Why Men Should Read More Fiction

by Brett & Kate McKay on April 29, 2012 · 164 comments

in Books, Travel & Leisure

At the Art of Manliness, we encourage our readers to read books. It’s through reading that we gain new perspectives and learn more about ourselves and the world around us. I’m a big believer in the saying that “Readers are leaders.” As I’ve studied the lives of great men throughout history, a common thread I’ve found is that most were bibliophiles who relentlessly pursued self-education throughout their entire lives.

While many men have stacks of books accumulating on their “to-read” pile, chances are that pile is composed primarily of non-fiction tomes. For the past 20 years or so, the publishing industry has noted a precipitous decline in the number of men reading fiction. Some reports show that men make up only 20% of fiction readers in America today.

There are a lot of reasons thrown around as to why many men today don’t read fiction. Perhaps they had a bad experience with it in high school and swore they’d never read a novel again as long as they lived. It’s possible that the male brain is just naturally more drawn to the straightforward, fact-driven nature of non-fiction. And some have suggested that men are getting their storytelling fix from the many excellent narrative non-fiction books that have come out in the past decade (e.g., The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, Into Thin Air).

Whatever the reason, cognitive studies are beginning to show that men might be short-shrifting themselves by avoiding the fiction section in the bookstore and library.  Today we make the case for why you need to put down those business books every once in awhile and pick up a copy of  Hemingway.

Why Men Should Read More Fiction

In the past decade, several cognitive scientists have turned their attention to how fiction affects our minds. Leading this research is cognitive psychologist and fiction writer, Dr. Keith Oatley. Dr. Oatley and other researchers from around the globe have discovered that fiction not only activates, but also improves the cognitive functions that allow us to thrive socially.

Dr. Oatley argues in his book Such Stuff as Dreams: The Psychology of Fiction that fiction is primarily about “selves in a social world,” and that fiction’s main subject is “what people are up to with each other.” Just as your understanding of history and finance is improved by reading lots of books on those subjects, reading fiction improves your understanding of social relationships–your thinking about what other people are thinking. In fact, Dr. Oatley calls fiction a simulation for the social world that allows you to experience (at least vicariously) a variety of social circumstances with different kinds of people than you might encounter in your actual day-to-day life.

Most of your success as a man, whether in love or work, depends on your ability to socialize adroitly. We’ve all heard the phrase, “Success depends not on what you know, but who you know.” As much as you’d like to think that’s not true, it is. You can be the most skilled and talented whatever in the world, but you’ll likely labor away in obscurity if you don’t know how to reach out and share those talents with others.

Unfortunately, men have gotten the short end of the evolutionary stick when it comes to our ability to socialize. Studies show that male brains are generally wired for dealing with stuff, while female brains are generally wired for dealing with people. This may explain why women often prefer fiction over non-fiction: their brains are already wired to want to read about “selves in a social world.”

Thus as men, we probably have the most to gain from reading fiction. Instead of seeing fiction as a bunch of made-up, waste-of-time baloney, look it as a simulator that allows you to exercise and strengthen the cognitive muscles responsible for socializing. Every time you pick up and read a novel, you’re molding yourself into a better, more socially adept man.

Below we flesh out what the research says about how exactly fiction improves our minds.

Reading Fiction Strengthens Your Theory of Mind

Theory of mind is a cognitive ability that humans use all the time, but take for granted. Basically, it’s our ability to attribute mental states (like thoughts, feelings, and beliefs) to others based on a whole host of input in order to predict and explain what they are thinking. Cognitive scientists call this ability “theory of mind” because when we interact with others, it’s impossible for us to know exactly what they’re thinking/feeling/perceiving, so we have to construct a theory of what they’re thinking/feeling/perceiving in their mind. Without theory of mind, social interaction would be awkward, clumsy, and nearly impossible.

Some examples of theory of mind in action:

  • We use theory of mind when we see a smiling huckster and think, “Sure, he’s smiling, but I think he’s actually trying to screw me here.” You see the smile, but you’re attributing an alternative mental state because of some other information you know about the guy.
  • Theory of mind pervades romantic relationships. “I think she thinks that I like her, but I really don’t. How do I let this girl down easily?” In this case, you are theorizing that a young lady has a thing for you, and that she thinks the feeling is mutual even though it isn’t. Now you have to figure out how to handle this situation.
  • We use theory of mind to strategize and deceive. The famous poisoned goblet scene in The Princess Bride is a perfect example of theory of mind in action:

Theory of mind isn’t something that we’re born knowing how to do. Children start developing theory of mind around three or four years old. Until then, infants and toddlers think that whatever they’re thinking/feeling/perceiving, is what others are thinking/feeling/perceiving too. It’s why my 18 month old son Gus “hides” by simply covering his eyes with his hands. He thinks because he can’t see me, I can’t see him, even though he’s sitting right in front of me in his high chair. While certainly cute, it’s a big theory of mind fail.

Generally, girls develop theory of mind before boys do and teenage girls tend to do better than teenage boys on theory of mind tasks. The female advantage in theory of mind also extends into adulthood. Women’s superior theory of mind ability is probably a result of both evolutionary and sociological factors.  Cognitive scientist Simon Baron-Cohen (He’s Borat’s cousin. Seriously!), postulates that autism affects men more often than women because those with autism have an “extreme male mind.” Those with autism often lack or have an underdeveloped theory of mind, which explains why they frequently struggle to interact socially–they lack the ability to read other people.

So what does theory of mind have to do with fiction? Well, studies show that when we read fiction, the parts of our brain responsible for theory of mind light up and are heavily engaged. Narratives require us to guess at the hidden motives of characters, figure out what their enemies or lovers may or may not be thinking (when the author doesn’t tell us explicitly), as well as keep track of all the social interactions between characters. Ernest Hemingway was famous for forcing his readers to guess the mental state of his characters by substituting words with actions. For example, at the super-sad end of A Farewell to Arms (Don’t read it if you’re a father-to-be. Trust me), the main character, Frederic Henry, doesn’t say anything at all–he just walks back to his hotel in the rain. End story.

Mystery novels particularly exercise our theory of mind ability. Whenever you read a Dashiell Hammett novel, you’re guessing right along with Sam Spade about what the subtle gestures or the words spoken by all the characters really mean. Is the suspect or witness just saying something to throw you and Spade off the trail? Juggling all this mind-reading is both fun and taxing, which is why literary critic Lisa Zunshine says the mental workout you get from reading a detective story is a lot like lifting weights at the gym.

While reading fiction may engage our theory of mind, does it strengthen it? In recent studies by Dr. Oatley, the answer appears to be yes. In studies published in 2006 and 2009, Dr. Oatley reports that individuals who frequently read fiction perform better on theory of mind tests, regardless of gender. One such theory of mind test is the Mind’s Eye Test in which participants look at photos of nothing but people’s eyes and then have to describe what the people are feeling. Fiction readers perform better at this test than non-fiction readers. And a 2010 study performed on pre-school children showed that the more stories that were read to them as toddlers, the stronger their theory of mind. (Read to your kids, dads!)

Reading Fiction Makes You More Empathetic

In order to be empathetic, it’s not enough to figure out what someone is feeling (which theory of mind can aid in); empathy requires us to have the same emotional reaction as the other individual.

Just as with theory of mind, men are generally less empathetic than women. While we tend to think of empathy as more of a feminine trait, it’s essential for both genders to develop empathy because it’s the glue that holds civilized society together and allows us to have strong, long-lasting relationships with our friends and lovers.

Unfortunately, as we highlighted in our article Our Disembodied Selves and the Decline of Empathy, empathy has been declining among both men and women in the past few decades, and online communication has been a driving force behind the decline. While we encouraged readers to counteract the empathy-sucking power of online communication by balancing it with more face-to-face conversations, studies show that curling up by yourself with a good novel can help increase empathy as well.

In 2008, Dr. Oatley tested whether reading fiction makes us more empathetic. He gave 166 participants either the Chekhov short story, “The Lady with the Little Dog,” or a version of the same story rewritten in documentary form. The subjects’ personality traits and emotions were assessed before and after reading. While readers of the boring documentary version showed no changes in empathy or attachment to the characters, those who read the original Chechov story showed an increase in empathy towards the characters. Similar studies done by the University of Buffalo show the same thing. Dr. Oatley concedes that the changes could be only temporary, but hypothesizes that repeated fiction reading may have more lasting effects on empathy.

Reading Fiction Increases Creativity

Cognitive scientists believe that fiction originates in play. Just as children engage with make-believe and imaginative worlds, so too do adults when they read a story. And just as open-ended play develops a child’s ability to conceive and evaluate alternatives, a well-written piece of fiction does the same for grown-ups. Reading fiction can boost our creativity by exposing us to fanciful ideas and narratives that we otherwise wouldn’t experience reading non-fiction.

But perhaps fiction’s greatest creativity boost is what literary critic Viktor Shklovsky said is the purpose of fiction: to make the familiar strange, so that we look at things in a new light. Fiction allows us to compare how the human experience and ideas work in a made-up world to how they work in real life. From these comparisons, we can begin to think about ideas in profoundly different ways. I like to think that fiction disorients us to reorient us and during that reorientation new ideas spring to our minds.

What Kind of Fiction Should I Read?

In a telephone interview, I asked Dr. Oatley if there’s any type of fiction that men should be reading in particular. His response was to read whatever interests you, whether it’s highbrow Russian novels or lowbrow dime paperbacks. “Our studies show that the effect fiction has on the mind is independent of literary quality,” says Dr. Oatley. He actually encourages folks to read a wide variety of fiction so that “they get to know more people in more circumstances.” So go ahead. Read those Louis  L’Amour and Michael Crichton novels without any guilt. You’re helping yourself become a charismatic social-dynamo.

As we mentioned earlier, mystery novels may especially exercise our theory of mind because they require us to guess the secret intents of a catalog of suspects based on subtle clues left by the author. So boning up on your Hammett, Chandler, and Christie could possibly be beneficial and will definitely be enjoyable.

And while Jane Austen’s novels are often considered anathema to men, they also do a good job working your theory of mind. Keeping up with who has a thing for who and what all those subtle Victorian gestures really mean will leave your brain hurting, but stronger in the social skills department. Full Disclosure: I recently read Sense and Sensibility and really enjoyed it.

Dr. Oatley did suggest two books that he recently read that he thought men might enjoy: Netherland and The Reluctant Fundamentalist

Bottom line: make sure to mix in some fiction reading with your non-fiction selections. It will make you a better, more successful man.

To get some ideas for some male-oriented fiction to check out, see the following resources:

BULL Men’s Fiction (Great site and magazine dedicated to men’s fiction.)

100 Must Read Books For Men

9 Authors Carrying the Torch for Male Fiction

50 Best Fictional Adventure Books

Have any other suggestions on fiction pieces that an AoM man might enjoy? Share them with us in the comments and we’ll compile them into a master list for a future post.

{ 164 comments… read them below or add one }

101 Sam April 30, 2012 at 5:29 pm

Safely Home, by Randy Alcorn.

102 Zacharia Karami April 30, 2012 at 6:14 pm

“John dies at the end”, by David Wong (Jason Pargin).

103 알렉스 April 30, 2012 at 6:52 pm

Yes yes yes to the commenter who recommended Flannery O’Connor. Also: Shirley Jackson.

For good contemporary works I recommend the Best American Short Stories anthologies — every year it republishes the 20 best pieces of short fiction from literary magazines around the country (and Canada too!)

I think reading short fiction to discover authors you really like is a better use of time and money than purchasing the novels of untested, unfamiliar writers.

104 Jim April 30, 2012 at 7:03 pm

Anything by H. Rider Haggard or Dickens. Need further suggestions? Just ask a librarian. As a library director I’m pretty sure I can suggest something for just about any interest.

105 Vincent April 30, 2012 at 8:07 pm

That’s funny. I normally like to read nonfiction. I’m a film buff so I feel like I get my story fix from movies. I do want to get back to novels eventually though.

106 Rich April 30, 2012 at 8:13 pm

I was really surprised to discover that fiction was so rarely read by men. Save for my school books (which even some of these are fiction), I almost never read non-fiction in my free time. I find most of it to be a bore with little aesthetic or artistic merit.
My recommendations: anything by James Joyce, anything by Vladimir Nabokov, “House of Leaves” by Mark Z. Danielewski. None of these will be easy reads, so you really have to put in the time and (mental) effort to get a lot out of them. But if you do, it’s very worthwhile. I’m a big Kurt Vonnegut fan and agree with one of my high school teachers that his work always seems to go down smooth.

107 Stephen Wood April 30, 2012 at 8:14 pm

The answer for men’s declining interest in fiction these past twenty years is so painfully obvious: video games. The medium but not the desire has changed.

108 Scott April 30, 2012 at 8:19 pm

I always liked Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe series, about a British rifleman in the Peninsular War. I also enjoy Ian Rankin’s Rebus mystery novels.

109 Bracing April 30, 2012 at 9:09 pm

Though I don’t read much (a flaw that I’m trying to correct) I do value my intake of fiction (via film, tv, or the occasional story-driven video game). Some of the writing that makes it to the screen in various forms is really good!

110 susan April 30, 2012 at 9:57 pm

Austen wrote during the Regency period of English history (c. 1811). The Victorian age wasn’t until 1837.

111 Jacob April 30, 2012 at 10:37 pm

Read Jane Austen. I just finished a graduate seminar that covered all of her novels and Juvenilia. Good stuff, I would recommend Emma or Pride and Prejudice. There’s also a recently published book called “How Jane Austen Taught Me to be a Man.” I’ve only had time to take a few peaks at it but it looks promising.

112 Hugo Stiglitz April 30, 2012 at 10:57 pm

I went to the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, and we had a pretty cooly motto: “Ex Scientia Tridens” – “From Knowledge, Sea Power.”

But, our neighboring school – St. John’s College – had an even better one: “Facio Liberos ex Liberis Libris Libraque” – “I Make Free Men from Children by Means of Books and a Balance.”

I don’t think there’s a more powerful school mission out there.

113 Sean May 1, 2012 at 12:07 am

Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, or Die Verwandlung.
A great short story that speaks volumes about maintaining one’s sanity and priorities. I’ve written a number of papers on it and Gregor the Bug has never let me down. I’m hoping to read it in German in the near future.

114 Caleb S. May 1, 2012 at 2:48 am

Excellent advice. As some people seem to be recommending their favorite fiction authors for those gentlemen who might be looking for something to pick up, I would highly recommend anything from Graham Greene. He is a twentieth-century writer of novels and short stories, and his works are filled with men faced with complex moral conflicts. All of his novels are both entertaining and literary, which is a rarity these days, and perfect for someone looking to begin a fiction-reading habit. As an English major, I have read MANY novels, and in my humble opinion, Greene is hard to beat. (The Ministry of Fear, The Power and the Glory, A Burnt Out Case, etc.)

115 Gabe May 1, 2012 at 3:21 am

Harry Turtledove- Southern Victory series

116 Tom Smedley May 1, 2012 at 4:04 am

This article on “Futures for Sale” recommends science fiction at the literature of young adult males.


Patrick O’Brian’s novels also probe the mysteries of manliness. 20+ volumes starting with “Master and Commander” take us into a lost world of wooden ships and iron men. Even a patriotic American will find himself grieving the setbacks of the British navy during the Way of 1812!

117 Dan May 1, 2012 at 7:56 am

Baron-Cohen’s theory of mind sounds like a relabeling of Freud’s insanely paranoid “insight” that geniuses like himself hear what others are saying, but know what they’re really thinking.

118 Ed May 1, 2012 at 8:37 am

If you like mysteries, try Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther series, starting with “Berlin Noir.” Think Philip Marlow or Sam Spade set in 1930′s Nazi Germany instead of early 20th Century LA or San Francisco. Great atmosphere and characters. Plots that keep you interested. Muscular writing with interesting moral dilemmas.

119 connor May 1, 2012 at 9:17 am

The Discworld books by Terry Pratchett are particularly good

120 Doug May 1, 2012 at 9:38 am

I think Stephen Wood brings up a very good point, but I’d like to add another: It’s important to read fiction as well because if you’re like me and read too many non-fiction books, you start to become too self-critical and find too many of your flaws, because these days, everyone has an opinion on what is correct, and you find yourself trying to reach a “perfect person” that is frankly unattainable. Reading a good fiction book will help bring out more brain stimulation as well as confidence in men. Get rid of the video games; only play them with your kids. Reading a combination of both fiction and non-fiction will keep you ever-informed and help you in many ways not commonly thought of.

121 Curt May 1, 2012 at 9:48 am

Oh, Brett! Sense and Sensibility!? Say it ain’t so… :) Great post.

122 Caleb P. May 1, 2012 at 11:00 am

I really appreciate the article and, as an avid fiction reader, I can say that I have experienced many of these benefits. Also, I would second the gentleman that recommended Harry Turtledove; Mr. Turtledove is an exceptional fiction author.

123 Joe Bones May 1, 2012 at 11:39 am

I cannot recommend Evelyn Waugh enough. His Sword of Honour trilogy is a complex, insightful and hilarious study of a man’s motivations in war. It is solidly rooted in the temporal but illustrated by the spritual. it also features an exploding portable toilet and a one- armed Brigadier with an eye patch…. Start with the trilogy, move on to Scoop and Decline and Fall, work through the rest and end with Brideshead Revisited and a Handful of Dust, in that order. Books have given meaning and context to my life – these more than most.

124 Joyce French May 1, 2012 at 1:23 pm

I can’t help but wonder…is the opposite true as well? Should women read non-fiction to become more adept with their non social skills?

125 Greg May 1, 2012 at 1:43 pm

Really pleased to have this justification for my fiction reading. And as it seems to be pretty popular here, I just read a number of short stories by Flannery O’Conner and they are really phenomenal.

I try and keep my reading diet on a cycle. One fiction, one non fiction, and one piece of work specifically focused on improving character or spiritual life. I also try and stick with older books and classics that have stood the test of time. The way I look at it, life is short, and oceans of ink have already been spilt. Reading the classics protects you from wasting time on rotten books.

126 tsherry May 1, 2012 at 4:19 pm

I would recommend The Complete Chronicles of Conan by Robert E. Howard.

Most people write off Conan as being a silly Arnold movie, however the original stories are masterpieces. The stories consist of everything from short 3 page (Frost Giant’s Daughter) stories to full novels (Hour of the Dragon). My favorite of all the stories is The Tower of the Elephant. Beautiful works, and life lessons on being your own Man.

127 Hal May 1, 2012 at 6:00 pm

Philip Roth is good and comes with the added benefit that you can then say you have read Philip Roth. The Plot Against America is a good way in.

128 gparks May 1, 2012 at 7:39 pm

Excellent post. Been a fan of the site for a while but this post moved me to send congratulations! Well done.

129 minuteman May 1, 2012 at 9:27 pm

Bernard Cornwell, my favourite historical fiction writer. His history is very detailed but you don’t feel like you are reading lectures. The best thing about his stories is that they are told from the perspective of the little people not the captains and kings. Conn Igguldon, second favourite. Wrote one series about the Mongol empire and another about the Romans.

130 Matt May 1, 2012 at 10:18 pm

I am a huge fan of most of Ted Dekker’s work! Also, really enjoy the Joe Ledger series by Jonathan Maberry. Very different authors, but exciting reads!

131 P.M.Lawrence May 2, 2012 at 12:37 am

Every time you pick up and read a novel, you’re molding yourself into a better, more socially adept man.

… And a lot more like that. Wrong. It’s not better, precisely because it makes you more socially adept. We are better when we play to our strengths and recognise our weaknesses, using teamwork to deal with the latter rather than trying to become second rate, feminised men who aren’t even as good at that as those who have the talent. I can actually do it when I try, a bit and in bursts, but it’s hard work and very draining – for people like me social interaction is not energising and needs a damned good reason as well as being as unsustainable as swimming underwater while holding your breath. Here’s a case in point:-

Theory of mind pervades romantic relationships. “I think she thinks that I like her, but I really don’t. How do I let this girl down easily?” In this case, you are theorizing that a young lady has a thing for you, and that she thinks the feeling is mutual even though it isn’t. Now you have to figure out how to handle this situation.

That’s a non-problem; it only comes up for someone who is into this touchy-feely stuff. The rest of us simply don’t notice until someone comes right out and tells us. As a result, by behaving normally and treating the girl just like anyone else, we don’t risk sending the wrong signals by acting especially kindly or whatever.

Precisely this happened to me once on holiday, years ago. Halfway through my two weeks, and right at the end of hers just before her return flight, a girl who had been giving me a hard time cornered me and complained that I hadn’t made a pass at her. I instinctively replied “Of course not!”, but then I had to get all tactful and say that she just wasn’t my type (without telling her that I find being given a hard time a real turn off, as well as not going for gorgeous girls like her who happen to be thin and dark like she was – she might have only picked up on “gorgeous”). Thinking back, I realised that when she had so abruptly ordered me to sit down and stop making the place untidy, when we met a few days earlier, she was really trying to get me to sit next to her without being obvious about it – but I had simply walked away rather than be ordered around.

That conversation just got worse after that. But I only had to put up with it for twenty minutes or so until her flight, plus staying out of her way earlier that week to get less of the hard time she kept giving me – which I now see was her way of trying to get my attention.

So how would touchy-feely have helped? Even if I had known how she felt, there was nothing I could have done differently without making it worse by leading her on. She had already put me off, she was out of my league by other standards so I wouldn’t have tried it on without encouragement anyway even if she had been my type, and she was too thin and dark for me to be that interested in the first place. And it would have made me a lot more uncomfortable for a whole week. (Oh, how did she feel? Well, she got angrier and angrier the more I stayed calm, and when she said I was no catch I had seen that coming and was ready to tell her that that made another reason we shouldn’t have hooked up – but of course that too made her angrier. There was no way around that short of chasing her into a corner there and then, but at least she probably never had many regrets about missing out on holiday.)

In order to be empathetic, it’s not enough to figure out what someone is feeling (which theory of mind can aid in); empathy requires us to have the same emotional reaction as the other individual.

No. That’s sympathy – feeling with someone. Empathy is just knowing what makes them tick. As Homer Simpson said, “Just because I don’t care doesn’t mean I don’t understand”.

While we tend to think of empathy as more of a feminine trait, it’s essential for both genders to develop empathy because it’s the glue that holds civilized society together …

No, it’s not. We have institutions, customs and so on that do this in other ways precisely so as not to be dependent on personal connections working reliably. That’s why Adam Smith so famously pointed out that we don’t rely on the good will of butchers and bakers to be able to eat. There’s still a place for that: it’s what makes food banks work. But they only work because most people use the other ways.

132 tyciol May 2, 2012 at 3:51 am

Reading fiction for 2 decades to become social dynamo…

26 and still never had a girlfriend…


133 Lee May 2, 2012 at 7:30 am

Nice article Brett. Indeed reading is a must for all men and fiction is just one of the great things we can enjoy as readers. I would just like to point out to some that the message here is to get out there and read some fiction, a novel for example. Reading fiction will not magically turn you into some person with great social skills that will let you slide through the social community with ease. It won’t do that. Social skills are still social skills and what’s being pointed out here is that somehow, reading fiction could actually immerse you in certain situations and characters that will make you think, make you feel and make you experience on how you can handle such scenarios. It will help and it will aide you but it is not the sole tool that will help you improve your theory of mind or empathy (which I think Brett had defined perfectly) it’s just another tool to get by. Studies were mentioned to support, scientifically, that reading has a certain effects, whether it was a marketing strategy or a wholehearted way of sharing his new found knowledge, it does not matter to me. I will not read a novel because I know this will help my Theory of mind or empathy. No. I will read because I want to read and knowing these benefits at the back of my mind may, subconsciously or not, add some motivation for me to continue reading (just kidding, even if I didn’t know this I would still read because reading is fun). And hey, if anyone asks you why he should read fiction, you can add this to the list of benefits of reading. :)

134 Ralmon May 2, 2012 at 8:07 am

So I’m good. I read at least a book a day. Reading is just my favorite hobby. I also would like to try my hand at writing but writing turns out to be very difficult.

Hmmm, some psychology theories that seems sound but I don’t think we really work that way.

As for empathy, yes, I guess reading about fictional characters does increase it. But, I don’t know what to do with all these feelings, thoughts and emotions I’ve read from other people. Being a person who barely interact with people, I just don’t have any experience in working with other people. I prefer to interact with only a very little number of people or be left alone.

135 Tom Tumbusch May 2, 2012 at 11:14 am

Nice article, but every Austen fan who reads it is wincing at the reference to “Victorian” gestures. Jane Austen’s fiction is generally considered Georgian or Regency, depending on who you ask. Victoria did not become Queen of England until 1837, twenty years after Jane Austen’s death in 1817.

136 Greg K. May 2, 2012 at 11:21 am

The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt just arrived last night. I believe I ordered it after reading something here. I was impressed by how long it is, but it really is a compelling read and I appreciate the narrative style of writing, which keeps it from being too dry, but that the author also cites every thing in it, so if you really feel the need or if something catches your eye, you can always check out the bibliography.

137 Saint Vital May 2, 2012 at 3:41 pm

If you’re looking for very dark detective and police procedural fiction (rich with references to actual events in 20th century U-S history) go with pretty much anything by James Ellroy. I also enjoy Ian Rankin’s many novels that feature stories from the tattered casebook of Detective Inspector Rebus.

138 Mr. Smith May 2, 2012 at 6:23 pm

I have enjoyed reading Michael Crichton’s books as well as Agatha Christie’s mysteries. While I was growing up, I loved to read The Hardy Boy books. I still enjoy going through one every once in a while!

139 P.M.Lawrence May 2, 2012 at 9:09 pm

Tom Tumbusch, Queen Victoria never became Queen of England at all, she became Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. There hasn’t been a Queen of England since 1707.

140 UltraMontane May 2, 2012 at 10:02 pm

I believe fiction is read much more widely than serious non-fiction, not the self-help or practical information books, but philosophical and theological works throughout history, serious books on every topic are so rarely read. Books where almost every line can be meditated on for hours. Look at the number of reviews for great and serious works of non-fiction, it will be countable on one hand as opposed to the hundreds of reviews on fiction.

Do not forget non-fiction, you can gain information on every single topic in the world, how to think about everything from the greatest minds in history.

Out of the hundreds of people whose reading interests I am aware of, I can name those who read serious non-fiction on one hand, or any non-fiction for that matter. While I know many people who have read the latest twilight or Dan Brown novels.

Getting too involved in fiction can leave one unable to give the serious attention good non-fiction requires unless given in a narrative structure.

141 Curtis Rogers May 3, 2012 at 11:14 pm

Couldn’t agree more with this post. We wrote something similar on our blog just a few days ago as well, check it out http://thethingaboutflying.com/2012/05/01/but-what-does-it-do-why-men-need-literature/

142 Harland May 6, 2012 at 11:50 am

I always have at least one fiction and two non-fiction books going at a time. I find that fiction aids greatly to my creativity. You will be surprised to realize how you resynthesize ideas later from things you read. Plus, the chance to use your brain to imagine things you read, especially when they are more abstract then the non fiction you are reading.
My favorite? Henrik Sienkiwicz, the Nobel Laureate from Poland. His works, especially The Trilogy are fantastic novels of pride, repentence, honor, epic love stories all set in the time when Poland was a democracy and set upon from outside powers.

143 Hartmann May 7, 2012 at 9:10 am

It’s nice to know that all those nights I stayed home with a John Burdett novel and a strong drink I was actually bettering myself.

144 Evan M May 7, 2012 at 7:16 pm

Most books by Frank Herbert, especially Dune. Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Most of Arthur C. Clarke’s works. If you like historical fiction, I definitely recommend Colleen McChullough’s Masters of Rome series.

145 Evan M May 7, 2012 at 7:25 pm

I also have to second S. Paul Bryan. Rudyard Kipling wrote some amazing stuff. Kim is a great read as is his horror short stories (you used to be able to get an omnibus of Kipling’s ghost stories at BN). Alaxandre Dumas is also excellent. The Three Musketeers is not just a great story but an excellent portrayal of pre-revolution France.

146 Matthew H May 9, 2012 at 6:53 pm

Native of Buffalo. Glad to see UB in this post.

147 Nicholas May 9, 2012 at 11:16 pm

… i really enjoy fiction, its a nice break from the other stuff i usually read … its kinda refreshing reading fiction.

148 Jamal May 11, 2012 at 3:34 am

“Success depends not on what you know, but who you know.”

Not necessarily. Geeks are awful at dealing with people, and most of them turn out to be millionaires.

149 brian clifton May 11, 2012 at 4:35 pm

Any thoughts on why men should read poetry?

150 neal May 12, 2012 at 3:04 pm

Not only do men seem to overlook fiction, but BOTH genders seem to overlook science fiction and fantasy, which have produces some of the true greats involving social commentary and inspiring change for the future (1984, Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451, The Road, The Once and Future King, etc).

I’ve gotta make a plug for Joseph Campbell and his erudite explication of the Hero’s Journey, and the amazing Maurice Sendak (RIP), who said:

“. . .from their earliest years children live on familiar terms with disrupting emotions, fear and anxiety are an intrinsic part of their everyday lives, they continually cope with frustrations as best they can. And it is through fantasy that children achieve catharsis. It is the best means they have for taming Wild Things.”


“there is no such thing as fantasy unrelated to reality”

151 Chef Nusy May 13, 2012 at 5:38 am

Lord of the Rings. In my opinion, everyone should read it, at least twice and not consecutively. Read it, chew it, digest it, find a meaning. Then a year later, re-read it, chew it again, and come to a different meaning.
Read “modern” fiction, like Tom Clancy, John Grisham, Douglas Preston/Lincoln Child, whatnot. Analyze. Find the parallels to real life. (Just read the Pelican Brief. If you’re over 25, you probably know who the old judge is.)
And my all-time favorite, which I think everyone should read, man or woman, old or young, multiple times during their lifetime, in different stages of their lives. The Little Prince, by Antoine de St-Exupery. Read it to yourself. Read it to your girlfriend. Read it to your wife. Read it to your kids. The whole book is about 100 pages or so, but you will be amazed how different the meaning is when you read it for someone else, or when you see it with a different frame of mind.

152 MB May 14, 2012 at 11:59 am

Interesting article.

I would like to work up a list, about 10-12, fiction works to recommend for teens that are leadership-oriented (ie, that they can see leadership in action). Any suggestions?? I’d like works that have teen or youth protagonists, but doesn’t have to be such.

153 Richard May 14, 2012 at 4:11 pm

Anyone else remember the episode of “The Simpsons” where Bart is taunted by his bullies for reading “Little Women”, only to win them over by reading it aloud to them?

Anyway, I can suggest going back and re-reading all those classics you had to read in school. With no teacher looking over your shoulder (in effect), you are more likely to enjoy them.

154 Keith May 16, 2012 at 9:50 am

I’m currently on my third time through Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. It’s a big commitment if you haven’t done much fiction reading, but I would definitely suggest it.

And by the way, C. S. Lewis, one of my favorite authors and certainly a man’s man intellectually, was a big Jane Austen fan. I haven’t read any of her stuff yet, but I will eventually.

155 Peter May 16, 2012 at 12:12 pm

Anything by Louis L’Amour. My grandfather gave me a bunch of his books and we are in the process of collecting them all. A lot of them have been turned into movies, portrayed by stars such as John Wayne. They make me wish that I was born about 100-150 years earlier. Back then, you didn’t do an online search to find out information – you just bellied up to the bar at the saloon!

156 Abishek Rana November 24, 2012 at 3:55 pm

I would recommend these authors to read – Patrick Larkin, Sarah Hoyt, Larry Bond (friends with Tom Clancy), Frederick Forsyth among others.

These authors are my favorites and if you’re interested in political, military history, suspense, and thrillers then they’re among the best.

And I have found few authors and noted down their names to read them in coming weeks …. as I am hungry for more. :)

157 Angela March 9, 2013 at 10:09 pm

Bullshit. That’s what fiction is. Bullshit.

You can accomplish everything on this list by reading Psychology and self improvement books that are based on scientific evidence.

158 George March 23, 2013 at 5:39 pm

I’m 26 and have only read required reading through school, and other than that I’ve read psychology/self improvement books.

I’m starting with Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment because I want to try something new.. that isn’t required. Also, I’m kind of getting tired of the same old self growth bs recycling the same ideas over and over. All self help can be summed up in one book, 7 habits of highly effective people, and maybe a supplemental PUA book ;)

159 Matt B March 28, 2013 at 7:23 pm

So I take it no one’s ever heard of Joe R. Lansdale? Jim Butcher? Joe Hill? I read almost pure fiction, because I’ll be honest, biographies and true-life tales can get kind of boring. For those of you wanting to know, Jim Butcher created The Dresden Files, a modern day wizard in Chicago who is also a private investigator(They have equal amounts action, comedy, and so on). Joe Hill is the son of Stephen King, and he’s an awesome writer. Check out Heart-Shaped Box and Horns. He also has a new one coming out, entitled NOS4R2. And Joe R. Lansdale. He’s written over thirty great novels, and roughly 700 short stories. The man is a mojo master, and also a martial arts legend. It’s East Texas fiction at its most ribald and insane. Check these guys out. You will be glad you did

160 Jarod Wilson April 29, 2013 at 11:59 am

For any history lovers, particularly military history lovers, I would seriously recommend Bernard Cornwell. Many say he is the greatest “war” writer that there ever has been.

161 Lance April 29, 2013 at 3:35 pm

Probably 90 percent of my reading it’s fiction. I use it as entertainment and a bit of an escape.

162 Allen May 22, 2013 at 7:54 am

The entire Sword of Truth series by Terry Goodkind. It is pretty much of the fantasy genre, but there is an overriding message/philosophy behind it.

163 Brett May 22, 2013 at 10:10 am

I’m surprised that Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged isn’t in the list of great fiction.

164 Joseph Madden April 13, 2014 at 10:39 pm

I’ve found one of the best ways to get “non-readers” to gain an interest in fiction is by recommending books that are not just fast-paced, relevant to their interests, etc. but also funny as hell. Particularly if they’re a comedy-oriented person (obviously), it seems humor engages a much wider range of people and more effectively than action, romance, mystery, etc. For this I’d recommend:

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, especially for sic-fi fans, of course. The entire series is worth reading, I wouldn’t skip a single book.

Anything by David Sedaris. Hilarious, dryly witty short stories and narrative non-fiction. Many of his stories also discuss his experiences as a gay man, if that piques any additional interest.

Dave Barry. He may be the biggest dad-dork around, but his goofy self-satirizing is fantastic in my opinion.

Finally, what I personally believe to be the absolute funniest series of words ever recorded, A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. I got weird looks whenever I read it in public because I could not stop laughing, literally from the second I opened it to at least ten minutes after I closed it. For an idea of just how golden its comedy is, John Belushi, John Candy, and Chris Farley were all considered for the main character’s role in film adaptations shortly before their respective deaths (sadly no movie was actually ever made, though). I cannot recommend this book highly enough, it’s an absolute comedic masterpiece.

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