Five Books by White Dickheads That Are Worth Reading
They might be indulgent white men, but if you like shock factor and egotism, here are my recommendations.
Diversity in literature is important. 'White male protagonist' and 'white male author' have for centuries been the default on British bookshelves, but the industry is slowly getting better at seeking out and promoting work that reflects and represents our society.
It goes without saying that there are reams of incredible writers who could have made the well-worn lists of classics had they the same platform and opportunities. But, as with most fields, western history’s pool of famous first-class writers is dominated by that one elitist demographic. Tired, old, entitled, the cynicism is generally fair. The balance of attention outrageously skewed, critics are vocal of the weight given to white male novelists in the conversation around ‘the greats.’
My bookshelf reflects this.
I started reading novels in my twenties and ploughed through what I knew to be the must-read authors. It was a good few years and a good few-hundred books before I noticed a strong 'white dickhead' trend.
My objective in starting The Dabblers’ Book Club podcast was to read more women, more people of colour, and to challenge my tendency to read the same pocket of fiction. So far, so very good. Two series deep and we've already read and loved authors from a range of backgrounds, and my literary experience is all the richer for it.
But in the same way that I'll always revert to my favourite Beatles album on a Sunday morning, I often slip back into reading the men who opened up my first porthole to literature.
There are a fine group of twentieth-century writers who carved the niche of controversy, hedonism, and excess in writing. This is as shocking and indulgent as it gets and begs a discussion on how far this style of writing is not only occupied by but indeed predicated on 'whiteness' and white masculinity.
Still, these books are filled with glorious shock factor. They challenge, sicken, enthral - and are well worth reading!
Here are five books by white dickheads you'll not only love to hate, but might just love to read too.
The Rum Diary – Hunter S Thompson
Written in his early twenties but not published until forty years later, Hunter S Thompson’s The Rum Diary is a steely swing at ‘the great American novel.’ The inventor of Gonzo journalism wrote it based on his time in Puerto Rico, and it makes you want to immediately up-sticks to work for a collapsing newspaper in the San Juan sunshine.
Thompson’s self-styled protagonist Paul Kemp, is drunk on arrival. From there he finds a loyal but unhinged circle of friends, a dangerous love interest and aggravation in the local bureaucracy. The book has parties, riots and sea-diving for lobsters. His seminal Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is better known for defining an era, but The Rum Diary may quietly be his finest prose.
Lucky Jim – Kingsley Amis
Often hailed as the booziest novel of all time, Kingsley Amis’ debut Lucky Jim set the tone for medicating discomfort and mundanity.
A chaotic main character with an equally unstable girlfriend, beer and cigarettes provide solace for ‘lucky’ Jim Dixon and Margaret Peel. They attempt to navigate a life of lecturing at a stuffy unnamed university in the Midlands. I bet it’s Coventry… No spoilers, but anyone who has ever turned up to anything important either hungover or drunk will find both comfort and hilarity in this book. With romance weaved into bedlam, it makes you crave the 10am shakes.
Factotum – Charles Bukowski
Disturbed by The Post Office? Don’t even read the blurb of Factotum. Charles Bukowski’s seedy sequel to his debut novel finds even darker holes. King of the underground Henry Chinaski runs into new dead ends as he carelessly diarises his sex-obsessed life coated in filth and excess. The encounters are unapologetic, and the ambition is depleted. As Chinaski bumbles through a broken labyrinth of Los Angeles, Bukowski divides opinion like no other. His capitalised, juvenile ravings are at their most obscene in this ballsy second work.
Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov is a moral and psychological test. How can something so charming, ornate and sophisticated be a story about paedophilia? The ultimate art piece, Lolita is a challenging but incredible read. 12-year-old Lolita is the love interest of the twisted narrator Humbert Humbert – so profound, Nabokov named him twice.
The story tracks Humbert’s obscene but determined pursuit of the under-age girl. As a reader you build an inevitable rapport with the eloquent narrator, being drawn in by his charm, but appalled by his actions throughout. Strap in.
A Farewell to Arms – Ernest Hemingway
Finally, Ernest Hemingway. Arguably one of the greatest writers of modern times, and allegedly one of the most self-absorbed personalities in literature. His fiction had dream-like, bizarre dialogue, and there is frequent debate over his lazy portrayal of his female characters. A Farewell to Arms makes this list because it presents Hemingway’s biggest triumph as a love story. The book is set in the rainy wartime Italian countryside and culminates in one of the most gut-wrenching climaxes of all time. The novel’s hero, Frederic Henry, rows his pregnant girlfriend Catherine Barkley to Switzerland in the dead of night.
It remains an egotistic tale – Frederic did all the rowing, after all. But the ending will plunge you into tears to remind you that these writers aren’t all just beer and skittles. They hold a valuable, and often moving place in modern literature.