19 Classic Books Every Man Should Read (or Re-Read) in 2019

It’s the start of a new year and you’re wondering why you feel like the same old you. After the rough seas of 2018, we’re ready to open up, grow, and learn how to persevere through the thick of the s***. You’ve likely had moments last year when the world seemed to buckle. That’s the human experience, man, and there’s nothing better to teach us how to charge forward than the pages of classic books.

We’re not here to suggest something sparkly and new for 2019, but to learn from the old — and a few modern — classics.

The Manual challenges you to read (or re-read) these essential books every man should know to navigate life. And don’t skip the poetry because you think its “soft.” That inclination suggests you need it more than ever. Get cozy and crack open one of these 19 must-reads for men. When you’re done, check out our reading list of female authors.

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

classic books every man should read the outsiders s e hinton v2

I think there’s a bit of teenager Ponyboy Curtis in all of us. The boy grapples with the unfairness of tragedy and the rights and wrongs of a society he feels excluded from in this two-week glimpse into his life as a greaser. Running away with his best friend after a dangerous fight with a rival preppy gang, the Socs, Ponyboy is faced with even more heartache, while all along his hope is for peace. One of the best books we’ve ever (ever) read.

In a quote:

“Stay gold, Ponyboy, stay gold.”

Read It

My Struggle by Karl Ove Knausgaard

'My Struggle' by Karl Ove Knausgaard

One reviewer put it like this: “Reading My Struggle is like opening someone else’s diary and finding your own secrets.” Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgaard has created a sensation with his My Struggle series that is six books and 3,600 pages long. The books have been translated into 22 languages and yet remain somewhat of an underground secret here in the U.S. Written as autobiographical fiction, there are no chapters or breaks within the novels to signal a place to stop and take a breath. For that purpose, you never want to put it down. Each book details a specific time in Knausgaard’s life, from marriage to boyhood to college, etc., and while these memories are highly specific, the honesty, fear, hubris, and sheer relatability is mind-blowing. (We’re on book four right now and don’t plan on stopping.) Take a deeper look at yourself and find acceptance even in your worst moments.

In a quote: 

“For the heart, life is simple: it beats for as long as it can. Then it stops.”

Read It

The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie

classic books every man should read the lone ranger and tonto fistfight in heaven by sherman alexie v2

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.” 

Read It

Desolation Angels by Jack Kerouac

classic books every man should read desolation angels  by jack kerouac

Let the rhythmic cacophony of Kerouac rattle in your brain. Let go of reason and logic, because it doesn’t always help make sense of things. Reading Desolation Angels is like falling back into a crowd of hitchhiking winos who want to see and experience only the beauty and enlightenment in this world — that drive toward the heart and pulse and meaning of all this is contagious. Kerouac writes a largely autobiographical account (although coined as fiction) of a man who works at a desolate fire post in the mountains then hitchhikes his way through Oregon, California, and Mexico. If you’ve never read Kerouac, buckle up. There is no other writer who can reach into your veins and pump them with feeling without making grammatical sense on the page such as him. This is a staple for any man who needs to feel more, give more, and open his eyes to the world.

In a quote:

“Meanwhile the sunsets are mad orange fools raging in the gloom….”

Read It

The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

classic books every man should read the brief wonderous life of oscar wao by junot diaz v2

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.” 

Read It

Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

classic books every man should read the catcher in rye by j d salinger v2

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 — it’s quite 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.

Read It

Hell’s Angels by Hunter S. Thompson

'Hell's Angels' by Hunter S. Thompson

Mescalin-lovin’ journalist and absolute literary legend Hunter S. Thompson documents from the sidecar of the baddest motorcycle club in America. An insanely up-close look at the men and women who bear the titular leather is what you’ll find in Hell’s Angels. This is a truly fun and engaging read that exemplifies what has been coined “Gonzo Journalism,” a style to describe Thompson’s wild, rolling diction. The book began as a series of magazine assignments but developed into a novel-length ride through hell and back. Totally raw and unabashed. Read. It. Now.

In a quote:

“The Edge… There is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over.”

Read It

1984 by George Orwell

classic books every man should read 1984 by george orwell v2

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.”

Read It

The Stranger by Albert Camus

classic books every man should read the strange by albert camus v2

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.”

Read It

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

classic books every man should read the kite runner  by khaled hosseini

This story takes you from Afghanistan in the final days of the monarchy to the present, charting the friendship between two boys growing up in Kabul. Raised in the same household and sharing the same wet nurse, Amir and Hassan grow up in different worlds: Amir is the son of a prominent and wealthy man while Hassan, the son of Amir’s father’s servant, is a Hazara, a shunned ethnic minority. Their intertwined lives and fates reflect the eventual tragedy of the world around them. Read this because male friendships are important and it brings a whole new meaning to “dem boys.” You can also opt for the amazing audiobook version narrated by Khaled Hosseini himself.

In a quote:

“There is a way to be good again …”

Read It

Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

classic books every man should read song of solomon by toni morrison v2

A story spanning 30-plus years and three generations, Toni Morrison’s brilliant rumination on cultural identity follows the life of Macon “Milkman” Dead, a young man alienated from himself and estranged from his roots. The journey that follows awakens Macon to the power of reconnecting with his past to gain personal power. The sing-song nature of Morrison’s writing makes the entire book roar.

In a quote:

“You wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down.”

Read It

The Beach by Alex Garland

classic books every man should read the beach  by alex garland

Let’s be honest, classic books can take a ton of time to read because the language is dated and the story isn’t plot-driven. I’m sneaking in this kinda-sorta classic novel by Alex Garland because it’s one of the best books of the early 2000s that will resurrect your passion for reading — and that’s the goal. A young guy sets out to backpack Thailand and finds an idyllic isolated beach of fellow world travelers. Like all paradises, the perfection is short lived and death, murder, and sickness follow. Garland was directly influenced by Lord of the Flies and Heart of Darkness, so if you like this semi-classic read, head to those two books next.

In a quote:

“If I’d learned one thing from traveling, it was that the way to get things done was to go ahead and do them. Don’t talk about going to Borneo. Book a ticket, get a visa, pack a bag, and it just happens.”

Read It

The Call of the Wild by Jack London

classic books every man should read the call of wild by jack london v2

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.”

Read It

The Poetry of Pablo Neruda

classic books every man should read the poetry of pablo neruda v2

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.” 

Read It

Lord of the Flies by William Golding

classic books every man should read lord of the flies by william golding v2

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 a 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.”

Read It

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

of-mice-and-men-by-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.”

Read It

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

classic books every man should read slaugherhouse five by kurt vonnegut v2

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.”

Read It

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

classic books every man should read brave new world  by aldous huxley

In our world of self-lacing Nikes, drones, and data phishing, it’s wise to take a step back from technology and open a paper book, by yourself, to get perspective on the state of information and tech we so mindlessly accept. You may be more cautious with your time and browsing after reading Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, and that is a good thing. Largely set in a futuristic World State of genetically modified citizens and an intelligence-based social hierarchy, the book anticipates huge scientific developments in reproductive technology, sleep-learning, psychological manipulation, and classical conditioning that are combined to make a utopian society. This “perfect” world is challenged by an outsider. Grab the audiobook narrated by Michael York and explore the dynamics of technology, power, identity, isolation, and true freedom.

In a quote:

“I want to know what passion is. I want to feel something strongly.”

Read It

A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis

classic books every man should read a grief observed by c s  lewis

Legendary British writer and theologian C.S. Lewis ruminates on loss in the short and deeply honest book, A Grief Observed. You probably recognize his name from The Chronicles of Narnia series, but we much prefer this book, especially for any man who has loved, lost, and wants to make sense of life on the other side of grief. Lewis wrote this book following the death of his wife and originally used a fake name before finally stamping his own on the cover. Yes, much of the thoughts involve emotional feeling, but Lewis is equally as interested in the process of the brain and thoughts amid loss, with almost scientific dissection. This is a suggested read for any human being on the planet, especially those in mourning.

In a quote:

“Her absence is like the sky, spread over everything.”

Read It

Bonus:

Your Car’s Manual

classic books every man should read mechanics reading car manual getty images v2
Peter Muller/Getty Images

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.

In a quote:

“Brakes … clutch … cooling.”

Article originally published January 9, 2018. Last updated February 2019 to include an updated list for the year. Keep reading!

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