Books to train manly men
First came "The Man's Book: The Essential Guide for the Modern Man" in May. It is divided into "man-logical" sections -- health, sports and games, women, dress, outdoors, drinking, smoking, cooking, idling, arts and sciences, almanac -- that are dappled with quotes from famous men and include practical how-tos. Author Thomas Fink, who knows how to tie a bow tie, can make a Singapore sling and discern the difference between a Winchester and a Remington, is an American-born theoretical physicist who lives in London. Ladies, if you're looking, he's single, but only 25- or 26-year-olds should apply: According to his formula, a man ought to marry a woman half his age plus 7 (man 24, woman 19; man 48, woman 31; man 37, woman 25.5).
That was quickly followed by the smaller, blacker, sleeker, more metrosexual-appearing "Stuff Every Man Should Know." This book also explains how to tie a tie, with the help of a diagram. It has many diagrams: for building campfires, holding babies, giving massages, shotgunning beer. The manly things here are more practical, perhaps, than "The Man's Book" -- how to jump start a car, how to bet on horses -- but are just as confusingly organized. I mean, man-logical.
And suddenly another suit-pocket-sized book landed on my desk: "100 Must-Read Books for Men," which can be forgiven for not including the two others because it came out in the U.S. in February, before they were released. It's doesn't try to explain how to be a man -- "Although this may not be a man's world any longer," the editors write in the introduction, "once you open books by our chosen authors, you'll find that at least a man's word carries plenty of weight." Books on the list include "The Call of the Wild" by Jack London, "Fight Club" by Chuck Palanhuik, "Miles" by Miles Davis, "Venus in Furs" by Leopold Von Sacher-Masoch and "The Adventures of Augie Marsh" by Saul Bellow.
If I had a vague notion that this collection of books would teach me something about men, I guess I've learned: a) gift books for a guy should include sex, fighting, substance abuse or some other right of passage; b) there is a lot of anxiety around the tying of ties; and c) men aren't born knowing how to shotgun a beer.
-- Carolyn Kellogg
Photo: Arnold Schwarzenegger during the filming of the 1977 documentary "Pumping Iron." Credit: Los Angeles Times