Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Why don't more guys read novels?

Author Ian McEwan can't seem to give his or anyone else's novels away, except to women. In this article from today's Guardian, he describes trying to hand out a bunch of free books:

Every young woman we approached - in central London practically everyone seems young - was eager and grateful to take a book. Some riffled through the pile murmuring, "Read that, read that, read that ..." before making a choice. Others asked for two, or even three.

The guys were a different proposition. They frowned in suspicion, or distaste. When they were assured they would not have to part with their money, they still could not be persuaded. "Nah, nah. Not for me. Thanks mate, but no." Only one sensitive male soul was tempted.

Yeah, we've heard that song before. Refresh your memory by clicking over to my June 9 blog entry.

Mr. McEwan continues:

Cognitive psychologists with their innatist views tell us that women work with a finer mesh of emotional understanding than men. The novel - by that view the most feminine of forms - answers to their biologically ordained skills. From other rooms in the teeming mansion of the social sciences, there are others who insist that it is all down to conditioning. But perhaps the causes are less interesting than the facts themselves. Reading groups, readings, breakdowns of book sales all tell the same story: when women stop reading, the novel will be dead.

So. Guys, what do you have to say for your gender? It's a given that those of you who read this blog are sensitive (but still manly!) men who do appreciate the value of reading and perhaps even writing novels. But can you explain your brothers to us?


David Bridger said...

No. Sorry, can't explain. (shakes head sadly...) That's why the ideal reader for the novel I'm writing is a woman.

I *do* know a couple of men who read novels, of course, but it seems we're a small minority.

J. Mark Bertrand said...

Why am I never around when my favorite authors are handing out free books on the streets? (Oh, I guess it's because I'm a recluse, but still....) The real question this anecdote raises isn't why more men don't read novels; it's why so many women write them. Men do it to get the chicks -- and novel-writing is, as the article points out, a statistically viable way of doing so -- but what motivates the girls?

TS said...


So the question is why don't guys read more novels, and the answer is: (Dramatic pause) I dunno.

Chris said...

It's not that the men don't want the book, it's that they don't want to be given the book. In the hunter-gatherer marketing equation, McEwan is appealing only to gatherers.

If he wants men to take the book he needs to put up a sign saying "I bet you can't wrestle this book away from me; payout: one book." Or "If you want this book you'll have to punch me as hard as you can."

Then there'll be a line around the block.

-- Chris (dFm)

RebMel said...

Over at Cutting Edge, out of 95 registered readers, just 28 are men, or roughly 29%. Which still is a better percentage then poor McEwan was getting. So perhaps men are not adverse to reading novels, but they just don't want anyone to 'know' they're reading novels. This very well could harken back to high school, when the macho males were playing ball, and only the nerds sat on the sidelines with a book.

Many men that McEwan approached probably had an inner shudder as they recalled the tauma of being pegged 'four-eyes'. How many of them itched to reach out and receive the book but dared not do it in front of their co-workers/companions? McEwan may have had better luck if he stood in the mouth of a dark alley, saying, 'psst! psst! I got something for you, man. Come check this out.' and then pulling the flap of his coat open to reveal four copies cleverly hanging from the inside liner.

In Christ,

Robyn said...

So let me get this straight. Books written by women for women that have huge readerships get no respect from the literati, but men don't really even read? Something wrong there.

Personally, I think its because books don't beep, ping, buzz, or require a remote. :)

Brenda Coulter said...

Oh, you people crack me up!

pacatrue said...

I can't answer for all men, but I will answer for myself. I read mostly non-fiction and only the occasional novel. Why don't I read more? The main reason, besides my oodles of assigned reading that are part of my grad program, is that most contemporary novels are quiet and intimate and portray the complexity of human emotions in great detail. But my favorite books are typicaly epic in scale. The Count of Monte Cristo. The Manuscript Found in Saragossa. Till We Have Faces. Think of lots of the classics. War and Peace; Crime and Punishment; Tale of Two Cities. Many of these books are epic in scale if not events, often both. Something big is going on. And I still read those. But I just can't get excited when I read the backcover of a father who divides his farm among his three daughters. Even if my brain tells me it's really good, my heart doesn't thump.

Valerie Comer said...

For the record, my hubby reads at least as many novels as I do, in general. I've been on a spurt again the last few months, though, so I don't think he's keeping up. But it's close.

I think Chris der Felden is on to it, though. Just TRY to give a guy anything...especially directions.