Thursday, June 02, 2005

Shocking revelation: guys read guy books!

Here's an eye-roller from yesterday's The Book Standard:

In a shocking new revelation, a study released on Sunday disclosed that men read novels by other men, but not novels by women. Commissioned for the ten-year-old Orange Prize for Fiction, an annual British award for female authors, the study has male readers on the defensive, according to Professor Lisa Jardine, a co-author of the survey. Jardine says she’s received dozens of emails from irate male readers insisting that they are “IMMENSELY well-read in women’s fiction,” and demanding to know why anyone would care about “the private parts of an author.”

“The men are annoyed that they have to think about men and women in different categories at all. It strikes them as unnecessary.” she says. “And yet these are the very men who turn out not to have read any novel at all by a woman recently.”

Oh, give me a break. This is a "shocking revelation"? Of course men read books by women. Although I blinked at that part about men being well-read in "women's fiction". Just because a woman's name is on the cover, it doesn't necessarily follow that a novel is "women's fiction". But that's a bias I've addressed in this space before, so I won't beat that drum today.

Maybe everyone should calm down a little about this this study (which would have been a little hard for me to take seriously in any case, as it collected responses from a mere 50 individuals, including both sexes). Men don't pick up a book that looks interesting and then drop it like poison the instant they notice a woman's name on the cover. It's simply that the books they're drawn to in the first place are the type most often written by male authors.

Here's what I mean: My husband is very much a "guy" and does not care for "relationship" novels. He likes John Grisham just fine, but didn't see the point of A Painted House (which I loved, and which would have been called "women's fiction" had it been written by a woman). If you want to get my husband's attention, you must write murder and mayhem, political thrillers and courtroom dramas. And guess what? Far more men than women write books like that.

So ask my hunk o' burnin' love about the last five books he's read and you're not likely to hear any women's names unless Lisa Scottaline has something new out.

She happens to be one of his favorite authors.

Update 9:30 a.m.

Just found another story about this in The Telegraph. This lighthearted article, written by a man, confirms that guys just wanna read guy books:

To be fair, publishers don't make it easy for us. Those wispy, pastel-shaded covers are not encouraging. Strolling up to the counter with a copy of The Lovely Bones would be the equivalent of buying a great big pink girl's blouse. In the case of Sophie Kinsella and her doubtless side-splitting series of Shopaholic novels, fluffiness is obviously a deliberate marketing move - much in the way that women are turned away at the door of any work by Sven Hassel (Nazi lettering, soldiers in tin helmets, guns firing).

I liked this part:

Very often, the snub is not deliberate. It's just that other novels seem to clamour for male attention rather more loudly. Like Flashman. Or any thriller involving Opus Dei. Or Robert Ludlum barnstormers with titles such as The Syndrome Factor.

This has nothing to do with sexism and everything to do with the way men's (and women's) brains are hardwired. We may be equal, but we're different.

So why [don't men read books by women]? A deep-seated reluctance to grapple with emotional depth and complexity? An aversion to careful nuance and subtle shadings of characterisation? Or simply the feeling that E Annie Proulx's work would be much improved by the occasional description of a flashing red LED countdown on a thermonuclear bomb?

I saved the best part for last:

This is a social as much as a literary question. If the best fiction is about searingly truthful exploration of the inner recesses of the human heart, then it is obvious that your average chap is going to go nowhere near it. We get enough of that at home.


Chris said...

Well pinch my butt and call me Fanny, I guess I'm more of a sensitive guy than I thought.

The mystery aisle is full of women I'm not ashamed to be seen with: Jance, James (PD not Henry), Peretsky, Grafton, Sayers.

And Proulx would need a flashing, beeping, LED bomb-counter to convince most guys she's serious (though I, Fanny, did enjoy Shipping News)


Brenda Coulter said...

Yo, Mr. Sensitive. Do the guys down at the gym know you've been reading a romance novelist's blog?