The best books about men who can’t get their sh*! together

Who am I?

For whatever reason, I have always been interested in sad men. Successful men can be boring. It is failure, and how men manage it when success is the primary marker of masculinity, that I find interesting as a subject for fiction. Even when I was in my 20s, I liked reading novels about men suffering mid-life crisis. And now that I am squarely in middle age, novels that were about the future are now novels about the present.    

I wrote...

Members Only

By Sameer Pandya,

Book cover of Members Only

What is my book about?

Raj is often unsure of where he belongs. Having moved to America from Bombay as a child, he knew few Indian kids. Now middle-aged, he lives mostly happily in California, with a job at a university. His white wife seems to fit in better than he does, especially at their tennis club. But in one week, his life unravels.

It begins at a meeting for potential new members: Raj thrills to find an African American couple on the list. But in an effort to connect, he makes a racist joke. The committee turns on him, no matter the years of prejudice he’s put up with. He soon finds his job is in jeopardy after a group of students report him as a reverse racist, thanks to his alleged “anti-Western bias.” 

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The books I picked & why

A House for Mr. Biswas

By V.S. Naipaul,

Book cover of A House for Mr. Biswas

Why did I love this book?

Naipaul’s elegiac novel about his father begins with one of my favorite first lines: “Ten weeks before he died, Mr. Mohun Biswas, a journalist of Sikkim Street, St. James, Port of Spain, was sacked.” In an epic fashion, Naipaul renders the long, difficult life of the title character, giving him grace, even as he is unable to figure out just how to get the one thing he has always wanted: a house of his own.   

By V.S. Naipaul,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked A House for Mr. Biswas as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

One of BBC's 100 Novels That Shaped Our World.

Heart-rending and darkly comic, V. S. Naipaul's A House for Mr Biswas has been hailed as one of the twentieth century's finest novels, a classic that evokes a man's quest for autonomy against the backdrop of post-colonial Trinidad.

Part of the Macmillan Collector's Library, a series of stunning, clothbound, pocket-sized classics with gold-foiled edges and ribbon markers. These beautiful books make perfect gifts or a treat for any book lover. This edition features an introduction by writer Teju Cole.

Mr Biswas has been told since the day of his birth that…

The Friend

By Sigrid Nunez,

Book cover of The Friend

Why did I love this book?

One of my favorite novels of the past decade, Nunez is funny and incisive and uses a very fine, sharp knife to carve up the idea of the great American male novelist. And there is a huge Great Dane at the center of the novel. Nunez became well known after this novel won the National Book Award. I wish she was even more well-known. 

By Sigrid Nunez,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked The Friend as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A moving story of love, friendship, grief, healing, and the magical bond between a woman and her dog.


'A true delight: I genuinely fear I won't read a better novel this year' FINANCIAL TIMES

'Loved this. A funny, moving examination of love, grief, and the uniqueness of dogs' GRAHAM NORTON


When a woman unexpectedly loses her lifelong best friend and mentor, she finds herself burdened with the unwanted dog he has…

Straight Man

By Richard Russo,

Book cover of Straight Man

Why did I love this book?

There is a whole different list for me to make with my favorite campus novels and this would certainly be on top of that list. Russo is very good at the absurdity of campus politics, but I think he is a wonder at using humor and self-deprecation to explore sadness. Sadness feels so much sadder with a heavy dose of funny. And this book is very funny.   

By Richard Russo,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Straight Man as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Hilarious and true-to-life, witty, compassionate, and impossible to put down, Straight Man follows Hank Devereaux through one very bad week in this novel from the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Empire Falls. Soon to Be an Original Series on AMC Starring Bob Odenkirk.

William Henry Devereaux, Jr., is the reluctant chairman of the English department of a badly underfunded college in the Pennsylvania rust belt. Devereaux's reluctance is partly rooted in his character—he is a born anarchist—and partly in the fact that his department is more savagely divided than the Balkans.  

In the course of a single week, Devereaux will have…

Book cover of The Stories of John Cheever

Why did I love this book?

I have returned to many of these stories over and over again through the years—for Cheever’s prose, for his sense of what makes men tick. On one level, I can’t quite relate to white suburban husbands in upstate New York in the 1950s and 60s. And yet, somehow, they seem profoundly familiar. 

By John Cheever,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked The Stories of John Cheever as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

John Cheever's Collected Stories explores the delicate psychological frameworks of 20th century suburbia.


This outstanding collection by Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist John Cheever shows the power and range of one of the finest short story writers of the last century. Stories of love and of squalor, they include masterpieces such as 'The Swimmer' and 'Goodbye, My Brother' and date from the time of his honourable discharge from the Army at the end of the Second World War.

Invisible Man

By Ralph Ellison,

Book cover of Invisible Man

Why did I love this book?

It is wrong to say that the title character of Ellison’s novel can’t get his stuff together. More accurately, the world of mid-20th century America can’t figure out how to give an African American man his visibility and his humanity. Ellison has always shown me that the crisis of men is the crisis of race, of gender, of class.   

By Ralph Ellison,

Why should I read it?

10 authors picked Invisible Man as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NATIONAL BOOK AWARD WINNER • NATIONAL BESTSELLER • In this deeply compelling novel and epic milestone of American literature, a nameless narrator tells his story from the basement lair of the Invisible Man he imagines himself to be. 

He describes growing up in a Black community in the South, attending a Negro college from which he is expelled, moving to New York and becoming the chief spokesman of the Harlem branch of "the Brotherhood," before retreating amid violence and confusion.

Originally published in 1952 as the first novel by a then unknown author, it remained on the bestseller list for…

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