9 classic books with toxic male characters – and what to read instead

Every summer, I make it my goal to include at least one or two classics on my summer reading list. They don’t need to be from a different century – modern classics and even young adult novels make the cut all the time – but they should be seen as popular books that were important to their particular zeitgeist. one way or another. This year, as I was making a list of possible titles to include – The Wuthering Heights, because I never tire of the Brontës, Portnoy’s complaint in honor of the death of Philip Roth, and Harry potter and the sorcerer’s stone because, well, no explanation needed – I couldn’t help but notice that each book shares one frustrating trait: the inclusion of toxic male characters.

From the cynical male child to the manipulative love interest to the emotionally abusive “hero”, toxic male characters appear in an overwhelming number of classic novels. These are the kind of men who see women as conquests, creatures to be conquered, sex objects to be conquered and not understood. They are often violent, cruel, sexually aggressive, and either completely devoid of emotion or incredibly emotionally unstable. They’re also featured in so many incredibly popular, bestselling, and classic books that it seems like their toxic masculinity is inevitable – but don’t worry, it’s totally preventable.

If you want to create a balanced summer reading list, here are nine classic books with toxic male characters – and what to read instead if you’re looking for a little less misogyny and volatility.

Instead of “Wuthering Heights” by Emily Brontë, read “The Snake of Essex” by Sarah Perry

There are few books that I love as much as The Wuthering Heights – the dark atmosphere, the tumultuous love story, the dramatic setting – but there are few romantic heroes that I find more toxic than Heathcliff. Rather than reading The Wuthering Heights, take Sarah Perry’s wonderful novel, The Essex Serpent. Set at the end of the 19th century in England on the rocky coast, it follows new widow Cora Seaborne as she attempts to create a new life for herself and her son, out of the control of her bossy husband, and go to the background to the 300-year-old myth that haunts his new community.

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Instead of “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald, read “Nobody Comes to Save Us” by Stephanie Powell Watts

One of my favorite summer reads, Gatsby the magnificent, is considered a classic for a reason: it’s a rich and vibrant story about dreams, redemption, love, jealousy, and more. But it’s also one of the clearest examples of toxic masculinity: Jay Gatsby is a manipulative liar who stalks and harasses his true love, Tom Buchanan is an abusive philanderer, and don’t even get me started on George. Instead of rehashing all their volatile relationship drama, try reading No one comes to save us, the unique Gatsby-inspired novel by Stephanie Powell Watts about family, black identity and the American dream.

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Instead of “Lolita” by Vladimir Nabokov, read “Tampa” by Alissa Nutting

There’s no doubt that the central male character in Vladimir Nabokov’s controversial classic is anything but toxic, but that doesn’t stop readers from reaching for him year after year. Instead, try Alissa Nutting’s Tampa, an equally sexually explicit novel about a 26-year-old college professor seducing a 14-year-old student. But instead of masquerading as a twisted romance, this shocking and satirical story tries to uncover the difficult truth behind student / teacher relationships, why such disturbing things can happen, and how our society responds to them. It’s smart, it’s funny, it’s so deliciously dark, you won’t be able to do without it.

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Instead of “The Count of Monet Cristo” by Alexandre Dumas, read “An American Marriage” by Tayari Jones

Oh Edmond Dantès, you confused, toxic fool. As he begins as a loving, honest and intelligent man, the tragic hero of the count of Monte Cristo spends most of the narrative with little more than bitterness, anger and fear in her heart. Instead of reading up on his plan for revenge – which includes cheating on the people he claims to love, manipulating the emotions of those around him and slavery – pick up the phenomenal Tayari Jones An american wedding. Like the Alexandre Dumas classic, it tells the story of a man arrested for a crime he did not commit and the woman he left behind in prison. A beautifully crafted tale of love, hope, pain and letting go, this highly acclaimed novel is fast becoming a classic in its own right.

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Instead of reading “The Complaint of Portnoy” by Philip Roth, read “The Boston Girl” by Anita Diamant

The world lost a literary legend with the death of Philip Roth in May, but the work he left will be remembered as true classics, including Portnoy’s complaint. Although this is a critically acclaimed novel about “a young, bachelor Jewish man consumed with lust and addicted to his mother,” the main character’s behavior fits the definition of toxic masculinity. Instead of reading about a self-absorbed dude with privacy issues, hang out with Addie Baum, the unforgettable young Jewish girl in the center of The Boston Girl. A remarkable novel that tells the complicated life of its 85-year-old heroine, this inspiring story will blow you away.

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Instead of “Twilight” by Stephanie Meyers, read “Fledgling” by Octavia Butler

There is no denying that Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight books have helped rejuvenate the young adult genre and inspire countless readers and writers to explore the complex world of children’s literature. There’s also no denying that the bloodsucking hero of his series, Edward Cullen, is incredibly poisonous. Of course, he doesn’t feed on humans – at least, not anymore – but he started his relationship by tracking down Bella and watching her sleep, only to attempt to control every aspect of his life, including who she was. spoke and where she lived. Fortunately, there are plenty of other vampire novels that aren’t so misogynistic, including Octavia Butler. beginner. This unique sci-fi mashup follows Shori, a 53-year-old member of the vampire-like Ina species, who looks like a young African American child. It’s a powerful exploration of class, race, gender, sexuality, and identity that will remind readers that vampire novels have so much more to offer than just brooding over bad boys and damsels in distress. .

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Instead of “Here’s How You Lose It” by Junot Diaz, read “I Want To Show You More” by Jamie Quatro

Considered a classic of modern literature, This is how you lose her is a short story collection that follows the romantic ups and downs of a fascinating but incredibly toxic young man: Yunior. Far from being the perfect boyfriend, or even a decent guy, Junior is guilty of everything from infidelity, dishonesty and emotional manipulation to misogyny and sexism. (And, of course, the book’s author, Junot Diaz, has recently been the subject of multiple allegations of sexual harassment and abuse.) Instead of browsing Yunior’s relationships, open up Jamie Quatro’s. I want to show you more, a collection of 15 related stories about spirituality and sexuality in southern New America. A truly powerful debut film that treats the modern relationship and all of its issues with skill and nuance, this is a must read for fans of short fiction.

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Instead of the Harry Potter series, read “Children of Blood and Bones”

I know I know. The Harry Potter series is an absolute classic, which is close to my heart, but it’s also a series of books with more than a few toxic male characters. Instead of getting swept up in the complicated and potentially abusive nature of Severus Snape and Ron Weasley, open up Tomi Adeyemi’s remarkable new book. Children of blood and bones. The first in an exciting new West African-inspired fantasy series, it’s an action-packed, social justice-focused YA brimming with magic, danger and adventure. It also features an unforgettable cast of characters you’ll never want to say goodbye to. Seems familiar?

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Instead of “Gone with the Wind” by Margaret Mitchell, read “Jubilee” by Margaret Walker

Blown away by the wind may be a classic, but it’s a better problem. One of his many problems: the brooding romantic leader, Captain Rhett Butler, a cruel, selfish and cowardly man who struggled with his race of toxic Southern masculinity to the end. Instead of reading up on him and Scarlett’s bumpy romance (again), try Margaret Walker Jubilee. Considered the African-American counterpart to Mitchell’s Civil War saga, it tells the story of Vyry, the daughter of a white plantation owner and one of his black slaves. A powerful and touching novel, it’s an epic page turner that you won’t want to let go.

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About Marcia G. Hussain

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