Monday, June 3, 2013

The Manpendium: Programmatic Considerations


I like to read.

Whenever I give people a tour of my (admittedly small) apartment, the first thing I always show them is my bookcase.  Even more than my running paraphernalia or degree, it’s the pride of my living arrangement.  I have it meticulously organized: education books on top, classics and favorite authors (David Foster Wallace and Haruki Murakami feature heavily) below those, fiction on the next, and non-fiction on the final two shelves, with memoirs and military pieces all grouped in their respective places.  

So when I recently read an article that Art of Manliness put out entitled ‘Why Men Should Read Fiction’ it probably shouldn’t be surprising that I quickly started brainstorming about the connections I could make between my reading habit and work with masculinities.  

Now, each of the past two years I’ve facilitated small leadership-based book clubs on The Heart and the Fist, a memoir by Eric Greitens (I’ll spend some more time talking about it below). I love the programmatic side of masculinities and its theories.  After reading that article, my mind went immediately to those book clubs and how I might tailor that model to fit the needs of college men.

But would such an approach work? In a 2008 article Frank Harris III had the following to say:

“...interventions that provide opportunities for men to reflect critically upon their conceptualizations of masculinity and their gender performance are also necessary. Faculty members can provide these opportunities in their courses through journaling assignments, assigned readings, films, guest speakers, and classroom discussions.

Several of those components look suspiciously like a book club.

A year later, Edwards & Jones (2009) echoed Dr. Harris:

“The results of this study also indicate that academic courses and student affairs programs that raise students’ consciousness of social group identities in general, expose men to historical and literary figures who offer new ways of being a man, and offer alternative versions of masculinity may be effective in helping men begin to transcend the traditional definition of masculinity.”

Emphasis mine.

Clearly there is (research-based) room in our curriculums for a men’s book club.  The trick, then, is getting men to show up. Luckily, we also have Dr. Harris (2008) to thank for addressing that particular issue: “one way to earn credibility among men at WRU is to conform to stereotypical expectations when performing masculinity.”

Obviously, stereotypical masculinity is something we want to avoid in our educational practices. But as Dr. Harris said, it is a way that we can draw men into our programs. As such three of the books below are about war, a fourth is about politics, and a fifth is about baseball. So in this light, I want to suggest these five practical books (and rationale for said books) as a possible curriculum/starting point for a hypothetical men’s book club. Let’s begin.


Ender’s Game - Orson Scott Card
Key Themes: Leading by example; Personal excellence

    Despite its reputation as solely a young adult science fiction novel, Ender’s Game is packed with examples of what it looks like to be a young leader, leading from the front, and making difficult choices.  As the lone piece of fiction on this list, it is also arguably the most accessible.  And thanks to the book spending quite of time with Ender’s inner monologue, there’s plenty of room to dissect the reasoning behind moral quandaries.

The Heart & the Fist - Eric Greitens
Key Themes: Being a “renaissance man”; Masculine development; Integrity

    Let me give you a rundown of what Eric Greitens does in his memoir: 1) he travels abroad three times to three different continents, twice for humanitarian work, all while he’s in college, 2) he becomes a Rhodes Scholar and spends two years at Oxford, and 3) he becomes an officer in the Navy SEALs after deciding he hadn’t done quite enough with his life just yet. But most importantly, he tells all of this in an earnest, unpompous manner that inspires you more than makes you feel guilty. It also happens to line up very well with Chickering & Reisser’s 1st Vector.  

Long Walk to Freedom - Nelson Mandela
Key Themes: Selfless service; Taking action

    Not only is Nelson Mandela’s autobiography and incredible piece of non-fiction and testament to what a man can do when he puts service above all else, it provides a foundation for a lot of difficult conversation. From the racist apartheid policies that Mandela fought against to family issues to taking action and deciding between right and wrong, this book has it all. It’s not a light read by any means, but it is well worth the investment.

Three Nights in August - Buzz Bissinger
Key themes: Authority; Courage
    Back in April when I wrote my first blog post on Macklemore and masculinity, I mentioned that I have a habit of idolizing these great figures like Mandela. Three Nights in August is a more happy middle ground. Outwardly this is just the story of three games between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Chicago Cubs, but inside it’s a look into the mind of Tony LaRussa, a phenomenal manager and leader of his players. This book would be a great way to attract in men who might not otherwise be big readers.

Dreams from My Father - Barack Obama
Key themes: Identity development; Social Justice

    Where Audacity of Hope is more about political policy, Dreams from My Father is a much more intimate look at the President’s upbringing and development. Much like Mandela’s autobiography, this book uses the narrative structure of Obama’s life to touch on deeper issues such as community involvement, social justice, and race.  Obviously this may be a more controversial choice depending on where you work, but I promise it is a treat regardless of your political leaning.


There is certainly room for growth. These books can be adapted to fit university missions and learning outcomes.

Book clubs take work. I’ve learned this first-hand. It’s tough to get people interested and even harder to keep that interest for the length of an entire book. However, a book club is the perfect setting to provide men with things they might not otherwise have: a place to be academic, a safe space to talk, and a chance at a heightened sense of empathy. This is an important resource that we can provide our men to help them become the leaders they are capable of becoming.  

Check back later this summer on my personal blog for part two of this post, where I’ll take a look at what a fleshed out masculinities library might look like.

Kevin Valliere (@kevalliere) is a student affairs graduate student at Texas A&M University. He maintains a blog at, and can also be reached at


Edwards, K. E., & Jones, S. R. (2009). Putting my man face on: A grounded theory of college men’s gender identity development. Journal of College Student Development, Vol. 50 (2). 210-228.

Harris III, F. (2008). Deconstructing masculinity: A qualitative study of college men’s masculine conceptualizations and gender performance. NASPA Journal, Vol. 42 (4). 453-474.

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