Reading as Cartography

By Ta-Nehisi Coates

There's a lot of twittering about Esquire's list of 75 books that men should read and the fact that only one book by a woman--Flannery O'Connor's A Good Man Is Hard To Find. There's a point to be made here about sexism. But I'd like to focus on the implicit incuriosity that always accompanies these sorts of things.


Books are our most intimate art-form. The reader does a temporary mind-meld with the author, and a collaborative world--their words and our imagination--is conjured from nothing. And because each reader's mind is his own, each of those conjured worlds, each of those planes, are different. And because the libraries are filled with incredible books, those of us who are readers spend our whole lives creating these private planes, walking them, mapping them, comparing ours with those of other readers, and then returning to our own only to see the contours changed.  And so we map anew.

Why any dedicated reading man would dream of this sorcery strictly with other men is beyond me. It goes against one of the great assets of reading--the voyage to new worlds. It would be as if Magellan said, "I like my small town fine enough."

Put bluntly, if you call yourself a reading man, but don't read books by women, you are actually neither. Such a person implicitly dismisses whole swaths of literature, and then flees the challenge of seeing himself through other eyes.

This is not a favor to feminists. This is not about how to pick up chicks. This is about hunger, greed and acquisition. Do not read books by women to murder your inner sexist pig. Do it because Edith Wharton can fucking write. It's that simple. 

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2011/05/reading-as-cartography/239683/