Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Anti-Esquire List

Last week, Esquire published "The 75 Books Every Man Should Read," which was billed as "An unranked, incomplete, utterly biased list of the greatest works of literature ever published." It seemed innocent enough at first, even the type of post that should be encouraged if it gets more men to read great fiction.

But then we started taking a closer look at the books that made the list. We got rankled, and rightfully so. The author warned us that the list was biased, so we were expecting to see more books of a particular genre. Thrillers, maybe. Or mysteries. Or sci-fi. Or even erotica.

But the bias apparent in that list of 75 "of the greatest works of literature ever published" was of an entirely different and unexpected sort.

Of the 75 books on the list, only one was written by a woman (Flannery O'Connor).

(Although I have no proof, I'm convinced that Ms. O'Connor's appearance on the list was itself accidental. Flannery isn't a common name; perhaps Esquire's author thought Flannery O'Connor was a man. Because, with all respect to Ms. O'Connor, there are a few female authors who should have made the list in front of her, Harper Lee being the first. How can To Kill a Mockingbird not be in the top 75 greatest works of literature ever published?)

Though I don't have nearly the reach that Esquire does, I'm here to do what I can to balance the scales. Here is my anti-Esquire list, a collection of 75 other authors whose works are just as great and just as important as any named on Esquire's list. It, too, is "unranked [it's in alphabetical order], incomplete, [and] utterly biased."

75 More Great Authors Who Could Have Made Esquire's List

Isabel Allende

The House of the Spirits
City of the Beasts

Laurie Halse Anderson


Maya Angelou

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid's Tale
Oryx & Crake

Jean Auel

The Clan of the Cave Bear

Jane Austen

Nothanger Abbey
Pride and Prejudice

Simone du Beauvoir

The Second Sex

Judy Blume


Erma Bombeck

The Grass Is Always Greener over the Septic Tank

Charlotte Brontë

Jane Eyre

Emily Brontë

Wuthering Heights

Gwendolyn Brooks

Annie Allen (poetry)

Pearl S. Buck

The Good Earth

Willa Cather

Death Comes for the Archbishop

Kate Chopin

The Awakening

Agatha Christie

Murder on the Orient Express
And Then There Were None

Mary Higgins Clark

On the Street Where You Live
Where Are the Children?

Beverly Cleary

Dear Mr. Henshaw

Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games trilogy

Emily Dickinson

Collected Poems

Joan Didion

The Year of Magical Thinking (nonfiction)

Annie Dillard

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
Living by Fiction (nonfiction)

Lois Duncan

Killing Mr. Griffin

Jennifer Egan

A Visit from the Goon Squad

Helen Fielding

Bridget Jones's Diary

Cornelia Funke

The Inkworld trilogy

Nadine Gordimer

The Conservationist
Burger's Daughter

Jane Hamilton

The Book of Ruth

Lorraine Hansberry

A Raisin in the Sun

S.E. Hinton

The Outsiders

Alice Hoffman

Fortune's Daughter
Practical Magic

Zora Neale Hurston

Their Eyes Were Watching God

Erica Jong

Fear of Flying

Sue Monk Kidd

The Secret Life of Bees

Barbara Kingsolver

The Poisonwood Bible
The Bean Trees

Maxine Hong Kingston

The Woman Warrior

E.L. Konigsburg

A View from Saturday
Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth

Jhumpa Lahiri

Interpreter of Maladies

Anne Lamott

Imperfect Birds
Bird by Bird (nonfiction)

Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird

Ursula K. Le Guin

The Left Hand of Darkness

Lois Lowry

The Giver
Number the Stars

Katherine Mansfield

Short story collections

Daphne du Maurier


Toni Morrison

The Bluest Eye
Song of Solomon

Alice Munro

The Love of a Good Woman

Iris Murdoch

The Sacred and Profane Love Machine

Anaïs Nin

Henry and June

Joyce Carol Oates


Dorothy Parker

Death and Taxes (poetry)

Ann Patchett

Bel Canto

Katherine Paterson

Bridge to Terabithia
The Master Puppeteer

Sylvia Plath

The Bell Jar

Katherine Anne Porter

The Collected Stories of Katherine Ann Porter

Annie Proulx

The Shipping News

Anna Quindlen

Object Lessons

Ayn Rand

We the Living
Atlas Shrugged

Jean Rhys

Wide Sargasso Sea

Anne Rice

Interview with the Vampire
The Vampire Lestat

J.K. Rowling

The Harry Potter Series

Arundhati Roy

The God of Small Things

Alice Sebold

The Lovely Bones

Anne Sexton

Live or Die (poetry)

Mary Shelley


Carol Shields

The Stone Diaries

Jane Smiley

A Thousand Acres

Betty Smith

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Mary Stewart

The Crystal Cave

Elizabeth Strout

Olive Kitteridge

Amy Tan

The Joy Luck Club
The Kitchen God's Wife

Anne Tyler

The Accidental Tourist
Breathing Lessons

Alice Walker

The Color Purple

Eudora Welty

The Optimist's Daughter

Edith Wharton

Ethan Frome
The House of Mirth

Virginia Woolf

Mrs. Dalloway

I hope that the women of the world understand that Esquire does not represent what real men are really like — especially men who read.

And I hope that Esquire's editors recognize that they are doing a disservice to their readers by providing such a limited definition of "great literature."