When it comes to the world of manly things, high up on the list are whiskey, beards, and axes. Ideally, all three combined into one sublime tableau, albeit with the former consumed in moderate quantities until latter has been laid down for the evening. Take a second and ask yourself what other things are truly manful? Perhaps turkey legs come to mind, or else contact sports. Maybe fishing or the Second World War. All good mannish examples… BUT…
It’s a damned shame that books don’t top of any list of mansome things. For indeed within the pages of books live the greatest men of all time, be it a book of mythical heroes (Achilles, Beowulf, or… someone whose name starts with a C), a fine biography (try one on Lincoln or perhaps Alexander the Great if you want to feel worse about you daily life), or of course the novel.
The man who reads the tale of another man lives that man’s life along with him: he feels the pain of his wounds and the pleasure of his romance; he suffers the longing and revels in victory. Or, another way to put it, he um… he enjoys reading the book.
Anyway. Books. Manly things indeed. Especially manly books.
If you want to enjoy the true glory of manhood on full display, any of these three books will serve:
WAR AND PEACE by Leo Tolstoy
Yes, “War and Peace” is a very long book. If that turns you off, then please leave now, and watch that door, as it has a tendency to hit people on the ass on their way out. Reading “War and Peace” is a pleasure simply because Tolstoy’s mastery of language remains essentially unrivaled; it is a pleasure because it reveals the hearts and minds of dozens of human beings, and in so doing shines light on our own inner selves. And it is a pleasure because it gives us Prince Andrei Nikolayevich Bolkonsky, one of the bravest, manliest sonsabitches ever to grace the pages of literature. Also there’s all the war stuff, and that’s manly, right?
THE LONG WALK by Slavomir Rawicz
Potential Spoiler Alert: there have been allegations that much of this memoir is exaggerated, if not outright fabricated. It is the story of a Polish officer’s epic journey from captivity in a WWII-era Soviet prison camp to freedom in British India, a journey of thousands of miles… all conducted on foot. If the story is 100% true it ranks as one of history’s the greatest tales of escape and perseverance. If it’s even partially sort of accurate, it’s still an amazing epic. Put aside the notions of truth and fiction and simply enjoy the book, as whether it’s more fact or more fiction, it is still a raw yet elegant tale of manly perseverance.
FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS by Ernest Hemingway
Leave aside all the marriages, the distant father stuff, the problem drinking, and a few (dozen) other details, and you are left with Hemingway, the man, the writer. Perhaps he was a pretty arrogant bastard by the time of his death, but if you actually take the time to read his books, you’ll see that he rather deserved the inflated ego. The man could write, and the man could write men exceptional well. “For Whom the Bell Tolls” gives us its noble protagonist, Robert Jordan, who is both brave and sensitive; both a fighter and a lover. But the book also has a few secondary characters that rank as some of the bravest, most rough-and-ready men ever to live in the pages of a novel. Read the book, and then tell us if you’d want Anselmo or El Sordo at your back in a bar fight. (Hint: yes, yes you would)