Pat’s Recommended Reading (to Ruin the Lives of Young Boys)
By Patrick Hemingway Adams
The problem with recommended reading lists is that they’re all the same. In our world we’ve all got the same 20 or 30 books on the shelf. Yeah, yeah—we all read Horn of the Hunter and Without Remorse. Yes, of course, it changed my life too. Good talk.
So I’m going to give you something a little different. Let’s take a deeper dive into the literary DNA that has the potential to create the brave and adventurous. I am just one young man with one short lifetime’s worth of insight, but it has been hard won and emphatically applied to squeeze out the stuff that makes a life worth living. I often joke that this material can ruin a guy’s life; that there is no going back to normalcy if one strays too far. With that in mind, let’s wander a bit off the path:
The Dark of the Sun by Wilbur Smith, 1965
This is a wild ride through war-torn Belgium Congo following mercenaries of the Katangese army on a mission to rescue the imperiled citizens of a remote town from a roving band of murderous rebels. Nothing is black and white, no one is safe, and cannibals are still a problem in this story that takes place before political correctness was invented.
Our protagonist is an emotionally destroyed anti-hero who could be looking for redemption in the volatility of a foreign civil war, or seeking death in the African bush before it can find him first. He is violent, virtuous, and armed to the teeth—like all good literary heroes of yore.
This whiskey-soaked odyssey takes the reader by the throat on a suicide mission through the jungle. We encounter the villainous United Nations Army, who try to settle the question of which faction is on the wrong side of history with an armored-train versus fighter-jet gunfight. We are captivated by fair-haired belgium maidens in distress, at least one of which is named after a tiger.
Will good triumph over evil? Don’t know. We have to survive the poisoned arrows of the cannibal tribe with teeth filed down into fangs first.
Wilbur Smith’s second novel is a masterpiece of the macabre and an unflinching telling of a time and place where the rules of men were substituted by the laws of the jungle. Time to ditch that youthful innocence, this book makes The Wild Geese look like “The Mighty Ducks.”
The Honey Badger by Robert Ruark, 1965
My favorite work of Ruark’s, and one that doesn’t get the attention it deserves. His other works perfectly depict the emotions and scenes of the hunt, but Honey Badger gives the same treatment to war, sex, relationships, writing, and—you guessed it—hunting.
This semi-, quasi-, almost-autobiographical novel follows a strong male character through a life of triumph, loss, and boredom. Good themes for young men to get comfortable with.
The story arc takes us through a Hemingway-esque trajectory; following our hero through his first job as a cub reporter in the Midwest, then on to the war in Europe where his first love is killed during the blitz. He finds solace for his weary soul in writing and drinking and fighting. When this is not enough to soothe his ghosts, he turns to hunting dangerous game—both in the field and in the penthouses of high society.
He achieves true success and fame as an author, marries for lust, and sobers up just long enough to see it all turn to ashes in his mouth. Where can real meaning be found? Is it betwixt the thighs of several dozen blondes, brunettes, and redheads—or can it be discovered on the African plains in pursuit of elephant and lion?
Hell, man, I don’t know, but Ruark spent his life chasing a dream and this is one way to spin it.
Honey Badger is so called because Ruark claimed that it is the only animal in nature that instinctively attacks the groin. Draw your own conclusions.
The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway: The Finca Vigia Edition by Ernest Hemingway, 1998
I bet you were wondering if I would list Hemingway. Hope you all won money on that one. Here it is, but not how you’d think … these are the short stories.
When people ask me where to start with Hemingway, I tell ‘em to begin at the beginning.
Hemingway’s short stories offer bite-sized glimpses into every era of his observational life. Hidden behind plain language and thoughtfully sparse prose, there is something for everyone—unless you are a fascist, in which case you may literally go fuck yourself.
This collection of shorts spans his earliest attempts at storytelling, touches upon his famous works, and dives into other complicated little worlds that he created to explore themes that would make your blue-haired English teacher shudder and clutch her cardigan.
We have date rape, regular rape, bravery, cowardice, bisexual women, and abortion. We hunt not just Cape buffalo and lions, but also the truth with our rifles and our hearts. We experience the scars of war sometimes by looking in the mirror, but mostly through the pain of wounds that cannot be seen.
Read along as Hemingway’s characters fall into and out of love, survive terrible atrocities, and weather storms of every kind purely for the sake of stretching our understanding of human nature.
These are the types of stories that young boys need to read. These are the lessons learned the hard way that make men into what they need to be.
Hemingway wasn’t the first to do it, and he certainly won’t be the last—if we do our part and keep these books on our shelves.
Here’s a tip: buy a copy of each every so often and give it away. The kid that receives it could be the one to write the greatest adventure story yet … but he might also resent you for ruining his life.
*Editor’s Note: It appears our beloved Pat tried to highbrow us all by recommending a book by Ruark that is out of print. Pat even calls it “my favorite work of Ruark’s”. What a snob. Maybe our readers can start a book-swap and pass a couple of rare copies back and forth.