50 Books Every Man Should Read

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50 Books Every Man Should Read

Words by Mr Sam Leith

1 May 2018

01. Great Expectations

by Mr Charles Dickens

There’s so much Mr Charles Dickens to choose from, but here’s one that’s a manageable length and tells a humdinger of a story. Shudder at the sinister Magwitch, tremble at the sepulchral Miss Havisham, blub at the fate of good Joe Gargery.

02. Crime And Punishment

by Mr Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Not always your man for laughs, Mr Fyodor Dostoevsky, but Crime And Punishment is a towering Russian classic, both thrilling and profound. It will put you off killing grannies for good.

03. The Magic Mountain

by Mr Thomas Mann

The summit of The Magic Mountain dwarfs anything else in modern German literature. The whole history of pre-WWI Europe mixes in the clear air of a sanatorium in the Swiss Alps. The one good thing to come out of Davos.

04. Robinson Crusoe

by Mr Daniel Defoe

The story of a hardworking Protestant on a desert island. All English novelists (and cartoonists) owe Mr Daniel Defoe a debt of gratitude.

05. Cotters’ England

by Ms Christina Stead

Long before An American Werewolf In London, here was an Aussie writer in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. The antipodean Ms Christina Stead spent time in Geordieland in 1949, and this novel of post-war working-class life is the result.

06. A Fine Balance

by Mr Rohinton Mistry

A vast tapestry of life in India between 1947 and The Emergency three decades later. It follows the lives of several protagonists from the so-called untouchables to children of privilege.

07. The Periodic Table

by Mr Primo Levi

Mr Primo Levi, an Italian industrial chemist, spent 11 months in Auschwitz. This collection of linked short stories associates events in his own life with 21 of the chemical elements. Alchemical genius.

08. Jane Eyre

Ms Charlotte Brontë

Ms Charlotte Brontë was both a great storyteller and an acute anatomist of the human heart. Damaged, secretive, tragic Mr Rochester is a romantic icon for the ages.

09. Sense And Sensibility

by Ms Jane Austen

 Ms Jane Austen was as bright and beady a comedian of manners as ever put pen to paper. Chaps, take note. Don’t be like Mr Willoughby.

10. Gravity’s Rainbow

by Mr Thomas Pynchon

A dizzying classic of paranoia about American soldiers stationed in Europe during WWII. V-2 rockets, crazy conspiracies and the best banana-related meal in fiction.

11. Le Grand Meaulnes

by Mr Alain-Fournier

Mr Alain-Fournier’s only novel is a magical and tragic fable of youth, lost and rediscovered love, and the passing of time. It helped inspire The Great Gatsby.

12. To Kill A Mockingbird

by Ms Harper Lee

Racism in the 1930s American South. Part social history, part morality tale, part evocation of its narrator Scout’s coming of age. A captivating tale, simply told.

13. The Odyssey

by Homer

The tale of Odysseus’ schlep home from the Trojan wars is one of the wellsprings of Western literature, from Ulysses to (possibly) Planes, Trains And Automobiles. Inexhaustible.

14. Silence

by Mr Shusaku Endo

This historical novel about a Portuguese missionary in 17th-century Japan was described by Mr John Updike as “sombre, delicate and startlingly empathetic”.

15. Maus

by Mr Art Spiegelman

For those who think comics are just for kids, here’s a rebuke. Mr Art Spiegelman’s graphic novel describes with great subtlety and poignancy his family’s experience in the Holocaust, with Nazis as cats and Jews as mice.

16. Red Cavalry

by Mr Isaac Babel

Mr Isaac Babel’s stories of the Soviet invasion of Poland in 1920 are classics of war writing.

17. Moby Dick

Mr Herman Melville

The story of Captain Ahab’s mad pursuit of the white whale contains multitudes. Adventure story here, religious allegory there, Wikipedia-style discussion of scrimshaw in another place.

18. Things Fall Apart

by Mr Chinua Achebe

Mr Chinua Achebe’s masterpiece about colonial Nigeria is the fountainhead of African literature in English.

19. Anna Karenina

by Count Leo Tolstoy  

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,” said Count Leo Tolstoy. Every well-read family has a copy of Anna Karenina, we might add.

20. The Yellow Wallpaper

by Ms Charlotte Perkins Gilman

A brief, harrowing account of one woman’s descent into psychosis as she’s confined to a badly decorated room.

21. Frankenstein: Or, The New Prometheus

by Ms Mary Shelley

Forget campy Mr Boris Karloff and his bolted neck; the original is exciting, poignant, complex and philosophical.

22. Don Quixote

by Mr Miguel de Cervantes

Rumbustiously comic, poignant, big-hearted, metafictional, heroic and anti-heroic all at the same time. It showed the novel a world of new possibilities.

23. The Leopard

by Mr Guiseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa

Sicilian noblemen during the Risorgimento. Fun fact: Italy doesn’t have any leopards, but The Serval Cat wouldn’t have had the same ring.

24. Madame Bovary

by Mr Gustave Flaubert 

Mr Gustave Flaubert took moral complexity and psychological realism to new heights in this story of a bourgeois adulteress and her tragic – and grisly – end.

25. Middlemarch

by Ms George Eliot

Maybe the best, and certainly the most grown-up, novel in English. The life of a whole town, the moral life of a whole species. Unforgettable stuff.

26. The Posthumous Memoirs Of Brás Cubas

by Mr Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis

You don’t often read a book dedicated to a worm. Speaking from beyond the grave, Brás Cubas looks back on his life and finds it rather so-so.

27. The Portrait Of A Lady

by Mr Henry James

Before Mr Henry James’s sentences got too long, he produced this masterly and engrossing story of innocence and cynicism, romance and disappointment.

28. Ulysses

by Mr James Joyce 

Modernist masterpiece. Read it once to get through it, twice to enjoy it, three times to appreciate it.

29. The Great Gatsby

by Mr F Scott Fitzgerald

A small miracle of literary construction: wistful, romantic, symbolic, fabular. There’s not a word out of place.

30. Nineteen Eighty-Four

by Mr George Orwell

Mr George Orwell’s novel has seldom seemed more relevant. Freedom is slavery! Ignorance is strength! A despairing satiric X-ray of totalitarianism.

31. The Master And Margarita

by Mr Mikhail Bulgakov

What if the devil turned up in Stalin’s atheist Soviet Union with a cat in tow? Stir in Pontius Pilate and a Soviet writers’ union and you end up with something quite extraordinary.

32. Paradise Lost

by Mr John Milton

The great English epic. Mr John Milton’s poetic music has never been rivalled. Paradise Lost also tells an amazing story, full of psychological subtlety and with marvellous set pieces. It really is an education.

33. If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller

by Mr Italo Calvino

The bizarre, hilarious, mind-mangling story of a book within a book within a book. Wonderfully funny, extremely clever and unlike anything else.

34. Slaughterhouse-Five

by Mr Kurt Vonnegut

Mr Kurt Vonnegut knows all about the firebombing of Dresden, because he was there. This novel, which adds in crazy aliens and good jokes, treats great suffering with deep wisdom and deceptive lightness.

35. The Secret Agent

by Mr Joseph Conrad

Mr Joseph Conrad’s book about terrorism and paranoia in smoggy 19th-century London is looking more prophetic year by year. A fascinating work.

36. The Cairo Trilogy

by Mr Naguib Mahfouz

A roomy, humane family saga about three generations in Cairo living through the turbulence of the first half of the 20th century. Hugely absorbing.

37. The Life And Opinions Of Tristram Shandy

by Mr Laurence Sterne

Everything “metafictional” writers have ever done, Mr Laurence Sterne did first. Funny, eccentric, clever and will change the way you think about noses.

38. The Code Of The Woosters

by Sir PG Wodehouse

Nobody has a comic touch like the late Sir PG Wodehouse. If you haven’t read him, you deny yourself a vital pleasure. This is a great place to start. Bliss.

39. The Hearing Trumpet

by Ms Leonora Carrington

A uniquely odd and witchy story, whose protagonist is a deaf and toothless old lady exiled to an old folks’ home in the opening pages. A surrealist romp.

40. Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland

by Mr Lewis Carroll

Weird potions, white rabbits, Cheshire cats and hookah-smoking caterpillars. Plus, lots of good jokes about maths. Curiouser and curiouser.

41. Wide Sargasso Sea

by Ms Jean Rhys

Spare a thought for Mr Rochester’s first wife, stuck up there in the attic being mad in Jane Eyre (above, 08). Ms Jean Rhys did and made a plot device, magnificently, into a breathing person.

42. Brave New World

Mr Aldous Huxley

Mr Aldous Huxley’s disconcerting technological dystopia anticipates so many of the fears of today, and influenced generations of science-fiction writers.

43. White Noise

by Mr Don DeLillo

Mr Don DeLillo has seldom been as profound, and never as funny, as in this novel about a professor of Hitler studies, his eccentric family, an Airborne Toxic Event and the fear of death.

44. The Rings Of Saturn

by Mr WG Sebald

Mr WG Sebald’s masterpiece turns a stroll through Suffolk into a tour of the 20th century. The book that launched a thousand psychogeographers.

45. One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich

by Mr Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Think life in a gulag wasn’t as bad as all that? Think again. Mr Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s slim, grim book told the world how it really was.

46. Blindness

Mr José Saramago

This brilliant book helped the Portuguese writer win the Nobel Prize for Literature. Everyone’s gone blind. What to do? Like Day Of The Triffids without the plants.

47. The Czar’s Madman

by Mr Jaan Kross

Estonia’s break-out literary classic is a historical novel about a nobleman who marries a peasant girl and then speaks his mind to the Czar. Is he, as everyone thinks, off his rocker?

48. W, Or The Memory Of Childhood

Mr Georges Perec

Mr Georges Perec once wrote a novel entirely without using the letter E. Here, he focuses on the fictional island of W. A book that threads memoir and fiction and blurs the lines between them.

49. The Private Memoirs And Confessions Of A Justified Sinner

by Mr James Hogg

A transfixing study of evil with Calvinist theology chucked in. Like American Psycho, but with divine grace instead of Huey Lewis And The News.

50. A Piece Of My Heart

by Mr Richard Ford

This is a great early novel by an already great writer. It paved the way for his Frank Bascombe trilogy and established Mr Richard Ford as a modern American great.

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