By IAN HAYSOM

Chick-lit? What about Guy-lit? Must-reads for men. Men of a certain age, that is.

Let’s, for the purposes of debate, define Guy-lit.

  • Anything that isn’t Jane Austen (an expedition: go to the new British Library in London and see the permanent collection of manuscripts and musical scores. There on display is original Jane Austen handwriting. Teeny-tiny handwriting on tinsy bits of paper. This writing was never intended for the male of the species. Novels not writ large. But furtive. Shy. Feminine. We may all want to be Darcy but we don’t need to read about him).
  • Great guy-friendly novels must be the literary equivalent of Top Gear. Not necessarily right-wing, fascist and superior, but gripping, nudge-nudge-wink-winking tomes that make you feel, well,  glad you’re not a woman.
  • Books that are: Exciting. Thrilling. Absorbing, And, preferably, short. Men — well, most men — have short attention spans. Frankly, if we’re not gripped on page one, we’re likely to give up and turn on the TV or make a double-decker sandwich or lie down and have a snooze. Most books send us to sleep anyway, particularly if we read them on airplanes, so we don’t do subtle. We like loud. And, er, easy.
  • Anything that includes sex scenes. That’s why our favorite chef is Nigella Lawson.
  • Any book we can brag about having read. Particularly to women, This is why, in the following list of Top Ten Books All Men Should Read, there are one or two that are crossovers. Exciting and thrilling but warm and sensitive. These will make you seem edgier to the opposite sex. Or the same sex. Warm and sensitive works on every level.

Guy-lit doesn’t have to be manly, though there is an Ernest Hemingway here and a Norman Mailer. Because these guys wrote their books, then went out and punched rhinos or drank the local bar dry and slept with countless gorgeous women and wrote aggressively and without apology and because, though this may all seem like a long-ago fiction, it’s something for guys to think about when they’re doing the vacuuming or stacking the dishwasher.

Nothing in this list from John Grisham, James Patterson or Robert Ludlum. Because you already know they’re definitive guy books. Right? The list is subjective. With the accent on entertaining rather than uplifting.

BULLFIGHTING, by Roddy Doyle.

This collection of short stories by the Booker Prize winning author of Paddy Clark Ha Ha Ha and The Commitments, is about a variety of middle-aged men dealing with loss. Loss of power, virility and love. Loss of purpose and loss of the people they once loved.

It could be depressing, but isn’t, because of Doyle’s brilliant writing and his ability to reject the easily maudlin. Most of these men are heroic. There’s an unsettling story about a man who bites the head off a chicken, but most of the tales — set in Dublin — are lyrical and deal with the ordinary. The Photograph, the second story in the book, is superb: a man dealing with his own mortality goes to the funeral of a friend. The dead man’s wife puts a photograph of a much younger husband on the coffin. The men in the congregation started smiling. That’s the man they will remember. And remember to be.

MARILYN, by Norman Mailer.

“She was our angel. Our sweet angel of sex,” wrote Mailer in this love letter of a tribute to the girl every male still adores, almost 50 years after her death. We may all know Marilyn’s story by heart by now, the spectacular rise and sudden death of the uber-star, the involvement of the Kennedys and the mob and the Norma Jean rags-to-riches myth but Mailer tells the story effectively and journalistically. The photographs in this coffee-table tome are the real treasure. The cameras — moving and still — adored her. No band has ever matched the charisma of The Beatles. No screen star has matched Marilyn. Except, perhaps, Brigitte Bardot, who made the mistake of growing old.

 

HANG TIME: DAYS AND DREAMS WITH MICHAEL JORDAN,
by Bob Greene.

Greene is the former columnist with the Chicago Tribune and Esquire, one of the best American magazine writers of his generation, hip and smart and a keen observer of popular culture and the American way of life.

His biography of Jordan, when the basketball genius was at the top of his game, is riveting, page-turning stuff. Jordan was the most famous face on the planet, and had to sneak into restaurants after they closed, or became a prisoner of his hotel room.

Greene paints a mesmerizing portrait. A memorable anecdote about how Jordan, quietly and without fanfare, saved a bunch of inner-city kids, is vintage Greene.

Greene lost his job at The Trib after admitting to an affair with a school-age intern. Another egregious act was the publication of Good Morning Merry Sunshine, the diary of the first year of his child’s life, Both were departures from an otherwise impeccable career.

MATTERHORN, by Karl Marlantes

Okay, at around 700 pages this doesn’t follow the Guy-lit test of shorter is better. But it’s a heck of a fictionalized “non fiction” account of Vietnam and you’ll tear through it.

Lieutenant Waino Mellas and Bravo company take you into battle, into the mud and leech-infested swamps of Vietnam, and the pointlessness of it all. It’s absorbing, devastating and terrifying, the first great novel of Vietnam. There is humor here too. This is Platoon made real. A memorable book of war.

 

 

THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA, by Ernest Hemingway.

There are many more adventure stories by Hemingway that are worth considering, but his classic — written in Cuba in 1951 — about the old man Santiago and his desperate fight to catch a huge marlin works on various levels. The loyalty of the young boy who stands by the old man, even though he hasn’t caught a fish for weeks. The desperation of Santiago to have one last victory. The dreams of youth.

If you haven’t read it in a long time, or have never read it, rediscover or discover it now. It is elegant. And it will speak to you louder the older you are.

 

LET THE GREAT WORLD SPIN, by Colum McCann.

The world stops in 1974 when a man talks a tightrope between the towers of the World Trade Center. The city is filled with death and betrayal.

McCann takes us on a journey into a grittier, grubbier New York, interconnecting disparate lives into a meaningful and satisfying whole. It is a 9-11 book, showing our humanity and our desperation and, most importantly, our part in the theatre of life. It is a work of absolute genius. The best novel of the past decade.

 

 

FEVER PITCH, by Nick Hornby.

Any novel by Nick Hornby is worth reading, but Fever Pitch — about his frustrating love affair with Arsenal Football Club — is a delight, entertaining, witty and nostalgic.

Hornby supported Arsenal as a young man, when he and his father spent many an afternoon of despair on the terraces Arsenal at that time took its fans almost to the top of the mountain, before crushing their hopes and dreams and driving every supporter into abject misery. Just like now, in fact.

 

 

TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY, by John Le Carre.

With the new movie version winning raves, it’s a good time to rediscover the spy classic. Len Deighton and Ian Fleming — and countless other wannabe spy novelists — have produced a canon of superior spy literature, and some memorable spies, but Le Carre is the master.

His George Smiley, immortalized by Alec Guinness in the TV series, is a stiff, reserved spymaster who must separate hero from counter spy. Le Carre takes you inside a world and makes you believe it’s not a fiction. Just check over your shoulder.

 

 

LIFE, by Keith Richards.

Music was a far bigger drug than smack, writes the Rolling Stones guitarist, when he isn’t poking fun at Mick Jagger’s “tiny todger.” Keef’s autobiography, written with ghostwriter James Fox, takes us on a rock and roll trip from the south-east London to megastardom.

Plenty of super anecdotes. Jagger recently said in an interview that he planned no autobiography of his own, probably suggesting his partner’s book was mindless tittle-tattle. There’s plenty of that — but it’s an entertaining ride, from rock’s great survivor.

 

 

SAINT MAYBE, by Anne Tyler.

Anne Tyler’s novels appear superficially to be perfect chick-lit but the portraits she paints of ordinary American families, heroes and anti-heroes, and eccentrics will strike a chord for any male reader. More men need to discover her.

You may know her most famous novel Accidental Tourist, even in movie form, but Saint Maybe is a book that shows her at her most poignant.

The hero here is Ian, whose brother and sister-in-law die because of his actions. The novel shows how Ian eventually becomes the parent to the couple’s three children. It’s vintage Tyler, in which ordinary people show extraordinary heroics when faced with major challenges. Tyler is accessible and easy to love. Fiction for your inner metrosexual.

Ian Haysom is a lifelong journalist whose secret ambition is to join a  rock band and play sleazy dives and smoky bars. He plays bad keyboards and sad guitar but never gives up on his dreams.He’s done just about everything in newspapers from delivering then to editing them, from Fleet Street to Canada’s west coast. He now works  in TV news and writes a weekly column. When he’s not mastering Stairway to Heaven or the keyboard riff from Light My Fire.