Short Cuts Blog)
Nearly 30% of men have not read a book since school, according to a survey commissioned for World Book Night, an annual event that hopes to change their ways. The reasons men don't read are varied, but "not really wanting to" seems to be the main one. However, if you are a man – or know one – who might agree to try just one book for the hell of it, these are my guaranteed-no-regrets recommendations.
Everything Bad Is Good For You By Steven Johnson
If you feel guilty about preferring video games, movies and TV to reading, this is the book for you. Swiftly and straightforwardly, and sometimes with charts, Johnson argues that popular entertainment has grown far more complex in recent decades, and may even make us cleverer.
Stalingrad By Antony Beevor
Look how unbelievably terrible the Battle of Stalingrad was, this book says. "Look how unbelievably terrible the Battle of Stalingrad was!" yell its excited readers to each other/their wives/passersby. Because if you like war, this is war all right, explained with impeccable authority and detail by a former soldier. It is long – 500 pages – but you'll want it longer. Besides, the length means that in a combat situation the book itself might be useful as a weapon.
The Old Man and the Sea By Ernest Hemingway
I'm not aware of any novel that is easier or more exciting to read. It's also so short – 99 small pages – that we are being kind even calling it a novel. It is a perfect adventure story about an old man having a hard time in the Atlantic. (And if you want it to be, it is also about much more.) You'll read the whole thing in about 40 minutes, then need a scotch.
The Road By Cormac McCarthy
a) It's an incredibly exciting short novel about a father and son trying to survive a global catastrophe. b) It's a practical guide to surviving a global catastrophe, which might one day be useful. c) It does away with the need to survive global catastrophes because you'll be so depressed you won't care. If you have ever been curious about what makes people cry in books, this is pretty much the deep end.
Finnegans Wake By James Joyce
Don Quixote is maybe K2. Tristram Shandy is barely Kilimanjaro. But Finnegans Wake is definitely Everest. Essentially plotless, and barely even written in English, it might be a novel about an Irish family, but no one really knows. Nor is there a consensus on whether it contains characters. Even serious readers of daunting masterpieces get someone to take a picture of them on the final page. Get there yourself, and even if you never read another book you can lord it over your more literary friends indefinitely. (Call it "high modernism", if anyone asks.)