5 Books for Fathers/ Books to Read with Your Dad for Father's Day

This is an essay by Chris Ciolli.

This Father’s day instead of a watch, gardening tools, a new video game or dinner out, give dad something different. Gift him with words on pages and some of your time and attention: i.e., buy him a book, and read it together. Why?

Among other reasons, because women read more than men. According to NPR, even among avid readers surveyed by the Associated Press, women typically read nine books per year, whereas men read only five. This Father’s day, why not do something to make up for that gender difference?

More importantly, because it’s an amazing opportunity for a little father-daughter, or father-son bonding. Finding meaning in words together will help you to better understand and really get to know your father and his opinions and ideals. Plus, if your pop isn’t already an avid reader, this is your chance to share your love of reading with a loved one.

So go ahead, wrap one of the books recommended below for dad in a shiny (but masculine) paper, grab a second copy for yourself, and make a plan to read and discuss it together.

1. “Manhood for Amateurs: The Pleasures and Regrets of a Husband, Father and Son” by Michael Chabon

Pulitzer prize winner (“The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay”), Michael Chabon presents readers with an amusing and touching collection of essays previously published in “Details Magazine.” . Chabon candidly recounts his formative years in the 1970s, reflects (sometimes hilariously) on toys, styles of manhood, and the art of faking handy-manliness, and creates entertaining portraits of Chabon’s first father-in-law, and his brother.

Despite his often bittersweet musings on present-day childhood and child-rearing, Chabon’s book is touchingly optimistic about parenthood, manhood, and growing up: “Time after time, playing Legos with my kids, I would fall under the spell of the old familiar crunching. It’s the sound of creativity itself, of the inventive mind at work, making something new out of what you have been given by your culture, what you know you will need to do the job, what you happen to stumble on along the way.”

Especially recommended for: Fathers and their sons who are fathers or soon-to-be-fathers will especially enjoy sharing their reactions to Chabon’s scribblings on being a man in the modern-day era.

2. “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy

A mysterious, anti-social writer who regularly refuses to talk about his writing, Conan McCarthy won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for “The Road.” This dark novel describes the journey of a father and son through charred remains of America with nothing more than the clothes on their backs, a pistol to defend themselves against cannibals, and a shopping cart of scavenged food. In this post apocalyptic dystopia, nothing moves, it’s bitter cold and falling snow mixes with ashes of civilization in the wind, “The Road” is the story of a father and son, sustained by love in a world where hope has disappeared.

Especially recommended for: Readers and their fathers who enjoy science fiction, horror, and post apocalyptic books and movies, and spare, careful prose.

3. “Cultural Amnesia” by Clive James

An Australian by birth, and a well-known British television personality, James is also a poet, novelist and nonfiction author. “Cultural Amnesia” is James’ massive, nearly 900-page volume of everyone who is anyone of important in the 20th century, including people that lived died long before the 20th century dawned. From Coco Chanel to F. Scott Fitzgerald, James proffers entertaining tidbits and meaningful insights as to why these people and what they did with their lives and times matter. The book is packed with such witty observations as: “Most things that Prime Minister Thatcher is remembered for saying were not said very memorably.”

Especially recommended for: Biography and short story readers that prefer to do their reading in short bursts. This is an ideal book to read over time with dad, perhaps selecting a profile or two to read every week.

4. “The Fiddler in the Subway: The Story of the World-Class Violinist Who Played for Handouts, And Other Virtuoso Performances by America’s Foremost” by Gene Weingarten

A weekly humor columnist for the “Washington Post” and two-time Pulitzer winner in feature writing, Weingarten embroiders beautiful and hilarious vignettes about every aspect of life in “The Fiddler in the Subway.” Topics like an isolated Alaskan village plagued by alcoholism, daily life and terrorism in Jerusalem, the hostile detachment of a man who refuses to vote may not sound funny, but Weingarten manages to infuse his tales with humor in addition to his characteristic insight and empathy. The title of the collection makes reference to his first Pulitzer winner, the story of what happens when you put a famous virtuoso violinist in the subway to play for tips. Weingarten’s second and notably more depressing Pulitzer winner about parents who kill their babies accidentally by leaving them in a hot car for too long is also included in the collection.

Especially recommended for: Fans of humor writing and human-interest feature articles in newspapers and magazines that don’t subscribe to “The Washington Post.” Buying the book and reading it with dad is a great excuse to catch up on these pieces from an award-winning writer like Weingarten.

5. “The Matterhorn” by Karl Marlantes

Highly decorated Marine Corps officer and Vietnam veteran, Karl Marlantes wrote this narrative over a period of 30 years while raising a family and working full-time. What makes this particular novel stand out from other books about war is that it reads like action-adventure, all the while powerfully conveying the War-is-hell message that is typical of almost all war tomes. The book, set in 1969 takes its title from a hilltop firebase and depicts protagonist Second Lt. Waino Mellas and the men of Bravo battling the North Vietnamese Army while enduring leeches, diarrhea, jungle rot, malnutrition, dehydration, and immersion foot, as well as the stupidity and micromanagement from senior officers, general bureaucratic incompetence and military and racial politics.

Especially recommended for: Readers and fathers who enjoy reading adventure and war stories and who have served in the armed forces. While some readers will not agree with Marlantes’ depictions of the politics of war, every reader can benefit from reading about and debating perspectives different from their own.

Do you read with your dad?

Have you ever bought your dad a book for Father’s Day? Which was it?

Have you read any of the books profiled above? Did you like them? Why or why not?


Chris Ciolli: A writer and translator by trade, Chris Ciolli spends her spare minutes reading, traveling and playing with art supplies. Okay, so sometimes she sleeps, eats and slurps coffee, too. Learn more about her at ChrisCiolli.com, read about her travels at Midwesternerabroad.com, or follow her on twitter @ChrisCiolli.

Photo: Some rights reserved by ernop.

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