10 books from the 21st century every man should read

The Corrections : Jonathan Franzen (2001)

Here are 10 of GQ's hands-down, most emphatically favorite works of fiction from the new millennium, plus books from the past thirteen years the authors want you to read.

Anyone who's been handed a high school diploma can tick off the classic novels from the twentieth century: The Great Gatsby, A Farewell to Arms, The Grapes of Wrath. But cross into this millennium and things are suddenly murkier, Kindle-ier, less classed up with age. Then again, it's been an affirming thirteen years, enough time to breed a whole new body of post-2000 lit we're happy to call the new classics—and we're not afraid to name names. We spent months chiseling down a list of not just our favorite books from the 2000s but also the works of fiction that we most readily recommend to our fathers, brothers, and non-blood-related bros. Then we asked a bunch of those authors to pick an overlooked book—stories, poetry, memoir—from that same period of time.

Dig in quick: This is your chance to right some wrongs and hit the new musts you missed the first time around.

(See more: Menswear 2013 spring trends)

The Corrections : Jonathan Franzen (2001)

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.

Author's pick: "Ms. Hempel Chronicles (2008), by Sarah Shun-lien Bynum, is a deftly constructed novel masquerading as a collection of linked stories; you don't even realize it's a love story until you read the last chapter. Its heroine, Ms. Hempel, is a young private-school teacher whose troubles include haziness about the distinction between student and teacher. Chapter by chapter, as you watch her interact with her pupils, you realize that she's as lost and confused as they are, and the result is an extraordinary sympathy for all concerned. Bynum seems incapable of writing a sentence that doesn't have something fresh or funny or true going on in it. She gets you laughing and then she whacks you in the heart.

The Human Stain
The Human Stain : Philip Roth (2000)

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
The Road : Cormac McCarthy (2006)

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
White Teeth : Zadie Smith (2000)

Because: Smith's debut (published when she was just 24!)—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
True History of the Kelly Gang : Peter Carey (2000)

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.

Author's pick: "Kent Haruf is one of the great poets of the modern novel. He has an extraordinary capacity for love. He will give you the smell of the dirt and grasses of the High Plains of Colorado. He will never fail to engage your heart, but because he is an honest man, he will have you grasp the nettles. If you have never entered his beautiful singing sentences, I envy you your first time. If you do already know that Plainsong and Eventide are masterpieces, get ready for Benediction, out this year. This is why writers write and readers read.

2666 : Roberto Bolaño (2008)

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
Tree of Smoke : Denis Johnson (2007)

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
Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned : Wells Tower (2009)

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.

Author's pick: "Haven Kimmel's A Girl Named Zippy (2001) is a joyous, humane memoir of a midwestern childhood, wrought in sentences whose epigrammatic hilariousness makes you want to applaud at each period.

True History of the Kelly Gang
Fortress of Solitude : Jonathan Lethem (2003)

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.

Author's pick: "The appearance in 2010 of What Is All This?—a 600-page career-spanning anthology of stories from Stephen Dixon—was a welcome reminder of the continued existence of a literary cornucopia still steadily blurting out nourishment and fascination, now for fifty years and counting. Dixon's surely a candidate for the most prolific short-story writer of all time. Every one of his hundreds of tales long and short hinges on the singular miracle of his voice—as sprung and uncanny as Donald Barthelme's, yet as rooted in the urban vernacular as Bernard Malamud's—and from there takes nothing besides that voice for granted, promising constant surprise. Read Dixon to be staggered by his humanity, fearlessness, comic despair, and formal genius. In my opinion he ought to get the Nobel Prize.

Pastoralia : George Saunders (2000)

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.

Author's pick: "Stuart Dybek, an American master, is the literary embodiment of essential Chicagoness: deep emotion expressed in language that is street-smart, lyrical, and full of heart. The stories in I Sailed with Magellan are technically amazing, but always to emotional purpose. The book is full of the romantic, exotic, ethnic, story-rich Chicago I remember from my childhood. His story 'Hot Ice,' from the amazing earlier collection The Coast of Chicago, was the first contemporary story that ever completely cleaned my clock.

More from GQ:

12 Best Restaurants of 2013

Ryan Gosling's 10 Best Looks

50 Must-Try Beers

Sorry you didn't like this comment. Please provide a reason below.

Are you sure?
Rating failed. Try again.
Request failed. Try again.
We will promote constructive and witty comments to the top, so everyone sees them!
Sorry, we can’t load comments right now. Try again.

    Recommended for You

    • Teen Girls Arrested After Video of Assault on Man, 62, Appears on Facebook

      Two girls, one 14 and one 15, are accused of assaulting a 62-year-old man who told them to get off his lawn.

      Inside Edition
    • Jonathan Kraft walks out on owners meeting after disagreement with Jerry Jones

      Patriots owner Jonathan Kraft and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones got into a war of words during an owners meeting, according to CBS Sports. The point of disagreement? GIFs. That’s right: GIFs. The two got in an argument over the NFL’s new social media policy, which has become hugely prohibitive for NFL teams. They can no longer post highlights from their games during the game action. Here’s what CBS’ Jason La Canfora wrote about the spat: “Jones made an impassioned defense of the member clubs, claiming the highlights were team-generated content and clubs should be able to do what they want with them on social media. … Jones also expressed his belief that if the league can post the videos then the

      Patriots Wire q
    • EXCLUSIVE: Michael Cudlitz Talks Abraham's Gory 'Walking Dead' Goodbye and If He'll Spinoff on 'Fear the Walking Dead'

      'The Walking Dead' fans said a final farewell to one of the biggest badasses we've ever had on the AMC drama: Michael Cudlitz as Abraham.

      Entertainment Tonight
    • 'Driverless' beer run; Bud makes shipment with self-driving truck

      Anheuser-Busch has completed what's believed to be the first commercial shipment by a self-driving vehicle.

    • A Redskins Coach Exposed His Wiener To Fans When He Whipped It Out To Pee On The Sideline

      One Redskins coach, however, decided to go full Nick Novak and pee on the sideline during Washington’s game on Sunday against Detroit. Ben Kotwica, Washington’s special teams coordinator, grabbed a cup, walked away from the action, and went to the bathroom. If you’d like to see the uncensored picture, Deadspin has your back.

    • Principal brutally beaten after telling teen to remove headphones

      The principal at a lower Manhattan high school was beaten to a pulp by a student on Monday when he told the teen to remove his headphones, sources said. Principal Matthew Tossman of Manhattan Early College School for Advertising, which is in inside Murry Bergtraum HS, spotted 18-year-old Luis Penzo with his headphones blasting in the hallway around noon, according to police sources. Tossman asked Penzo to turn down the music, and Penzo refused. Then, when Tossman tried to remove the headphones, the 18-year-old student cold-cocked the principal. Penzo continued to pounce on Tossman, socking him several times in the face, causing swelling and lacerations around both of the principal’s eyes. Tossman

      New York Post q
    • Doctors thought he just had jock itch. Then it spread.

      Late Friday afternoon on Dec. 4, 2014, Stephen Schroeder was waiting to board his packed flight from Philadelphia to Las Vegas for a much anticipated long weekend with his son when his cellphone rang. On the line was an unexpected caller: his doctor, reporting test results sooner than Schroeder had expected. Listening intently, Schroeder was flooded with disbelief as he struggled to comprehend what he was hearing. Using the lip of a trash can as a writing surface, he scribbled notes on the back of his boarding pass, making the doctor spell out each unfamiliar word. Then he sent a terse text to his wife, who was at their home in the Philadelphia suburbs, and got on the plane. Onboard, Schroeder,

      Washington Post q
    • 4 Reasons Why a Man Breaks Up With His Partner

      Wondering why a man breaks up with his partner? Here's why.

      The Cheat Sheet q
    • 'Nothing short of a miracle' how kids survived suicidal bridge fall with dad, police say

      "When the officers found the children -- conscious and alert -- it's nothing short of a miracle, that's for sure," said Captain Christopher Depuyt with the Pequannock Police Department.

      WABC – NY 54 min ago
    • Ex-attorney general sentenced to jail, then cuffed in court

      NORRISTOWN, Pa. (AP) — Former state Attorney General Kathleen Kane, once a rising star in state politics, left a courtroom in handcuffs on Monday after getting a 10- to 23-month sentence for a retaliation scheme a judge linked to her all-consuming ego.

      Associated Press
    • Middle school teacher chatted with victims at Fort Worth Halloween party before killing them, police say | Crime

      Heath and his wife, Tiffany, who live several doors down, stopped by the party. A witness told officers that Haros and Evans had a cordial conversation with Heath and his wife in the front yard of the home before Heath returned to his house. Minutes later, gunshots rang out. The witness then saw a man standing over Haros and beating him with the end of a rifle. The witness yelled for him to stop, and the man pointed the gun at him and asked if he had a problem. When police arrived, they found Haros and Evans lying dead on two driveways in the neighborhood. According to the medical examiner, the two died from multiple gunshot wounds and blunt force trauma to the head. After the gunshots stopped,

      Dallas Morning News q
    • Oops! She Did It Again — Britney Spears’s Bra Top Came Undone at Her Las Vegas Performance

      Whether she’s carrying a seven-foot boa constrictor seductively across a stage, giving us the height of millennial fashion in a coordinated denim gown with Justin Timberlake, or simply displaying her unparalleled ability to Google Image search corn, it seems the singer has got it all under control.

    • Donald Trump just got some of his best polling news in weeks

      A CNN poll released on Monday showed Donald Trump trailing Hillary Clinton by five points...

      Business Insider
    • NFL morning after: The decline of Colin Kaepernick

      Colin Kaepernick is the NFL’s most significant player off the field, a player whose simple act of declining to stand during the national anthem has led to wide-ranging discussions across America about race, police brutality, free speech and the role of sport in society. That has been the subject of thousands of commentaries. But it’s…

      NBC Sports: ProFootballTalk q
    • Cosmopolitan
    • 13 Ultra-Comforting Potato Casseroles (14 photos)

      These hearty recipes need to be in your fall casserole rotation. From Delish

    • $220 million Ballpark Village expansion set in St. Louis

      The $220 million second phase of Ballpark Village next to Busch Stadium in downtown St. Louis will feature a 29-story luxury apartment building with views of the playing field, along with office, retail, restaurants and entertainment space, the St. Louis Cardinals said Tuesday. The project has been so popular, especially after home games, that some downtown bars and restaurants have shut down, blaming competition from Ballpark Village. The team is asking the city to amend its current development agreement to add a sales tax within Ballpark Village.

      The Associated Press
    • Dancing With the Stars Week 7 Recap: Did the Right Couple Go Home?

      We’ve reached Week 7 of Dancing With the Stars‘ 23rd season, and you know what that means: It’s become very clear which contestants stand a chance at the Mirrorball… and which ones, well, don’t. As the remaining couples performed iconic styles from different eras in history, a handful of duos proved exactly why they should be […]

    • Rihanna Implores Fans to Help Find Missing Backup Dancer Shirlene Quigley

      Missy Elliott asked her Instagram followers to help in the search for Shirlene.

      Entertainment Tonight
    • Mom Pleads To Save Her Nearly 300 Pound 11-Year-Old Daughter

      Miranda and her mother Julie have come to The Doctors seeking guidance and help to transform their eating habits in hopes of reversing their health issues. Miranda says the bullying from other kids has become a “daily routine” for her. Miranda, who has struggled with her own weight over her life, explains that they have attempted to change their eating habits, but admits she doesn’t know how to fix the issue.

      The Doctors TV