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A 'Masculinities' reading list

book cover of a little life and call me by your name
3 Apr 2020
3 min read

Our top picks of books exploring what it means to be a man in today's world - from fiction to essays and poems.

Mask Off: Masculinity Redefined by JJ Bola

JJ Bola’s overview of how masculinity has been constructed throughout history is refreshingly honest. Mixing personal anecdotes from his life, I felt myself questioning how my upbringing had been affected by beliefs I wasn’t even aware of.


Poems That Make Grown Men Cry: 100 Men on the Words That Move Them by Anthony Holden

Often moving, this collection makes vulnerability a strength – and throws away the notion that to be male with a tight upper lip is something to be celebrated. Insights from Stephen Fry, Nick Cave and Anish Kapoor.


A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

A monumental tale of male friendships and trauma. This compelling novel follows the lives, relationships and suffering of four men living in New York who challenge traditional views of masculinity. This novel stayed with me long after I’d finished reading.


Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman

A beautifully tender coming-of-age, coming-out tale set on the Italian Riviera that bubbles with sensuality, lust and desire. It follows the intense romance that blooms between Elio and Oliver, exploring the everlasting mark of this overwhelming love. Yes, the film is great, but the book delves deeper into this intense love story.


Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg

A pivotal queer book – potentially the first to define both a specific butch lesbian identity and the experiences of many non-binary and transgender people. It’s beautiful, revelatory, affirming, heart breaking and at times almost impossible to keep reading due to the brutality and cruelty.

When Feinberg died, she/zie was clear that she/zie didn’t want anyone to have control over the publishing rights, so now you can download a free pdf from her/hir website, or order it at cost-price print-on-demand – there’s something about knowing that it’s been printed just for you to read which makes it feel even more personal.


The Iliad by Homer

Achilles is the archetypal male hero from a time when masculinity and heroism were inextricably linked. But when his prize is taken away from him, he acts in a decidedly unheroic manner. Instead of fighting with the rest of the Greek army, he stays behind with the women and slaves. The first crisis of masculinity perhaps?


The Descent of Man by Grayson Perry

An examination of manhood told with Perry’s trademark wit. This book urges the reader to rethink the outdated versions of masculinity and embrace a different way of thinking about what makes a man, a man. This book is funny, brave and totally necessary reading for everyone in today’s day and age, I loved it.  


Paradise Lost by John Milton

Adam, made by God, is officially the first man. In the Biblical Genesis, the Fall of Man is told entirely from Adam’s perspective. In this version by Milton, Eve is afforded a degree of autonomy and independence. Adam is almost subservient to Eve at times – susceptibility to beauty is an inherently masculine weakness in Paradise Lost.


The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

This heart-breaking story places strained male relationships at the forefront –father-son, brothers and between friends. Set in Afghanistan, it follows Hassan and Amir whose lives are forever changed after one shocking event. A devastating and brilliant book.


Who Killed My Father by Edouard Louis

This short novel takes the form of a letter addressed to his father, in which Louis explores the disconnects, tenderness and volatility in their relationship. The novel brilliantly engages with issues surrounding masculinity, class, shame and social poverty in contemporary France.


Masculinities: Liberation through Photography is sponsored by Calvin Klein

Explore more Masculinities content

Watch: Ivan Michael Blackstock on masculinity

Creator and storyteller Ivan Michael Blackstock talks to us about masculinity and embracing his feminine side in this playful, pastel-hued short film produced in collaboration with NOWNESS as part of Masculinities: Liberation through Photography

Watch: Harris Reed on gender fluidity

Designer and stylist Harry Reed talks to us about gender and toxic masculinity in this playful, pastel-hued short film produced in collaboration with NOWNESS as part of Masculinities: Liberation through Photography

campbell addy against a pink background and yellow text saying 'what's your gender'

Watch: Campbell Addy on gender

Photographer and filmmaker Campbell Addy talks to us about gender, growing up as a Jehovah's witness, and coming out in this pastel-hued short film produced in collaboration with NOWNESS as part of  Masculinities: Liberation through Photography

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