On Books Men Must Read – Part 2

Here is part 2 of my reading project:

The Professional by W.C. Heinz

My good friend, Ben, is a skilled illustrator. He is often told by others that they wished they could draw. “You can,” Ben will reply. “You just have to practice.” If there is a lesson I would fully advocate taking from this novel, this is the lesson. To accomplish something, you will need to put in the time and effort to hone that craft.

Now, this novel celebrates the aesthetics of practice. It advocates a sharp, sparse, demure honing of craft: a professionalism that strips itself of extras. It singles out that which is needed for success, and it focuses on only those things; honing them to near perfection. Professionalism is doing the craft well, and doing it well the right way.

Sometimes, I am inclined to think this correct. Other times, I find it complete bullshit. In matters of sport, where I fall tends to correlate with who I am supporting. If my team plays beautiful and loses, well, at least they play the game correctly. If my team plays ugly but wins, well, it is about winning, right?

In the end, style doesn’t matter. Why? The upset. If style mattered, we wouldn’t want an upset.

Lesson for Men: You have to practice to get good. You have to get good to taste success. You get great to minimize the vagaries of luck. But, remember, you are never fated to win.

A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories by Flannery O’Connor

A couple weeks ago, at work, my coworkers and myself were discussing the youth of today (I work at a university). I was mentioning my general disdain for the “Kids these days are so… [insert negative characteristic]” when the following conversation ensued:

Director: “My friend always says ‘Don’t judge other people’s kids until your kids are dead.'”
Me: “Ha. I like that.” [Pause] “Your friend’s Catholic, isn’t she?”
Director: “Yup.”

That’s what it was like to read Flannery O’Connor. There are some great moments, and I could secularize a lot of what is expressed. However, O’Connor is unflinchingly transparent. I don’t mind a story that’s a parable; I just prefer the moral doesn’t punch me in the face again and again and again.

That being said, O’Connor has some great lines epitomized by the Misfit’s gem of a line from A Good Man is Hard to Find: “She would of been a good woman, if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.”

Lesson for Men: The minutiae of your life does not excuse you from being a decent person.

Other Thoughts:

-When I see a game where I don’t have a prior preference for either team, I tend to support the underdog. I think this is common. I like to consider this the quintessential example of Nietzsche’s slave morality.

-On the one hand, I can admire Doc’s dedication to honing Eddie into the greatest fighter of the day. Supposedly, that’s what he does. But Doc is called crusty for a reason. He complains that everything has changed such that no one recognizes that Eddie is truly the greatest fighter. Sorry, Doc, but the times have changed. You don’t recognize that Eddie is the greatest fighter for an era that no longer exists.

I will admit that I’m not one for nostalgia. I believe sport can be artistic, but I will always reject the notion that commercialism (or prima dona athletes or rule changes, or pick your poison) has ruined the game. They’ve simply changed the canvas upon which the art is displayed. There is still beauty. Stop pining for the past. Find the beauty now.

-Over all, O’Connor’s short stories were enjoyable; I just don’t think I was their intended audience.

On Books Men Must Read – Part 1

In line with all the great achievements of the greatest of men, here is part one of my reading project – years late and accomplishing a fraction of what I promised.

A Sport and a Pastime by James Salter

I’m glad I read this book in my 30s. However, the “moral of the story”, to my mind, is one best learned in one’s 20s. This is the paradox of the novel. The extra decade of living needed to understand that the story is about the narrator and not Dean is a decade you don’t want to lose.

Lesson for Men: Though sex may be acceptable as either a sport or a pastime, women are neither.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver

In high school, I worked at a pizza place. One night, I closed the restaurant with two of my co-workers, both female peers I found attractive. After work, they decided to drive out to the sand pits and get high.

Though a veritable teetotaler in high school, I was excited to join them. I had a bit of a crush on one girl; the second girl had a bit of a crush on me. Both were cool kids, generally.

We got in the van, drove out to the sand pits, and hung out. They got high; we listened to loud music and joked around. After an hour or so, they drove me home.

My experience of What We Talk About When We Talk About Love was like that evening. It was a good experience, in general, but I was left feeling like more should have happened and wondering if I missed out on something.

Lesson for Men: “Booze takes a lot of time and effort if you’re going to do a good job with it.” Raymond Carver said this before the rise of microbreweries and homebrewing. These days, enjoy with moderation.

***

Other Random Thoughts:

  • Salter’s prose is amazing. He just crafts amazing sentences.

This is what allows him to write rather explicit depictions of sex without ever crossing the line into pulp. I’m not even sure it can be considered erotica. His writing can get hot, but it remained literary without becoming titillating.

  • Truth be told, I suspect part of what I found lacking from Carver is more a reaction to reading Carver after Salter.

Carver’s style is sparse, minimalist. It is different than Salter’s sing-songiness (I’m not sure if ‘lyrical’ properly captures my experience of Salter). Had I read Carver first, or allowed more time between reading the two, I suspect I would have enjoyed him more.

  • Carver writes with a strong, male voice.

I both love and loath authors that can write in a strong male voice. It is easy to want to identify one’s masculinity with that of the character given a strong, male voice (in fact, I think a large number of the books suggested by Esquire are suggested because their authors can write with a strong, male voice).

The problem arises when the masculinity on display in the novel is misogynistic. Charles Bukowski, to my mind, is a good example of this. Read Women (on Esquire’s list). Bukowski is great with the everyman man’s man. But, my goodness, is he misogynistic.

Now, let me be clear, I’m not suggesting that misogynistic characters shouldn’t be written. I just worry, when they’re written well, do they seem more appealing than they should? I hope not, but I worry.

On the Books Men Must Read (Project Introduction)

This post is a revisiting of something I wrote on a previous blog.

I breached it, for the first time, in one of my previous posts. The topic of masculinity has been an interest of mine since my undergrad days. About a year ago, I set about the project of reading a collection of books described as “books every man must read.” I drew my list from two sources: Esquire and The Art of Manliness. With lists of 75 and 100, respectively, I had a veritable library to make my way through in the hopes of discovering their manly lessons.

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