21 Books from the 21st Century Every Man Should Read

A list from GQ:

The Corrections — Jonathan Franzen

Because: Let’s be real, he wrote two of the very best books (Freedom’s the other) of the millennium—or, if you’re guzzling haterade, at least the two best books on, among other things, family, anti-anxiety drugs, marriage, fate, songbirds, and Minnesota.

The Human Stain — Philip Roth

Because: he’s written eight pretty great novels since the turn, but only one masterpiece. Beginning in the summer “that Bill Clinton’s secret emerged,” it’s the best book on sex, scandal (Roth coined the famous phrase “ecstasy of sanctimony”), and political correctness in the Lewinsky Moment.

The Road — Cormac McCarthy

BECAUSE: While plugging this book is sorta like plugging a weekend getaway to Pittsburgh in February, it’s irresponsible not to, for the sheer tactful feat of turning a post-apocalyptic skin-crawler into both a critical stick of dynamite (the Pulitzer Prize) and a commercial windfall (Oprah’s Book Club). McCarthy, who rarely lifts a fingernail to promote his work, is better than hermetic: Doesn’t care about the fame or money but isn’t such a nutbag that he frantically hides from it. He’s operating in the new millennium as actively as the younger generation, this prime-time gunner, now 79, who so clearly has still got it. Notice, on the other hand, the absence of those other stalwarts of the 1960s—1990s: Updike, DeLillo, Morrison, Pynchon, Ford, et al.

White Teeth — Zadie Smith

BECAUSE: Smith’s debut—about the friendship and family fates of two polar-opposite and yet instantly identifiable British men—is better than any recent book at answering the question: What was life like in London last century?

True History of the Kelly Gang — Peter Carey

BECAUSE: the voice in this fictional autobiography of Australia’s most famous outlaw—Ned Kelly, bushranger—is so convincing that you’d swear it came from his own dirt-and-blood-soaked hands.

2666 — Roberto Bolaño

BECAUSE: Big novels always arrive with an aura of ridiculousness, overpraised by critics, under-read by readers, slowly eroding an indent into the bottom shelf of your bookcase. Worse is a posthumous publication (which usually requires someone to defy the author’s last wishes) that’s as rickety as improperly assembled Ikea furniture. This book was both: the English translation of 898 pages showing up five years after Roberto Bolaño’s death from liver failure. But pick it up with two hands and you’ll find a masterpiece just swarming with stories, of hapless critics and too many murdered women; earnest, haunted investigators who don’t find the answers they need; and vanished geniuses who don’t want to be found.

Tree of Smoke — Denis Johnson

BECAUSE: The best book about Vietnam took thirty-odd years to brew—resulting in the finest first few pages (and subsequent 600) written on the subject.

Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned — Wells Tower

BECAUSE: This is the voice lots of writers are most excited about today, the one whose story collection they’ll hand you, dog-eared, if you ask for an urgently ass-kicking must-read. Spend a few hours with these damaged, defiant, uncomfortably familiar men (yep, including Vikings) and watch as Tower unravels and stitches up their lives. There’s no way you’re giving this book back.

Fortress of Solitude — Jonathan Lethem

BECAUSE: A lot of people write about Brooklyn—but Lethem’s epic take on gentrification and racial tension is the first and last word on the subject.

Pastoralia — George Saunders

BECAUSE: The title story alone—the depressive ramblings of an employee in a vaguely dystopian caveman-themed amusement park (trust us)—was proof that we had found a new king of literary tragicomedy.

Runaway — Alice Munro

BECAUSE: In any of the five collections she’s put out since 2000, but especially in this one, she so totally nails the short story that one could be forgiven for thinking writing them is easy. It ain’t.

Austerlitz — W.G. Sebald

BECAUSE: Austerlitz is possessed of a form all its own. It’s long been in vogue to blur the lines between fiction and non-, between novel and memoir, and W.G. did that before it was cool. But Austerlitz, which is basically about Sebald wandering around Europe, doesn’t do it as a gimmick. You get the sense that this is simply what he had to write. Austerlitz is about the intricate, horrifying, inhuman destruction upon which all societies, certainly Western ones, are built. An understandable thing for a German to have been obsessed about. Its message is that we all live in the silent, beautiful ruins of sadistic disaster. And it falls to Sebald to uncover those ruins. To read it is to stop and smell the roses, except, you know, roses that smell like sadistic destruction.

Cloud Atlas — David Mitchell

BECAUSE: Forget the endless movie: Mitchell’s original novel—six rollicking story lines connecting disparate-seeming characters through reincarnation—was big without being dense, and ambitious without being overbearing.

Gilead — Marilynne Robinson

BECAUSE: Conversation about religion in America in the twenty-first century is so batshit insane that when someone tries to strip it down to the parts that were interesting to people, like, 2,000 years ago, it’s worth listening. While Robinson’s novel—a long, elegiac, wisdom-bleeding letter from a much older father to a much younger son that’s also a meditation on just about every question of God and humanity—sure ain’t easy, it socks you in the face and then hands you some ice to cool the bruise. Which is what religion’s supposed to do, right?

The Art of Fielding — Chad Harbach

BECAUSE: Bros will never not love baseball and bros will never not love college—and together, that pairing made us love reading a book more than the sum of our love of baseball and college. (Also: For guys who get through max two books a year, this is the surest rec on the list.)

Netherland — Joseph O’Neill

BECAUSE: Shoveling down the language in this book—about a man’s lonely assimilation in New York after his wife and kid leave him to move back to London in the wake of 9/11—is like dining out gourmet for a week straight. Plus: murder, banking, spanking, and—seriously, this will work on you, as anyone from the former Colonies has long insisted—the awesome draw of cricket.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao — Junot Díaz

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao opens our eyes to an astonishing vision of the contemporary American experience and explores the endless human capacity to persevere—and risk it all—in the name of love.

The Line of Beauty — Alan Hollinghurst

BECAUSE: Although the story is simple—a recent grad spends the summer of ’83 stumbling into his attraction to men while living in the home of a member of Parliament—Hollinghurst tells it with the metronomic consistency of early Cheever, the wide-eyed sexuality of Updike’s Rabbit series, and the bloodlust for men of wealth and class that launched Fitzgerald. And because Hollinghurst easily carries the torch for all three.

Saturday — Ian McEwan

BECAUSE: No novel, by McEwan or anyone else, so precisely and gorgeously conjures the thought processes of its protagonist. Here the synaptic crackle and fizz of Henry Perowne’s formidable brain as the neurosurgeon absorbs a body blow from a street thug: “The blow that’s aimed at Perowne’s heart…lands on his sternum with colossal force, so that…there surges throughout his body a sharp ridge, a shock wave, of high blood pressure, a concussive thrill that carries with it not so much pain as an electric jolt of stupefaction and a brief deathly chill that has a visual component of blinding, snowy whiteness.”

The Yellow Birds — Kevin Powers

BECAUSE: What happens when poets write novels is you get sentences with chiseled precision, chapters with an elliptical swirl. What happens when a soldier-poet writes a novel is you get the best book yet on the post-9/11 wars.

The Namesake — Jhumpa Lahiri

BECAUSE: No other novel this century has so fully, meticulously described the life of a man, from birth to middle age, and all the choices and obsessions that guide him through it.