Esquire recently compiled a massive book list titled “The 80 Books Every Man Should Read.” Esquire calls it, “An unranked, incomplete, slightly biased list of the greatest works of literature ever published.” Because I love lists, and I love books, I started browsing through the list, noting books by Raymond Carver, John Steinbeck, Hunter S. Thompson, and 76 more novels written by men. The only book written by a woman Esquire recommended was Flannery O’Connor’s A Good Man is Hard to Find (I see what you did there, Esquire).
These 80 books are excellent and I’ve read many of them. I’ve studied them in school, read them on my own terms, and I totally respect any and all authors who are able to write compelling stories, whether that author identifies as male or female. But there’s one major issue I have with this list: if you’re going to suggest a bunch of essential books to men, why must they be all be written by men?
I understand that Esquire is a men’s magazine. I get that their target market is for the most part dudes, and that’s all totally fine. But are men really not interested in reading books written by women? Is Esquire suggesting that novels written by men are superior or perhaps more essential?
Because I believe we all need a diverse literary palate, I’m going to even out the playing field. So without further ado, here are 40 books by women you should most definitely read:
1. The Age of Grief by Jane Smiley
In this thoughtful collection of short stories, Smiley writes about female sexuality, marriage, friendship, sexual fluidity, and the complicated relationship we have with ourselves. Wry and sarcastic, Smiley essentially proves that none of us are really all that “normal.”