Books That Old White Men Love to Hate

Yesterday, we read a fascinating article on The New Yorker’s Page Turner about impact that former president of France Nicholas Sarkozy’s bizarre hatred of Madame de Lafayette’s 1678 novel The Princess of Clèves, a staple of French cultural heritage and the favorite book of many. Sarkozy publicly bashed and mocked the book, prompting obstinate outrage from his countrymen, and the article goes so far as to suggest that the president’s position on the work was part of the reason he was ousted earlier this year.

But why hate on this book, Sarkozy? Perhaps he was just being crotchety. Which brings us to the topic of the day: books that old white men love to hate. Of course we know there are no books that only men hate (or like, for that matter), and one dissident does not a trend make, but sometimes it’s fun to make assumptions, so please take the following in the spirit that it’s meant. Read on for a few books that have set off the alarms for the white male establishment, and let us know which scary feminist novels we missed in the comments.

How Should a Person Be?, Sheila Heti

Heti’s genre-curious novel was heralded by many (including us) as the literary equivalent of Girls, so it’s no big wonder that boys don’t get it quite as much. In an article entitled “Listening to Women: Why smart, serious men have misunderstood Sheila Heti’s new book” at the Slate Book Review, Michelle Dean attempts to work out the reasons that critics like James Wood and Lorin Stein didn’t like it, characterizing the reaction of male critics in general to Heti’s book as “dubious rubbernecking,” a phrase we rather like, and essentially arguing that the brilliance of the novel is outside the masculine purview. We don’t know about that, but we certainly haven’t met any old white men who admit to liking it.