, and does so with the aim of easing men’s pain. Her argument is simple: conventions of masculinity deprive men of rich emotional lives, forcing men to choose between manliness and feeling and resulting in the kind of loneliness that results when you don’t even know yourself.

FYI: this book got on our radar through a recommendation by Expanse author Daniel Abraham on the Kobo in Conversation podcast.

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How Not to Be a Boy by Robert Webb 

Growing up, author Robert Webb was told that being a man meant you don’t cry, you love sports, and absolutely under no circumstances do you ever talk about feelings. Even more manly: don’t even have feelings. How Not to be A Boy is a hilarious and heartbreaking memoir reflecting on all the strange and unrealistic expectations thrust upon boys and men throughout their lifetime.

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The Plot Against America by Philip Roth

In this alternate history, Charles A. Lindbergh, aviator and avowed racist, wins the 1940 presidential election and proceeds to build a cordial relationship with German chancellor Adolf Hitler. Told from the perspective of a Jewish boy growing up in New Jersey, it’s a chilling and entirely too plausible story about what draws masses to “strongman” figures in politics.

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Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity by Andrew Solomon

Journalist Andrew Solomon spent a decade interviewing and researching parents and children to understand the family dynamics around children who are “exceptional” in some way. Solomon’s scope for exceptions is vast, including prodigious talent, gender identity, neurodivergence and mental illness, disability, criminality, and even children whose existence is a result of sexual violence. What emerges over the book’s twelve chapters—ending with a chapter called “Fathers”—is a compassionate view of people struggling for acceptance in the name of love.

Because the book is very long and brings up some surprising emotions, we recommend reading one chapter per month over the course of a year to really take it in.

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The Road  by Cormac McCarthy

In a post-apocalyptic world, a man and his son fight for survival. Against a backdrop of unspeakable horrors, it’s a meditation on a father’s love for his son and what it’ll lead him to do in the most extreme circumstances.

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All Boys Aren't Blue : A Memoir-Manifesto by George M. Johnson

A "memoir-manifesto" in essays about what it means to grow up as a Black queer boy in America. Johnson shares stories about confronting bullies, his relationship with his grandmother, the uneasy friendships he made in college, and his first sexual experiences. He reflects thoughtfully and frankly about his sense of his own masculinity and how he relates to the expectations boys are burdened with from an early age.

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The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Following a group of misfits at an elite New England college, this is the story of how a charismatic classics professor opens their minds to new ideas but ends up isolating the students from society. It’s a first-order literary page-turner that raises questions about how far we’ll go to feel like we belong.

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Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century by Jessica Bruder

Journalist Jessica Bruder looks at how people, men as well as women, identify with how they earn a living. Exploring a subculture composed of a broad swath of Americans who take on a transient life of finding work and community where they can, Bruder surfaces the internal motivations and macroeconomic forces behind the choices these people make to provide for themselves and those they love.

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The Atmospherians  by Alex McElroy

Social media darling Sasha Marcus’ image needs rehabilitation, and it just so happens that her childhood friend Dyson has launched a new venture that could use a spokesperson. The Atmosphere is a detox facility for toxic masculinity, and with her background as a wellness influencer and recent recipient of waves of online hate from the “manosphere”, Sasha’s just the face to bring it to market. The Atmospherians is a satirical look at wokeness, wellness, and the impossibility of becoming “unproblematic.”

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Not So Pure and Simple  by Lamar Giles

While Not So Pure and Simple by Lamar Giles is a young adult novel, this book is a must-read for men (and all people) of any age. The story follows high school student Del who, in a desperate attempt to catch the eye of a girl he's had a crush on for years, accidentally signs up for a purity pledge at the local church. What follows is a thought-provoking (and often hilarious) look at purity culture, consent, and toxic masculinity.

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Photo: HBO

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