Five Books Every Man Should Read – From Susan Johnson

This September we’re launching Operation GMR, Get Men Reading. To celebrate, we’ve asked some of our favourite Australian authors to give us Five Books Every Man Should Read.

Today’s guest is the one of Australia’s most loved acclaimed writers, Susan Johnson.

Recently I had a conversation with a couple of blokes over lunch about why men don’t read fiction. One affable bloke admitted he never did: he was the classic male reader and liked his books straight and hard, a fluff-free diet of history, biographies and politics. “My wife’s in a book club,” he said. “She’s the one who reads novels.” After a bit of prodding, he admitted that the real reason he didn’t like novels was because they contained nothing but “feelings”. Another bloke at the table suggested a brilliant marketing ploy: all novels should come with a big red sticker that reads WARNING: CONTAINS FEELINGS.

So, in the best interests of blokes who don’t like novels with feelings, here are some suggestions of books with the right kind of feelings. Feelings are everywhere, you see. If you can’t avoid ‘em, at least make sure they’re the right kind.


Blood Meridian

by Cormac McCarthy

A real boys’ book—even my ex-husband, who could never finish one of his ex-wife’s books, no doubt because they contained too many feelings – loved this. I don’t believe there is a single woman character in it, and every dark feeling is submerged and never discussed. The lead character isn’t even named, he’s just known as The Kid, and there is enough random violence and slaughter and misery in it to blow any womanly feelings right out of the water.

The US literary critic Harold Bloom is not alone in regarding it as one of the masterpieces of the twentieth century. The prose is hypnotic, no doubt about it. He is a master writer indeed, the kind of writer who writes books I admire from afar, while longing for something kinder.

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The Sportswriter

by Richard Ford

“My name is Frank Bascombe. I am a sports writer. For the past fourteen years I have lived here at 19 Hoving Road, Haddam, New Jersey…” and so begins the ordinary, sorrowful tale of an ordinary, sorrowful man, a man who tries to keep feelings at bay, and who fails. In finding his feelings, he finds triumph.

Beautiful, moving, and filled with the right kind of feelings.

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The Crack-Up

by F Scott Fitzgerald

OK, it’s not a novel, it’s an extended essay, originally published as a three-part series in Esquire in 1936 but it’s as fresh and as relevant and as pitiless as the day it was written.

It’s about the blows of life, which every man experiences, but which no man can explain quite as beautifully as Fitzgerald.

For every man who has had his heart broken or been sacked or lost his children or his money, this book’s for you.

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Herzog

by Saul Bellow

Who hasn’t railed against life’s injustices? Who hasn’t wished bosses, ex-wives, recalcitrant children and ex-friends ill?

If Moses Herzog is mad, then it’s all right with him, and it’s all right with me too. I love Moses Herzog as if he were a dear friend. I dare any man not to love him too.

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Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls

by David Sedaris

Only the brilliant American Sedaris could get away with a non-PC joke about how he once considered buying a Pygmy skeleton.

Have fun with Sedaris’s wicked, linguistic dexterity (he describes the Chinese spitting up “wads of phlegm glistening like freshly shucked oysters”). His parents would not fix their kids’ artwork to the fridge “because our parents recognised it for what it was: crap.”

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