A few days ago a friend asked me for recommendations for classics she could give to her husband as a birthday gift.
Not to indulge in gender stereotyping, but many classics have a reputation of being kind of girly. We think they are full of of long descriptive passages, plots hinging on conversation and courtship rituals, and, always, ladies in long dresses. The thought leaves our husbands feeling the pain of Mr. Bennet: “No lace, Mrs. Bennet, I beg you!”
I enlisted the help of my husband Stephen, and we came up with this initial list. It’s just a starting point, as it is limited to books I could pull off of my own shelves, minus a bunch of obvious ones that I didn’t personally like (ahem, Dickens).
For the history lover:
Beowulf– the Seamus Heaney translation is the only way to go, according to my sources. Plus the cover is way cool.
The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin- you’d think this one would be clever and interesting, and you’d be right.
The Scarlet Letter– you have to know that Nathaniel Hawthorne is not an objective source. But this classic is much more interesting than you remember from tenth grade, especially if you are a Reformed-theology type with a soft spot for the Puritans.
To Kill a Mockingbird– This one defies girl book/guy book categories. If you are human, you need to have read this one, probably multiple times.
The Grapes of Wrath– This one is long but it’s not a difficult read. The setting of Depression-Era America is integral to this classic. It’s one of those weirdly encouraging books that will remind you that lots of people have had it worse than you. (Trigger warning: there’s a crazy breastfeeding scene toward the end.)
For the guy who likes dystopian fiction:
Fahrenheit 451- this futuristic novel is eerily prophetic, over 50 years after its publication
Brave New World- see comment above
Lord of the Flies- one of Stephen’s favorites, and basically the doctrine of human depravity in narrative form
For the man who loves an epic story:
The Lord of the Rings– I don’t care for these books myself, but every man I know loves them. Get your feet wet with The Hobbit if the trilogy is intimidating.
The Count of Monte Cristo– An epic tale of wrongful imprisonment, revenge, and redemption that will leave you pondering the big themes of justice, mercy, and forgiveness.
Treasure Island– Pirates! Treasure! Treachery! This classic is will thrill boys of all ages.
For a man who likes a challenge:
Atlas Shrugged– I LOVED this thought-provoking classic. There are a few parts where Rand lets characters pontificate for pages on end. Although those are probably the most important parts if you’re trying to really get a handle on the author’s world view, I skimmed/skipped them to find out what happened next.
Crime and Punishment– This one is morally complex, tackling the question, “Is it ever okay to murder a shady old lady with the blunt end of an ax?” Warning: the long Russian names are hard to keep straight.
Stories about great dads:
To Kill a Mockingbird– Sorry for the double-dip here. But, Atticus Finch.
Little Britches– the true coming-of-age story of Ralph Moody
The Little House series- You can pitch this as one “to read to the children,” but if your husband is like mine, he will be inspired by the Great Charles Ingalls. Who, for the record, is not very much like the crying Pa of the TV series.
Cheaper by the Dozen- This true story of an efficiency expert and father of twelve will have your man in stitches! It’s written by two of the Gilbreth children, which makes it extra special.
Now it’s your turn. What would you add to this list?