The following is an excerpt from The White Man’s Guide to White Male Writers of the Western Canon, by Dana Schwartz, with illustrations by Jason Adam Katzenstein. Above, you can see the book’s cover exclusively. The book publishes Nov. 5 and is available for pre-order.
Welcome to the The White Man’s Guide to White Male Writers of the Western Canon.
I’m happy you’re here. Or at least, I would be happy if I didn’t maintain an air of disaffected ironic detachment at all times. You’ve probably seen me sitting on the quad, rolling my own cigarette, loose tobacco spilling into my worn copy of As She Climbed Across the Table by Jonathan Lethem. Yeah, it’s pretty beaten up; I’ve read it a couple of times. It just inspires me, you know? Like, right now I think I need to take out my journal and jot down a quick poem. It’s called “Orin Incandenza” and I usually don’t like people to read my unfinished work, but maybe I’d let you take a look if you wanted to come back to my dorm room later tonight?
If you are not yet a white male novelist who has established himself as an essential part of the Western canon, fear not: this guide is here to help. I will teach you everything you need to know to become the chain-smoking, coffee-drinking, Proust-quoting, award-winning writer you’ve always known you should be. And if you don’t win awards, it’s because those awards are for mainstream sellouts who wouldn’t know honest literature if it sidled up next to them with an Old Fashioned at The Algonquin.
Not a white man? Not to worry. The White Male Writer isn’t a hard and fast demographic, it’s a state of mind (although you could consider changing your name. The Georges Elliot and Sand did pretty well for themselves).
TIP: If anyone asks if you want to discuss Bartleby the Scrivener by Herman Melville, just smile slyly and say, “I would prefer not to.”
I have been afforded the privilege of both an elite liberal arts education and an intellect that has allowed me to comprehend, and therefore unpack for you, the Western Canon in its entirety, and thus, I feel it is my duty to share my wisdom with the less fortunate.
And so, whether you’re an established novelist or grad student, English lit major or literary hobbyist, or if you’ve ever considered writing a 15,000 word short story about a man riding a train that’s really about the decline of the American Middle Class: this book is for you. Keep it on your person at all times just in case: you never know when your local barista won’t know the difference between a drip coffee and an americano and will need a helpful visual guide.
Know the Difference: Is She an Ex-Wife or an Ingenue?
(HINT: Does she want to sleep with you?)
Familiarizing Yourself With the Canon
What is the Western Canon? It’s the foundation for anyone who hopes to ever call themselves “well-read.” Familiarization with the Western Canon does not guarantee that you will navigate every dinner party you attend on the Upper West Side with grace and aplomb, but without it, you have doomed yourself to failure.
Although the Western Canon in broad terms refers to all of the art, philosophy and culture of Europe and North America, in this book we will only focus on literature. Again, if you plan on attending any Upper West Side dinner parties in the near future, I very much recommend you brush up on your Wittgenstein and shape your opinions on Raphael’s early work.
But still, this book is a helpful primer for those of you who slept through your sophomore year English classes and slept walk through your essays on Shakespeare. I am here to teach you as only I, a straight white man, can.
Why only white men in this book? Simple: they’re the most important ones. They are the most widely read, the most celebrated, the most influential, and, if I’m going to be blunt, the most talented. I mean, sure, there are some ladies who have had a pretty good go at the whole “writing thing” but how could a woman ever capture my experience? And by my experience, I mean my experience as a white man.