Not too long ago I had the opportunity to meet a great man. He’s died since then, but his impact on the world he inhabited for 93 years continues to spread his legacy: from advances in scientific research, inquisitions into the English language, and a foundation in a family that does not fault.
But in meeting a man like that—especially as I am just over a third his age—begs one question: how do you live so long? He wasn’t vegan, and he didn’t shy away from booze, but the thing that kept him going, surviving like our DNA demands, was curiosity. James A. Fisher never stopped learning.
Before you could search the expansive database of human knowledge from a device that fits in your pocket, you had to look things up manually. That included books, dictionaries, encyclopedias, and the telephone directory.
But those were Fisher’s tools. He was known to pour over a dictionary to ensure words were being used correctly. And that’s admirable, especially to someone who uses words as currency.
That insatiable curiosity, a yearning to explore the weird experiment of humanity, means always considering yourself a student.
And being a lifelong learner is something we all should aspire to be.
But with college prices at levels that could bankrupt you quicker than a broken leg, if you’re in your 30s you better have a job contract signed if you think of going back to school.
Or you can become a Renaissance Man on your own.
It’s an antiquated term rarely used anymore, but it means a lot, and that’s what it means to be a modern man.
You have to know how to change a tire and write in HTML. You have to know how to make a good campfire, as well as know that stinky cheese doesn’t pair well with a pungent wine. You have to know how to render duck fat, iron a shirt, use a Skilsaw, compose a sentence properly, and do a backflip within 10 minutes.
Nick Offerman recently gave Conan his tips on being a man, which included bullshit things like I just listed off, but at the end, he made his point:
But if you want to be one of those men, just like I do, then you have to commit yourself to reading. You can debate me all you want on this, but there’s enough science out there to make me faithful enough to say reading books makes you a better person.
You won’t make it to 93 by working a day job that doesn’t challenge you followed by nights digesting YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime. If the demise of Flappy Birds left a hole in your heart, try filling it it Kurt Vonnegut.
Don’t get me wrong. I was also that guy who nodded off reading Jane Eyre in a Catholic high school and spent decades looking for the right books, the ones that would shape the foundation of how I’d live my life.
Here are 10 book I recommend every modern man should read before he’s done making up his mind about life, especially if he knows he should read more, but doesn’t like reading.
1. Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
The narrator goes from a state of victim-hood via pretending to have multiple chronic illnesses protected by anonymity, to a state of fabricated freedom, to the ultimatum of recklessness to responsibility. And, just like the movie, it so famously begins with a needed punch to the face.
If you liked the movie, you’ll love the book. I do. Shit changed my life and for the better.
2. Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
If you need a reason to embrace the importance of survival, this book will sell you on plenty of them. An inspiration to anyone who likes the outdoors, this book is about taking what little you have now and building it into something that’ll keep you kicking through tomorrow.
Read about a kid with a hatchet dealing with a single-engine plane crash in the Canadian outback, and asking your boss for a raise won’t seem so scary.
3. In Dubious Battle by John Steinbeck
You may not have heard about this John Steinbeck novel in high school, but if you work for a living, you can relate to what Tory Treseder’s doppleganger has to say. The story follows a few men through a picker’s strike in California during the Great Depression. And no one is going to try to fight back against the Powers That Be quite like guys without a pot to piss in or a warm meal in his belly. Word is they can get quite ornery at times.
4. The Last Night of the Earth Poems by Charles Bukowski
Good ol’ Uncle Chuck Bukowski was an asshole. But, in being the asshole a blue-collar man could relate to, he also crafted some poetry perfect for the man that doesn’t gravitate towards poetry, like me. If you’re working a job that puts sweat on your brow, Bukowski, in this collection, has something to say to you.
5. Another Bullshit Night in Suck City By Nick Flynn
You think you have issues with your dad? Take a number because Nick Flynn met his abusive father (years after his mother’s suicide) while Daddy Dearest is a guest at the homeless shelter the author works at. Flynn’s way with words eases the sting of it all, but it’s a punch in the gut nonetheless.
6. The Dragons of Eden By Carl Sagan
Carl Sagan is most famous for his TV series The Cosmos, which is now being continued thanks to Seth McFarlane and Neil degrasse Tyson. But this book can help provide perspective on how man, as a bigger brained species, came to be. It’s not something we think about enough and this book will put knowledge in your head you won’t ever be able to get out.
7. Hell’s Angels By Hunter Thompson
A young Hunter Thompson capable of making enough mistakes that the adult version would be too wise to make. The Hell’s Angels. The 1960s.
It’s a ride, and Dr. Thompson always told us to buy the ticket.
8. The Road by Cormac McCarthy
A fire wipes out everything in sight—an analogy that shouldn’t be ignored by men who still hold passion in their hearts—and a man leads his son through what’s left of the world. While fire destroyed everything, he still tells his son to carry the fire. While avoiding cannibals, of course.
Read this book and become a different person.
9. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
This is the only book on the list I haven’t read, but I’ve heard enough about it from B. Free to know that I won’t be complete until I read it. The author believe in his message enough that he didn’t accept rejection from publishers and set out on his own, making it a cult classic and best seller in the process.
10. Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
You wouldn’t think that being the Emperor of Rome weighs heavy on a man, but apparently shit can get a little heavy occasionally. Considering the author lived less than two centuries after Jesus was born, you would think he’s out of touch, but he’s not. The best part of his journal entries is that he, the ruler of the world, struggled with putting up with himself to sleep calmly at the end of the day.
None of us may be emperors, but we know how to lose some sleep.
These are merely suggestions. Read what you want. Believe what you want. But don’t ever give up trying to learn something new. You’ll live longer and become a better person in the process.
Blade or Die,
— Brian Krans
P.S. — In case I haven’t bothered you enough already, I’m Kickstarting my next book, Assault Rifles & Pedophiles: An American Love Story. As of this writing, thanks to many awesome people, I’m funded to 118 percent. If you want to join, your support is welcome.