18 Classic Books Every Man Should Read (or Re-Read) in 2018

books every man should read

We’ve experienced rough seas during 2017 and come out the other end, somewhat unscathed. But the climate has no doubt made us think more about the world we live in, the evils we face, the imprint it leaves, and how to persevere through the thick. In fact, you may have had a moment during 2017 when the world seemed to buckle. For this reason, we’re not here to suggest something sparkly and new for 2018, but the classics instead.

This year, we challenge you to re-read these essential books every man should read to navigate life. And don’t skip the poetry because you think its “soft.” That inclination might suggest you need it more than ever.

Get cozy in your reading chair, crack open one of these 18 classics.

Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger

catcher in the rye jd salinger

We’ll bet you first glimpsed the vibrant red cover of Catcher in the Rye some time in high school. But don’t let your memory fool you into thinking it’s a kids book. Possibly the best coming-of-age tale in all of literature, Salinger writes of the young and relatable protagonist Holden Caulfield and his first-person commentary on the world as he struggles between embracing adulthood and hiding in his childhood memories.

In a quote:

“Life is a game, boy. Life is a game that one plays according to the rules.”
“Yes, sir. I know it is. I know it.”
Game, my ass. Some game. If you get on the side where all the hot-shots are, then it’s a game, all right—I’ll admit that. But if you get on the other side, where there aren’t any hot-shots, then what’s a game about it? Nothing. No game.

Lord of the Flies – William Golding

lord of the flies william golding

A band of British boys are shipwrecked on an island and try to maintain order and normalcy the way governments do. As you might guess, it all goes terribly, terribly wrong. Lord of the Flies, the first novel from Golding, is perfect glimpse at the nature of savage inclination. It’s a short read but it’s a damn good one.

In a quote:

“Maybe there is a beast … maybe it’s only us.”

The Call of the Wild – Jack London

the call of the wild jack london

Try this: Take the novel on a long, boring, or otherwise dreaded journey. Close the last page a changed man (it’s that phenomenal) with a new outlook on struggle and bonds. Set in Yukon, Canada, during the 1890s Klondike Gold Rush, London writes of Buck, a dog that is abducted and forced into the chaos and brutality of frontier life. In a word: rugged. Secretly: a tear-jerker.

In a quote:

“He was beaten (he knew that); but he was not broken.”

The Stranger – Albert Camus

the stranger albert camus

An ordinary man finds himself on trial after committing a murder in one of the greatest novellas of the 20th century. A dissection of morality and the philosophy of the absurd, The Stranger is particularly relevant today as we face a world of heightened sensitivity and, perhaps, a society that makes no sense to us.

In a quote:

“As if that blind rage had washed me clean, rid me of hope; for the first time, in that night alive with signs and stars, I opened myself to the gentle indifference of the world. Finding it so much like myself — so like a brother, really — I felt that I had been happy and that I was happy again. For everything to be consummated, for me to feel less alone, I had only to wish that there be a large crowd of spectators the day of my execution and that they greet me with cries of hate.”

A Farewell to Arms – Ernest Hemingway

a farewell to arms ernest hemingway

A flower that budded from Ernest Hemingway’s real-life volunteer work for ambulance services in Italy in World War I, A Farewell to Arms resurrects the pain, scars, and afterlife of war. The structure is completely linear and the writing is as clean, clear, and straightforward as you can get (part of its brilliance). At the heart, the novel is about love and loss, but there’s plenty of boozing and masculinity to go around. What you’ll find is that the manliest author of all time has fears and weaknesses. That we all do.

In a quote:

“But we were never lonely and never afraid when we were together. I know that the night is not the same as the day: that all things are different, that the things of the night cannot be explained in the day, because they do not then exist, and the night can be a dreadful time for lonely people once their loneliness has started. But with Catherine there was almost no difference in the night except that it was an even better time. If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially.”

The Poetry of Pablo Neruda

the poetry of pablo neruda

If you need an “excuse” to read some of the best love poems ever written about oceans and women and the earth, say you’re brushing up on your dating one-liners. But the words by Chilean poet, diplomat, and politician Pablo Neruda are so much more than kindling. They are pure fire and combustion. This book will wake up your soul. It also mends broken hearts.

In a quote:

“I love you as certain dark things are to be loved, in secret, between the shadow and the soul.” 

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain

the adventures of huckleberry finn mark twain

Often called “the greatest American novel,” The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn proceeds Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and is renowned for its use of written vernacular in imitation of southern antebellum society. The story follows teenager Huck Finn and his friend Tom Sawyer as they navigate themes of race and identity. So, yeah, you should re-read that one today, especially given that the original novel has been the subject of censorship in schools for years.

In a quote:

“And so when I couldn’t stand it no longer, I lit out. I got into my old rags and my sugar-hogshead again, and was free and satisfied.” 

The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao – Junot Diaz

The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao junot diaz

Dominican-American author Junot Díaz sealed our devotion as life-long readers after the 2007 release of this hilarious, brilliantly written piece of fiction. Oscar de León is a pudgy Dominican boy growing up in New Jersey and trying to balance his love of fantasy novels with falling in love and a curse that plagues his family. Rife with footnotes, science-fiction and fantasy references, comic book analogies, Spanish dialects, horror, and humor, the book shines a light on masculinity, oppression, and the importance of story-telling.

In a quote:

“But if these years have taught me anything it is this: you can never run away. Not ever. The only way out is in.” 

Your Car’s Owner’s Manual

Yep, that dusty book in your glove compartment. Come on, bring it out and get to know your car better. So, it’s not exactly “literature” but it’ll teach you something that will come in handy. We promise that. (These tips for driving in the snow wouldn’t hurt to brush up on either.)

In a quote:

“Brakes … clutch … cooling.”

The Red Badge of Courage – Stephen Crane

the red badge of courage stephen crane

A masterpiece of fiction and standard for the treatment of war in modern literature, Crane’s novel on the American Civil War looks at the overwhelming shame of young private Henry Fleming who joins the Union Army. The pages will teach you a thing about courage, cowardice, and the delicate balance between. It’s also a great study in maturity and the struggle to make sense of a senseless world.

In a quote:

“His self-pride was now entirely restored. In the shade of its flourishing growth he stood with braced and self-confident legs, and since nothing could now be discovered he did not shrink from an encounter with the eyes of judges, and allowed no thoughts of his own to keep him from an attitude of manfulness. He had performed his mistakes in the dark, so he was still a man.”

Trainspotting – Irvine Welsh

trainspotting irvine welsh

If you had trouble translating the Scottish accent of the acclaimed film, just wait until you read the book. Crude, abrasive, hilarious, and revelatory, Trainspotting was the debut novel of the now famous Irvine Welsh, who in writing the book brought a voice to a group of five heroin users living, fighting, shitting, and conning in Edinburgh. Amid the drug use, moments of camaraderie, romance, and unabashed human nature emerge. If you read any junkie literature, make it this hit … and be prepared for a lot of F-bombs.

In a quote:

“By definition, you have to live until you die. Better to make that life as complete and enjoyable an experience as possible, in case death is shite, which I suspect it will be.” 

Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck

of mice and men john steinbeck

Another assigned high school read you probably didn’t appreciate when you were sixteen, it’s time to revisit the ambling of George Milton and Lennie Small, migrant workers who search for jobs throughout California amid The Great Depression. And with all great novels, it’s been banned time and again for its mention of violence, swearing, racism, sexism, the works, but it’s an essential commentary on the nature of The American Dream, the dichotomy of strength and weakness, and the loneliness of isolation.

In a quote:

“A guy needs somebody ― to be near him.”

The Sound and the Fury – William Faulkner

the sound and the fury william faulkner

Jeweled with characters that will remain with you long after the last page, this story tracks the once established and aristocratic Compson family living in the Deep South during the early 20th century as they crumble to ruin. Told through a variety of narrative styles, we are privy to the fall of values, love, and status. After reading, you’ll have a better sense of the man you want to be and the home you want to cultivate.

In a quote:

“… I give you the mausoleum of all hope and desire .. .I give it to you not that you may remember time, but that you might forget it now and then for a moment and not spend all of your breath trying to conquer it. Because no battle is ever won he said. They are not even fought. The field only reveals to man his own folly and despair, and victory is an illusion of philosophers and fools.” 

1984 – George Orwell

1984 george orwell

Perhaps the most essential to re-read today, 1984 sets stage in an oppressive futuristic society monitored by the ever-watching Big Brother. Protagonist Winston Smith goes to work every day at the Ministry of Truth, where he rewrites and distorts history. However, Smith decided to begin a diary — an action punishable by death. Amid modern-day data mining, the fall of Net Neutrality, and lunatic leaders, we cannot forget the toll of tyranny and totalitarianism.

In a quote:

“Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.”

The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven – Sherman Alexie

The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven Sherman Alexie

This book is an uncovered view of Native American life through the eyes of young men fighting to break the chain of alcoholism, poverty, and tragedy. The most bare and artful rendering of life on a reservation and the conflict of Native American identity, Alexie’s book of short stories is quilted with surrealism, dreams, poetry, diary entries, and prose. If you haven’t looked into this world, you ought to.

In a quote:

“We’re all traveling heavy with illusions.” 

Slaughterhouse-Five – Kurt Vonnegut

slaughterhouse-five kurt vonnegut

Sci-fi meets anti-war fiction meets psychological and sociological ruminations combust across the page in Vonnegut’s classic. Billy Pilgrim travels back and forth through time after being kidnapped by aliens. Past clashes into present and rips back to past in a disorderly timeline that stitches together Pilgrim’s life, including his time as a WWII POW. There’s more, of course, but we don’t want to ruin anything.

In a quote:

“So it goes.”

Cannery Row – John Steinbeck

cannery row john steinbeck

The only author to be mentioned twice on our list, Steinbeck brilliantly and heartbreakingly distills Cannery Row, the main avenue of the cannery district of Monterey, California, where all the poor and unlucky call home amid The Great Depression. The story is as much about the residents as it is the place, and tackles the tough issue of contentment — especially valuable in a world currently driven by “likes.”

In a quote:

“It has always seemed strange to me … The things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling, are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism and self-interest, are the traits of success.”

Ulysses – James Joyce

ulysses james joyce

At nearly 700 pages, there’s a reason we put this bad boy at the end. Ulysses is considered one of the most challenging yet rewarding world of literature ever written. Far too long and complicated to summarize here, simply know that all essential challenges of the world are solved in these pages. Go at a slow and steady pace.

In a quote:

“Every life is in many days, day after day. We walk through ourselves, meeting robbers, ghosts, giants, old men, young men, wives, widows, brothers-in-love, but always meeting ourselves.”