Men Need Only Read Books by Other Men, Esquire Post Suggests

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Last week, Esquire came out with a list of "75 Books Men Should Read," described as "an unranked, incomplete, utterly biased list of the greatest works of literature ever published." Of course, Esquire is a men's magazine, so they are perhaps expected to take a male-centered approach to fiction. The list is replete with novels by hard-living, macho writers like Charles Bukowski, Jack Kerouac, and Henry Miller. Fair enough. But of the 75 books on the list, guess how many were written by women?

One. One! The only book written by a female on the list was A Good Man Is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor. No doubt, lists such as this are always imperfect. And based on the list's above-description, it appears a casually constructed bit of fun, rather than a definitive ranking for posterity. But while there is no reason to take offense to every slanted statistic one comes across, out of the 75 "greatest" books, just one by a woman? Not even Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird?

Over Twitter, everyone from Publishers Weekly to independent booksellers tweeted their disappointment. Roxane Gay wrote at HTML Giant:

What’s troubling though, is the implication that men should only read literature written by men, that men don’t need to bother with books written by women, and of course, that the only great books are those written by men. What other message can we take from a list where seventy-four books are written by men and only one is written by a woman? 

If this most recent list of great books was the only instance where women were woefully underrepresented and where the wrong message about great writing was being sent, that would be one thing. Such is not the case. We keep having this conversation over and over and over again. Editors continue compiling these lists of great literature that completely ignore great literature by women as if  books by women were never written, as if that literature doesn’t matter, as it that literature is somehow less deserving of an audience than the same old books trotted out every time we talk about great books.

VIDA, the nonprofit organization for Women in the Arts, posted the list on its Facebook page, where one commenter wrote:
"what bugs me most is the explicit claim that men don't want to read women authors. things is, they don't. because of publications like esquire."
And Joyland Publishers wrote on their blog:
This really does imply that men don’t/can’t/shouldn’t read women and we were pretty sure that wasn’t the case among readers. We were also sure that part of the editorial reason for making such a list this way was to generate a response, so here it is. Over Memorial Day weekend we asked Joyland readers, editors, and contributors to come up with a list of 75 Books By Women All Men Should Read. We received over 250 suggestions in two hours.
What's particularly curious is that it appears that Esquire originally published the list in 2008, where it was met with criticism from many sources and feminist blogs such as Jezebel. Yet the magazine never felt inspired to change the list. It seems unlikely that they might think to this time around.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.