A friend of mine emailed me the other day, musing as to whether there were ten books every guy should read. Sure, I typed back.  At the speed of G3 technology he called my bluff, informing yours truly that he looked forward to reading about it on the next blog. No sweat. Challenge accepted.  This can’t be too difficult. End of the week at the latest, I lied to myself. 

The enormity of the task sinking in, I leaned back in the chair and sighed, helpless to resist the creeping doubts and nag of second-guessing.  Should a mere mortal dare to undertake such a Herculean task?  Is it even possible to fish ten books from the tempestuous sea of worthy literature?  What are the parameters? I soothed my misgivings with the knowledge that no two literati would produce identical lists if faced with similar burdens. Questions persisted.

Should the list be exclusively for guys, or should it be all inclusive, targeting everyone’s tastes?  My friend’s email specified books for “guys”. Everyone’s tastes in books and literature will have to be the subject of another post, though I suspect the two lists will have a significant overlap.  And should the list consider tastes, subjective as they are, or concentrate on what books guys “should” read, so as to leave the reader with a base of knowledge that begats further research and application?  Should the search be confined by genre, period in which it was written, its century of publication? The boxes are countless. Can you dig the conundrum? Again, just ten books? It’s the equivalent of the ancient Gordian Knot, except that I dare not emulate Alexander and take a sword to it. 

Thinning the herd is harder than it looks and shunning one title for another became a guilt-ridden ritual.  Many books that enjoyed top billing upon bestseller lists didn’t make the cut. I’m sure that somewhere, peering over thin, wire-rimmed glasses, a cadre of literary afficianados will be crinkling their noses and sniffing indignantly at what did sneak in.  Believe me. I know. The entire process had an aura of sacrilege to it, as well as a touch of hubris.   

In an attempt to further refine the list’s focus, potential works were evaluated by my own established criterion, in no particular order; notoriety (how well known is the work), societal impact (did paradigms tremble upon its release?) longevity, relevance, literary excellence, educational import (did I learn anything), and entertainment value.  Some books weighed more heavily on one factor than another, but in the balance, a guy that takes the time to read the following list of books should be well prepared to deal with any criticisms stemming from their selection. Enjoy.  

#1 I struggled with placing the Bible on the list. Leaving it off the list completely would be disingenuous based on the above listed factors. Including it, particularly in the top slot, risks the very real complaint that it does not qualify based on its religiosity. (It’s a catch-22, subject of number 9 on the list)  Believe it, or not, revere or reject, there’s no denying the books of the Bible have shaped the world in ways no other collection of written works has to date.  Enough said.

#2 No other writer has been more influential in shaping American literature than, Ralph Waldo Emerson. Though Emerson did not present his works as books, rather he published a widely scattered collection of essays, his place on the list is worthy of inclusion because of his work’s impact on generations of writers and thinkers. Emerson’s “Nature“, “Self-Reliance”, and “Friendship” are perfect demonstrations of thought itself. A guy learns that the conscious and subconscious act of thinking comprises a large majority of our lives.  So what are you waiting for? Get on with it.

#3 Penned over 700 years ago, Dante Alighieri’s “The Divine Comedy” is one of the world’s great works of literature. In this allegorical poem, Dante explores the afterlife and the soul’s final accounting, sharing his visions of Hell, Purgatory and Heaven, and finding a glimpse of God in the process. May everyone be so fortunate. Read it or risk the scorn of your peers.

#4 Born Samuel Clemens, but better known as Mark Twain, this American humorist authored the masterpiece, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” among other, equally notorious examples of literary excellence. Read his works, gentlemen. His status as literary icon is well-deserved.

#5 There is a reason “The Grapes of Wrath” remains comfortably perched atop the reading list of most high school and college literature classes: It’s good stuff. John Steinback’s epic tale of the Joads and their adversity filled journey in pursuit of the elusive American dream is as poignant today as it was 72 years ago.

#6 Every guy should read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby“, another early 20th century classic whose timeless theme finds relevance in every guy’s life. 

#7 “The Prince” by Niccolo Machiavelli is a cynically pragmatic approach to statemanship, power, and the trappings inherent in both.  It’s that kind of book for guys that like to be in the mix and play for keeps.  For all those guys who don’t play like that, get a copy anyway.  At least then you’ll be able to make sense of things when the guy you thought was your buddy stepped all over you on the way to getting the promotion you both desperately wanted.

#8  Most guys I know would take a dog over a cat, hands down. I don’t know what it is about our furry, four-legged canine friends, but an undeniable bond exists. Maybe that’s why I’m so fond of “The Call of the Wild.”  Or maybe it has nothing to do with the fact that the main character in Jack London’s masterpiece is a dog named Buck, and has everything to with the scraps, setbacks and triumphs of life’s journey. Suck it up and toughen up. Work harder. Don’t ever give up and the scales of justice will balance out.

#9  How many of you guys have heard someone say, “Now,that’s a catch-22.”? Now, how many of you know where the term “catch-22” originates? Joseph Heller’s novel is more than a metaphorical tale of danged if you do, and danged if you don’t.  It’s theme touches on the devaluation of the individual in the face of pressing bureacratic priorities while revealing the madness war invokes in the combatants. At least that’s what I came away with. Anyhow, check this one out. At least next time you throw out the term, you’ll have an inkling as to its genesis and some understanding of its context.

#10 War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.  Sounds oxymoronic, doesn’t it?  But every guy should know his place in the social construct and to that end, I present “1984“.  Reading Orwell’s masterpiece, even the most loyal of party men should end up heeding the corrosive effects of thoughtless group think and sloganism. As a cautionary tale of what happens when individuals cede or have control of their lives wrested from them by a paternalistic, totalitarian regime, “1984”,  is a book every guy should read.

There you have it, guys. Read away, but with this last bit of irony. Only a few of the titles I have included in the list are actually titles of what I would consider to be personal favorites. My top ten books of all time will have to wait. Until that time, get started. The above list should keep you busy til then.