In the spirit of Father's Day, here's a list of manly books for manly dads to read and look manly while doing it:
What is the most manly sport? The one played by presidents, kings, and titans of industry, you know, world leaders? Golf! The Green, by Troon McAllister, is a hilarious golf novel that follows Eddie Camenetti, a two-bit hustler from a municipal course in Florida, as he cons his way onto the U.S. Ryder Cup team.
If your dad plays golf, watches golf, ever thinks about golf, or just likes well-written, fun books, he'll love The Green. Think an adult Bad News Bears meets Tin Cup meets The Color of Money. Okay, those are movie references, but you get the idea.
Four Minute Mile, by (Sir) Roger Bannister. A gripping, thoughtful account of Bannister's historic race in which he became to the first man to ever run a sub-four minute mile. Far exceeds the genre of sports memoirs. It's just a damn good piece of writing.
Stalingrad: The Fateful Siege: 1942-1943, by Antony Beevor. A horrifying account of the bloodiest battle in history. Nearly two million people lost their lives during the siege of Stalingrad and the Nazis were routed for the first time in the war. Stalingrad was a turning point event, not just for World War II, but the Twentieth Century. A must read for any dad interested in military history.
Tennozan: The Battle of Okinawa and the Atomic Bomb, by George Feifer. Ever wonder why President Truman decided to drop the atomic bombs on Japan? Were the bombs justified or acts of terrorism? Forget what you think you know. Read Tennozan and you'll begin to understand the complexities and horrors of total war. You'll have an inkling of the thought process that went into Truman's decision.
The Battle of Okinawa was the Stalingrad of the Pacific, and George Feifer brings it to life in heart-wrenching detail. With meticulous research, Feifer explores all sides involved -- the Americans, the Japanese, and the native Okinawans who were caught in the middle of the hell that was unleashed. Not "fun" reading, but essential to understanding the end of World War II and also the Cold War that followed.
With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa, by E.B. Sledge. Best. War. Memoir. Ever. Truly an outstanding book. If you (like me) have never been in combat or a war, after reading With the Old Breed, you'll never want to be. Never. The book also was one of the source materials for the HBO mini-series The Pacific.
The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War by David Halberstam. A fascinating look at the Korean War and the worst year of the war for the Americans. Sadly, until I read The Coldest Winter, almost everything I knew about the Korean War I learned from watching M*A*S*H. This was the last book Halberstam wrote, and apparently the one closest to his heart. A masterpiece.
Blood and Thunder by Hampton Sides. Centering on Kit Carson, Blood and Thunder is a sweeping history that shows how the American West was really won. John Wayne's West it ain't.
John D. MacDonald (a genre unto himself):
Every father should read anything by John D. MacDonald. You really can't go wrong with Mr. MacDonald. Consistently good, sometimes fucking great. If I had to recommend only one of his books, I'd pick The Damned, just for the hell of it. Set at a ferry crossing along the Mexican-U.S. border, it's sparsely written, tight, and packs a punch.
Nobody is better at efficiently creating believable and interesting characters. Pretty sure The Damned is out of print, but go find it anyway.
Hard Boiled Detective:
You can never go wrong reading Raymond Chandler. The Big Sleep and The Long Goodbye are both literary classics. The plots don't make a lick of sense, and you don't even care! Now that's a sign of a good, entertaining writer. And the Los Angeles Chandler depicts? Doesn't exist. Never did. It would be impossible to navigate the streets of L.A. using Chandler as a guide. But again, the world he creates feels so real, you don't give a fuck.
There isn't a more manly genre than the Thriller/Crime arena. Reading Point of Impact and Dirty White Boys, both by Stephen Hunter, won't just make your pops feel extra-manly; it'll make him want to go out and kick ass.
Point of Impact is Stephen Hunter at his best. In Bob Lee Swagger, Hunter has created the ultimate manly hero, an ex-Vietnam sniper living in the hills of Arkansas who is framed for a political assassination. Swagger must shoot his way out of trouble again and again until he can clear his name. This book has everything: conspiracy theories, Russians, the Kennedy assassination, and guns galore. It was also the basis for the Mark Walhberg movie, Shooter. Do your pops a favor. Buy him the book, skip the movie. You might also want to buy him a boonie hat while you're at it.
Then there is Hunter's Dirty White Boys. Here's the opening paragraph:
"Three men at McAlester State Peniteniary had larger penises than Lamar Pye, but all were black and therefore, by Lamar's own figuring, hardly human at all. His was the largest penis ever seen on a white man in that prison or any of the others in which Lamar had spent so much of his adult life. It was a monster, a snake, a ropey, veiny thing that hardly looked at all like what it was but rather like some form of rubber tubing."Enough said.
Yes, romance. Only a real man can admit to reading and enjoying a romance novel. It's a test of true manliness, much like Joe Namath posing in nylons. Knight In Shining Armor by Jude Deveraux is a flat out great romance novel. Sure, as a romance novel, it follows all the conventions of the genre, but Deveraux delivers the goods. A splendid fun read. I cried at the end. Your dad will, too. What could be more manly than your father unabashedly crying over a good romance novel?
A Fortunate Life, by A.B. Facey. This Australian memoir about growing up in the beginning of the last century is flat out one of the best books I've ever read, any genre. Life changing, life affirming good. Through all the hardship, cruelty, and adversity Mr. Facey endured in his lifetime -- from being abandoned by his mother at a young age to the hard farming he did in Western Australia as boy to fighting at Gallipoli -- one thing always remained constant: Facey's appreciation of being alive. The title says it all. A Fortunate Life is an Australian classic and a testament to the human spirit. Might be hard to find outside of Australia, but definitely worth the effort.
What's a Father's Day book list without a good self-help title thrown into the mix? I recommend Secrets of the SuperOptimist, by W.R. Morton and Nathaniel Whitten. It's part self-help, part parody of self-help books, part I don't know what the fuck it is, other than funny. And strangely practical. It may even help get you through the bumps in your day.
My favorite secret: #67: Refer to pain as "sensation". What could be more manly than that?
To fathers every where, happy reading!
Eric Coyote's "unshakable noir" debut, The Long Drunk, received a starred review from Kirkus. View the book trailer here.