The Let Books Be Books campaign — which calls for an end to the arbitrary division between children’s books labelled “for girls” and “for boys” and more equitable and inclusive marketing strategies for books — has continued to pick up steam. It is heating up even in the face of criticism from those who call the "Let Books Be Books" movement "pandering," and criticize it for being humorless. Regardless of how you feel about efforts to make books gender neutral, we can all agree that encouraging children to read across gender lines — in terms of protagonists and authors — is incredibly important.
But it shouldn’t begin and end with kids! After all, the phenomenon of men overlooking books that appear specifically feminine is hardly confined to children’s lit. Men walk past books that contain women's names or titles, women's titles (like "queen" or "maiden"), or words that are are believed to exclusively apply to women (like "feminist").So if your friends, brother, father, or boyfriend have passed by some fantastic books because they think they're "books for women," tell them to hold on a hot second. Here's a list of 11 books that they may have glossed over — some classic, some new — that the men in your life need to read.
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Roe v. Wade may have been settled more than 40 years ago, but women’s reproductive rights are still under attack today all across the country and the world. Sadly, this makes Atwood's dystopian novel about a society founded on forced pregnancies as relevant now as it was at its publication. Men should read this novel for a glimpse into the very real, dark, and uniquely female fear of losing control of one's own body.
Emma by Jane Austen
Look: If Jess Mariano, Beat-loving bad boyfriend extraordinaire in Gilmore Girls is willing to read Jane Austen, no other man has any excuse. Austen is a classic author and, frankly, should be as ubiquitous on school reading lists as Fitzgerald or Golding. Although the default choice might be Pride and Prejudice, Emma is actually the perfect place to start: the novel itself is as sharp, engaging, and genuinely laugh-out-loud funny as its titular matchmaker.
Hild by Nicola Griffith
A spiritual, poetic novel that carves a space for itself between historical fiction and fantasy, Hild is the story of a young “seer” who would eventually become the Christian St. Hilda. Men who love Game of Thrones' political machinations and maneuverings should read this story, which tackles similar subject matter, but from a distinctly female perspective. Men would be well served by reading about both the challenges women of medieval courts faced (from which Hild doesn't shy away) and their contributions. Hild is also important for according female friendships and exclusively feminine preoccupations, like weaving, the respect, and reverence often reserved for male pursuits.
Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
Every man should read at least one book on feminism, and Gay’s incisive, intelligent and relevant collection of essays on intersectional feminism — which is currently lighting up classrooms, book clubs, and Twitter feeds all over the place — is the perfect place to start.
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Fangirl is a funny, sweet story of a prolific fanfic writer finding herself offline and without her twin sister for the first time. Most women can't get through high school without reading a handful of boy-centered Bildungsromans (Catcher in the Rye, anyone?), so it's only fair that men should read Fangirl, the coming-of-age story of the 21st century. Besides, this book so much heart people (okay, especially geeky people) of any gender can relate.
Mrs. Dalloway by Virgina Woolf
A modernist classic, Mrs. Dalloway incisively and poignantly chronicles the interior lives of several characters throughout a single day. It's a given that any fans of James Joyce or William Faulkner should read Woolf's oeuvre, but men in particular should read Mrs. Dalloway not just because it is a brilliant example of its form, but for the vision it offers into the emotionally and intellectually oppressive, proscribed notions of femininity according to which women lived (and continue to live).
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Don’t just watch the film. Gone Girl as a movie is stylish and visually gorgeous, but it centers Nick’s narrative in a way that Gillian Flynn’s novel distinctly resists. Men should read the original source material to get a fuller picture of the disintegration of the Dunnes' marriage, and most importantly, a more complex characterization of Amy that demonstrates that her motivations go much deeper than just "psycho ex."
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
With this historical fiction novel, Wein gives the heroic young women of the Allied WWII effort their due. Code Name Verity is a gripping, heart-wrenching, suspense-packed celebration of friendship that will shatter your heart into a million pieces and make you love every minute of it; its pathos crosses gender lines.
Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier
While many female readers love her, DuMaurier is underrated among men as a master of suspense (but hello, there's a reason Hitchcock so frequently relied on her stories for his scripts). Rebecca is the perfect example of DuMaurier's ability use lush, intensely atmospheric writing to spin absorbing, white-knuckle stories. Any reader will benefit from putting him or herself in the place of a young, vulnerable bride way out of her depth.
The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes
This book is most often described as a "time-traveling" serial killer novel, but it is more importantly a feminist one. Male fans of the horror genre should read this novel as a corrective to torture-porn slasher flicks that view women's lives as little more than a titillating body count. Here Beukes gives readers both an engaging, tough-yet-vulnerable young heroine, and a murder mystery that places more emphasis on the victims, actual fully-realized characters, than the killer. That the killer's desire is to snuff out all "shining girls" — strong, unconventional, ahead-of-their-time women — only offers more food for thought.
I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai
Malala Yousafzai is an incredibly resilient, eloquent, and inspiring advocate for equal access to education, and this year, she won the Nobel Peace Prize at the age of just 17. That alone is reason enough to read her book! But men should also read it to gain an insight into the incredible, seemingly insurmountable odds and dangers young women face all across the world simply by virtue of being a girl, and an understanding of why, globally, we need to protect and advocate for women's and girls' rights.