If you’ve ever attended any American high school and sat through week-long examinations of the works of J.D. Salinger, Ernest Hemingway and Mark Twain, then Esquire’s “80 Books Every Man Should Read” list from a few years ago probably doesn’t surprise you in the least.
However, when you realize that not even To Kill a Mockingbird or one Bronte is included, then you might start to notice something’s up. That something is that 90-percent of the list is made up of straight, white, male authors. Also, the idea that this “utterly biased list of the greatest works of literature ever published” is only for men rubbed some people (women who read) the wrong way.
The same criticism can be, and sometimes is, leveled against most of the media we consume, and considering Esquire is a men’s magazine, it could have done nothing and let the minor controversy pass. Instead, it chose to address the failing head-on and use its resources to help facilitate a more inclusive arena of voices. To kick off the new year, the magazine released its list of “80 Books Every Person Should Read” with new curators and new titles. It started with the short prelude:
The new list features 10 picks each from eight female writers, including: legendary The New York Times book critic Michiko Kakutani; Obama-approved author Lauren Groff; essayist and recent novelist Sloane Crosley; Bad Feminist writer Roxane Gay; New Yorker editor Lizzie Widdicombe; Jezebel founder Anna Holmes; Cosmopolitan book editor and author Camille Perry; and, Buzzfeed and Elle contributor Ashley Ford.
The list obviously includes a wider range of titles from a more diverse group of authors, from Jane Austen to Alice Walker, from Joan Didion to Zadie Smith. Zora Neale Hurston, Janet Mock and Alison Bechdel are featured alongside F. Scott Fitzgerald, Herman Melville and Walt Whitman. Elena Ferrante and Thomas Pynchon and Emily Dickinson and Truman Capote all on one list together? It’s like it’s 2016 or something.