Reflections on Male Writers and Jersey Shore

Jameelah Lang

Oct 11, 2010

Maybe it's because I've been watching too much Jersey Shore, but lately I've been thinking about the world in terms of manliness. Don't you judge me. On Jersey Shore, the guidos try to figure out who is the manliest and sexiest through a series of manly questions. Who has the best tan? (Paulie). Who is the biggest gym buff? (Ronnie). Who has the freshest threads at T-shirt Time? (The Situation). Unlike graduate-school questions, these questions have easy answers that make me feel like the world is an uncomplicated place full of juiceheads, grenades, and random hook-ups with your Italian-American roommates.

So, this week, I turned my newfound understanding of manliness to the world of authors. Who are the manliest (living) authors, I asked myself. Who would I most like to eat a large undercooked steak with? Who would I most want to join me for a Gym-Tan-Laundry session? After much careful thought and consideration, here are three of my answers.

#1 Manliest Man Writer: Junot Diaz

If Junot Diaz were a type of food, he would be beef korma. He's spicy, he's beefy, and he's going to make you feel good. Also, Junot Diaz likes to write about dudes: dudes who read too many comic books (The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao), dudes who try to hook up with a lot of different girls ("How to Date a Browngirl, Blackgirl, Whitegirl, Halfie"), dudes who have estranged fathers ("Aguantando"). Even though there are a lot of dudes in his stories, I still feel like there is a place in them (the stories) for me as a female writer. I think that this is because Junot Diaz talks about the places where masculinity or male sexuality becomes vulnerable or complicated. I also love that in his work (and particularly in Oscar Wao) Diaz tempers an almost overwhelming sense of history and cultural with a flipness that comes across through his narrator and through his references to "nerd" culture. Oh Junot, why can't I quit you?

#2 Manliest Man Writer: Cormac McCarthy

Men like to write about roads. Jack Kerouac writes about being on the road (On the Road). Willie Nelson has been on the road more than once ("On the Road Again"). Robert Frost chooses certain roads over other, lesser roads ("The Road Not Taken"). McCarthy's The Road is full of manly things: surviving in the wild; fighting off other, evil men; hunting for things to eat. In Mat Johnson's Writers on Literature class, we talked about the fact that the central question in this book is how to express masculinity as a man, and the answer is through a paternal bond completely devoid of femininity or feminine relationships. But I read this book in one night, and not because I had to (even though I did have to). McCarthy balances beautiful, sharp, poetic language with a high level of narrative tension. Perhaps most importantly, though, McCarthy writes to the heart of a universal emotional truth: our need (and sometimes inability) to care for others and keep going on the road(s).

#3 Manliest Man Writer: Wells Tower

Wells Tower sounds like a place you should visit. Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned is a place you should visit. I love Junot Diaz and Cormac McCarthy, but their male characters do pretty expected manly things (try to get girls, go on quests in a post-apocalyptic world, etc.). Tower's male characters do strange, unexpected things: one tries to buy a mountain. A young man joins a carnival because of a fistfight with his stepfather. And vikings attack! The amazing thing is that, through these unusual plotlines, Tower gets at a kind of beautiful, very human, middle space-a subtle, complex view of the world where bad and good, right and wrong, are complicated. In an interview with Bookslut, Tower says of his characters, "I think they're all fairly tender people who want the usual things -- tenderness, human connection, safe harbor -- but who cannot help vexing themselves." Perhaps David Duhr sums up the manliness of this book best on a review for Chamber Four. He writes, "Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned grabbed me by the nuts."