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Peter wrote:

"Threatened"? I don't think there's any reason to leap to that sort of assumption.

and

But to say that people who don't read fiction tend not to do so because they find fiction "threatening" seems really, really unwarranted, to me.

If I had made the claim as you sum it up, yes, that would have been unwarranted.

But I didn't say that. I was speculating that perhaps it is a factor in some cases. (Note the plentiful uses of "perhaps" and "some" and "might" in that post.)

Moreover, I wasn't talking about "people who don't read fiction". I was talking about why some men might not read fiction by women... and, by inference, why some women might not read fiction by men. Or, for that matter, why some folks might not be interested in foreign art. I said, "If someone hasn't had the experience and education to discover value in meditating on perspectives and people different than his own, he may feel threatened."

And I'm not making a "leap to an assumption." I'm sharing a testimony from experience.

I've been in writers' groups and classrooms where I've watched men squirm when women read about their experiences and emotions -- especially when those women have shared their perspectives on men, perspectives that challenged the listening male's self-image or his assumptions about his gender.

I've been in circles of Christians where they've become upset by the idea that there might be a good reason to read Madame Bovary, or another book that dealt frankly with sexual matters -- or, for that matter, fiction by authors from differing worldviews -- and have appealed to scripture as a way of trying to disqualify a particular text for consideration.

Sharing movies with groups, I've seen some people turn half-away from the screen in suspicion, as if they might be somehow contaminating their souls by being exposed to "non-Christian" movies. (I once showed a scene from The Last Temptation of Christ, and when the VCR spit the tape out, I found out afterward that there were people praying that the VCR wouldn't work in order to "protect" the viewers from demonic powers. In other words, yes, they felt threatened by what they might encounter.)

I once watched a young boy run into a room, slam the door, and cry hysterically because he heard electric guitars in a rock song, and his family had told him that rock music was Satanic.

I bring this up simply to say that this is what I was thinking of when the word "threatened" popped into my head. So I made that off-the-cuff remark.

I myself have felt threatened by fiction at various points in my life. I remember feeling my own narrow ideology breaking under the influence of a story that presented another paradigm. And yes, at times I felt threatened by that. When I first read Endo's Silence, I felt very threatened by that story. It was a very healthy and necessary experience.

I say all of this just to say that sometimes when we are asked to enter into the point of view of someone different than us, we can feel threatened. That's why I said, "Some people feel put off, perhaps threatened, when they hear a foreign language."

When I was very young, I was scared by other languages because I rarely ever heard them (and on television they were often spoken by Enemy Soldiers, etc.) Granted, we lived in a fairly insular middle-class white Baptist community, so in retrospect, I can see why it bothered me at the time. I was unprepared for it. Inexperienced. Misguided. Fear can be a part of what you feel when the people in front of you are saying things you can't understand in accents that sound, to the inexperienced ear, like distortions. (Didn't many of us grow up associating even British accents with villains?)

So I'm not leaping to anything. I'm just speculating based on my experiences as an observer and as a reader. Is a feeling of "being threatened" a primary factor in why some men don't read women's fiction? Or why some people don't watch movies in Spanish? Or why some Christians don't listen to Pink Floyd? Perhaps. Sometimes.

I've even heard from people who don't post at A&F because they find it threatening. At least, that's what they've told me. They lurk because, to use their preferred term, they find the discourse here "intimidating."

Peace, out.

Edited by Overstreet

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Overstreet wrote:

: And I wasn't talking about people who don't read fiction. I was talking about why some men might not read fiction by women... and, by inference, why some women might not read fiction by men.

Perhaps, but the particular bit I was responding to was talking about how certain people had responded to a movie, not a book. If you make assumptions about total strangers like that -- and self-admittedly "snarky" assumptions, at that -- then it undermines any argument that you might be trying to build upon that assumption. (It also calls into question your willingness to engage the Other in a spirit of humility, etc., but that's a whole other issue.)

: And it's not a "leap to an assumption." It's a testimony from experience.

You know those people personally, then?

Or are you simply taking all those other experiences you enumerate and projecting them onto people you've never gotten to know?

If we're really going to bring personal experience into the equation, then I know from personal experience that you have told people here at A&F that they "felt threatened" by things when, in fact, they did not. It stands to reason, then, that a similar assumption was being made here. Though I suppose that, too, may be a projection.

: So I made that off-the-cuff remark.

I don't think stating the same idea three times, in three consecutive paragraphs (the second of which was the one I responded to), constitutes an "off-the-cuff remark". When it is uttered with that kind of frequency, it begins to look like the backbone of your argument.

And when it is uttered in other contexts as well, it begins to look like, I dunno, something bigger than that.

: (Didn't many of us grow up associating even British accents with villains?)

Well, I always had issues with my dad (born in England), but I never thought of him as a villain, per se. ;)

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I wrote:

And it's not a "leap to an assumption." It's a testimony from experience.

Peter wrote:

You know those people personally, then?

"Those people?" Which people?

I listed several stories from experience that demonstrated how *some* people, *sometimes*, feel threatened by art in various contexts, for various reasons. In every case but the Amazon film reviewers (mentioned at Filmwell), they were people I encountered personally, yes.

But my reference to the Amazon reviewers in the previous post was for a different purpose. It was not one of those "personal experiences" that had anything to do with feeling "threatened." Rather, I referenced their reviews as a way of bringing up the fact that people do sometimes react negatively about an encounter with a foreign language. And I think that much is obvious from their reviews: Their protests were prompted by an encounter with art in a foreign language, and that upset them, so they filed a complaint at Amazon.

But instead of "projecting" anything onto them - which would be presumptuous - I then stepped into a generalization.

I said,

Some people feel put off, perhaps threatened, when they hear a foreign language. Perhaps it heightens their awareness of their ignorance. Or perhaps they have traces of prejudice toward certain cultures that prevents them from thinking through any expression from that culture.

Notice the phrase "Some people." Notice the phrase "perhaps threatened." And please observe how many uses of "perhaps" follow that.

So no, of course not, I make no projections about those Amazon reviewers who were so upset about being exposed to a Spanish-language movie. I made that off-the-cuff reference merely to raise the foreign language issue as being another one of those aspects of art that can unsettle and upset people. Once inside that general subject was raised, I then made the suggestion that sometimes people (not necessarily those people) might react against a language because they feel threatened. If you asked me "Do you think they feel threatened?" I would think it over and say, "I have no idea. I suppose it's possible, but so are lots of other things."

I am sorry if my previous post gave any impression to the contrary. If it did, either I could have communicated more clearly (which is frequently the case, so I'm certainly willing to entertain that possibility), or you misunderstood. Hopefully this post resolves that. I don't want what is a very good conversation to get dragged down by another misunderstanding. There have been too many misunderstandings lately that have led to damaging exchanges, and I have no desire to let another good thread go sour in an argument.

... I know from personal experience that you have told people here at A&F that they "felt threatened" by things when, in fact, they did not.

Wow. Are you choosing this time and place to confront me with a personal accusation? I do not think that is appropriate. I'm addressing the subject of Why Men May or May Not Read Women's Fiction, and generalizing about how human beings sometimes feel uncomfortable when asked to entertain another perspective. And you're answering me with some reference to a past grievance? I will humbly ask you to please drop it. I have no desire to argue with you about some past, personal disagreement in the middle of an otherwise interesting thread that involves many perspectives. For the record.

If anyone thinks that I'm making an unreasonable request, feel free to say so: But I hope I speak for the majority when I propose that we try to have a civil, on-topic discussion that everyone can participate in, instead of punishing people publicly for some perceived grievance.

Edited by Overstreet

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I've skimmed this discussion and just thought I'd add a couple of comments.

Let's set aside the men/women distinction for a second. Why are people simply not reading anymore? I was at a dinner the other night, and I was speaking to a bright young man who has just spent several months in the Middle East, and is now helping out with a local para-church/NGO. He asked me what I did, and I mentioned that I taught English. And he asked me what my training was in, whether I had an Ed. degree or something else, and I admitted that I didn't have an Ed. degree, but rather an BA in English Literature, and even a MA as well in the same subject. His immediate response was, "uh, that sounds like just about the worst degree I can imagine. I don't like reading literature." And this is a pretty intelligent kid, who is learning Arabic, and is pretty well informed on world events.

I get this a lot when talking to people. They just don't read literature (if they read fiction, they focus almost exclusively on a single genre like "fantasy" or "spy thrillers"). And it's not just the "un-educated." Many people are uninterested in literature for whatever reason. I find that an extremely limiting position. (Though I also have issue with "serious literature buffs" who dismiss science-fiction out of hand, because it is "unrealistic. That's pretty limiting as well)

Now, I could go off on a tangent here about what I've noticed about the political stances of people who read plenty of literature and those who don't...but maybe not.

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Overstreet wrote:

: "Those people?" Which people?

The ones you were openly and self-admittedly snarking about in the paragraph that I responded to. Stay focused, Jeff. You can't win the argument by waving around a lot of things that kind of sort of resemble each other in your mind. But if you DO take that approach, then you should know you can't hide behind the "but I only said 'perhaps'" defense either. Either you are trying to be precise in your reasoning or you are trying to create specific kinds of impressions about certain kinds of people.

: Wow. Are you choosing this time and place to confront me with a personal accusation?

Sigh. If you want me to link to the A&F thread(s) in question, I can do that, but I'd rather not, as this exchange is off-topic enough already. I simply believe in citing specific examples rather than making vague generalizations. And yes, where a pattern of thought can be traced over multiple public threads, I think it is entirely appropriate to say that a particular instance of that pattern might not be as "off-the-cuff" as the person defending it says it is. If you're going to appeal to your personal experience as some sort of trump card, then I'm going to appeal to your personal experience too.

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Anders: Exactly! Thank you.

E: You keep asking for the questions behind the surveys that show male readership dropping off. Fair enough, but is this not screamingly obvious in your circles? It is in mine. No, I don't work in a bookstore, but none of the guys I know talk much about what they're reading.

At the book club I joined this year, there was one guy at the first meeting. "It's good to see another guy here," I said to him, because, as you noted in an earlier post, book clubs are often dominated by women.

That guy hasn't shown up since. (By the way, he's the one who chose 2066 for the book club -- pretty clearly a guy's choice, although he chose it, he said, because of Michio Kukitani's (sp?) rave in the N.Y. Times, and because it ended up atop the Times' best fiction of 2008 list).

The club sometimes has been me and one other woman, who's the backbone of the club. She's always there, even when there's only one other person (often a woman; she e-mails out a report after each event). When I saw the list that three of them had settled on for most of the 2009 meetings, I braced for a list of woman-friendly titles, and with the exception of Bolano's book (which I'm mixed-to-negative on, based on the half of it I've read), that's what's on the list. However, two of those choices -- Wally Lamb's I Know This Much Is True, and Lalita Tademy's Red River -- have been stellar in many ways, and I'm happy in retrospect that I was encouarged to read them. I'm not so sure I'll conquer the next selection -- a Ken Follett behemoth that was an Oprah's Book Club selection, but which appears to be, from my slight knowledge of it, to be some epic historical wartime story -- but I'll take it to the beach in a couple of weeks and see how far I progress.

Then I think about our book discussions here at A&F. Good thread on The Road, for example, but my thoughts on Junot Diaz's The Brief, Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao -- an outstanding literary story about a guy, and with many guy-friendly elements -- generated one response from another A&Fer, despite my feeding of the thread several times. So, maybe it's just me? Maybe I'm not good at encouraging discussion. But for heaven's sake, the book won the Pulitzer frickin' Prize! Has no one here read it, or do those who have find it unworthy of discussion? Maybe. It's coarse in several spots, but it's really quite something. Now, we did have some good discussion about Tree of Smoke, so all is not lost.

That previous paragraph sounds like I'm exasperated with A&F, but that's not really a legit gripe. To the extent that I engage with other men about literature, it happens here! Otherwise, it can be like pulling teeth. Even the guy in the book club who chose Bolano's book told us his guy friends don't read and aren't interested in reading.

So, back to the point I wanted to make here, E: Forget about the surveys and stats if you think they're suspect. In your own circles, do the men you know read literature of any kind, not to mention fiction? You're a few years older than I am, I think (I'm 38), but it seems to me that most guys my age read books with decreasing frequency, and that my younger male co-workers never bring up literature. In this case, anecdotes tell the tale: Men don't read much, or not as much as they used to read. That NEA study indicates the trend lines may have bottomed out, but Charles' 20% stat strikes me as about right. Sure, some men read: About one in five of us do.

I guess that's cause for "celebration"?

EDIT: One of the thing that most excites me about A&F's transition to under the Image family is that the literature discussion here might grow. I suspect many women will be part of that growth, and that'll be a "Hallelujah!" moment for A&F. But, fingers crossed, more lit-friendly men probably will also join these discussions, and that can only be a good thing.

Oh, BTW, just finished that 4-disc Denis Johnson story, Nobody Move. Girls, guns, crime, corruption, gambling. Highly unsavory. The crisp writing wasn't enough to overcome the utter lack of meaning in the story, atlhough I sometimes think lack of meaning is what defines "pulp fiction," which, in case it hasn't been clear from these discussions, isn't a genre that has really ever appealed to me. Not that I've given it a serious chance. (I don't consider Price, or even Pelecanos, "pulp" writers, but if someone wants to make the case that those writers fit the definition, I'm all ears). Funny how film noir, which shares elements of pulp stories, strikes me as more thematically rich, perhaps because the visual devices used in that storytelling resonate emotionally in ways that comparable literary devices -- and I'm not sure what those are -- might not.

Edited by Christian

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This is a problem that extends to the education system, where the assigned novels often have themes of particular interest to women, and where the assigned novels often are written by women. I've linked to stories about that trend in the past -- don't have the links handy, but a Google search would probably turn up plenty of material -- but it's been suggested that the decline in reading among younger boys might be attributable in part to such gender-dominated assignments, and might underlie the increasing split in college admissions between men (whose numbers on campus are shrinking) and women (whose numbers on campus are growing).

I saw this thread referenced on Overstreet's feed and am now getting around to it.

I'll just tell you what I've observed in 8 years as a public librarian. In my experience, the stereotypes are mostly true(women-fiction, men - non-fiction) some notable exceptions. We librarians ring our hands over this as there's tons of articles in libraryland with titles such as "non-fiction that reads like fiction" and vice versa. At this point in my career, I mostly don't get too caught up with who's reading what. I'm just happy when people are reading.

At the same time, I feel awfully sorry for people who read the same thing ALL the time, who haven't learned the enjoyment of browsing through the library or bookstore and just picking up something that looks interesting, even if it's not Danielle Steel or James Patterson.

Getting more back on-topic, I think Christian's point about gender-dominated assignments might be a valid one. Take the example of high school reading lists. Most recent lists I've seen are dominated by recently published books that appeal to girls, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents and older, "classic" books that are supposed to appeal to boys, Mark Twain, Joseph Conrad, Stephen Crane. I think girls do better with these assignments because the books geared to them are written in a style that they are most familiar with. Boys tend to do worse because let's face it, Twain and Crane's writing style is pretty alien to today's teenage boys.

Also, I believe that a lot of boys aren't aware of the more recent boys that are geared towards them because of the overwhelming amount of attention given to authors of more girl-centric YA fiction such as Stephenie Meyer.

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: And I wasn't talking about people who don't read fiction. I was talking about why some men might not read fiction by women... and, by inference, why some women might not read fiction by men.

Perhaps, but the particular bit I was responding to was talking about how certain people had responded to a movie, not a book.

No, you weren't -- not entirely, anyway. The comment Jeff was responding to was that "But to say that people who don't read fiction tend not to do so because they find fiction 'threatening' seems really, really unwarranted, to me." That's a comment about books, not movies. Jeff was right to clarify his point. Not sure why you're jumping back and forth here.

If you make assumptions about total strangers like that -- and self-admittedly "snarky" assumptions, at that -- then it undermines any argument that you might be trying to build upon that assumption. (It also calls into question your willingness to engage the Other in a spirit of humility, etc., but that's a whole other issue.)
: "Those people?" Which people?

The ones you were openly and self-admittedly snarking about in the paragraph that I responded to. Stay focused, Jeff. You can't win the argument by waving around a lot of things that kind of sort of resemble each other in your mind. But if you DO take that approach, then you should know you can't hide behind the "but I only said 'perhaps'" defense either. Either you are trying to be precise in your reasoning or you are trying to create specific kinds of impressions about certain kinds of people.

Um, yikes. Do you mean an argument in Jeff's Filmwell post, his A&F post, or with you?

Jeff's Filmwell post seems pretty straightforward; I don't see that he's making an argument so much as noodling some themes: star ratings don't tell you much; some people have negative reactions to subtitled films, even violently and ignorantly so. (The review Jeff quotes do not all boil down to "Look, when I settle down to relax with a film, I don't want to have to read.")

His A&F post is really about a different topic, but references the Filmwell post because there may be some overlap between the responses of some people who (like the Amazon reviewers in question) are put off by subtitled films, some of whom (not necessarily the Amazon reviewers) probably find Otherness uninteresting or even threatening, and some men who may be put off by a woman's name under the title of a novel, again because they may find such Otherness uninteresting or even threatening.

Even if Jeff might possibly lean harder on the possibility of threatened feelings than the specific evidence he's cited might be felt to warrant, I don't see that Jeff implicated the Amazon reviewers specifically of feeling threatened by Otherness (although good grief, it wouldn't be hard to reach that conclusion from Midge's rant, as that reviewer seems to be aware), or that he is "projecting" anything onto them.

The "argument" seems to me a tempest in a teapot. Although, you know, that's how teapots and stuff get broken ...

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I think the assertion that some people, at some times, feel threatened by some aspects of some works of art, is indisputable.

I think it's also indisputable that not every expression of reticence stems from feeling threatened. For example, Christians often are accused of feeling "threatened" by this or that if we don't choose to engage with it. It isn't necessarily true. I might be disgusted, or bored, or appalled, or confused, or distracted, but I can experience all those things without feeling "threatened."

On the other hand, people who do feel threatened often don't want to admit it.

The specific Amazon comments cited by Jeffrey went beyond the annoyance of having to read subtitles. One bordered on xenophobia and another sure looked like paranoia to me. One commenter wrote off any and all films by the director in question, while another swore never to buy anything from Amazon again. It might well be true that those commenters didn't feel threatened by the film, but if so, they might have been well advised not to overreact to it in a way that suggests they might feel threatened.

Anyway, to go about accusing people of feeling threatened is annoying and unwarranted. So it's a good thing Jeffrey didn't do that. He speculated that feeling threatened is a reason that some people might not engage with certain works of art. Unless your position is that no work of art could possibly threaten anybody, I see no reason to be reading Jeffrey the riot act here.

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Getting more back on-topic, I think Christian's point about gender-dominated assignments might be a valid one. Take the example of high school reading lists. Most recent lists I've seen are dominated by recently published books that appeal to girls, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents and older, "classic" books that are supposed to appeal to boys, Mark Twain, Joseph Conrad, Stephen Crane. I think girls do better with these assignments because the books geared to them are written in a style that they are most familiar with. Boys tend to do worse because let's face it, Twain and Crane's writing style is pretty alien to today's teenage boys.

Also, I believe that a lot of boys aren't aware of the more recent boys that are geared towards them because of the overwhelming amount of attention given to authors of more girl-centric YA fiction such as Stephenie Meyer.

I appreciate and resonate with this comment, about writing style being alien to today's youth (and many adults, for that matter). It could be said about a good segment of the classics. Is it an excuse to knock them off reading lists? No. But it could be a good thing to take into consideration when we consider instilling the love of reading in our children. I read a stat the other day (I believe it was in the NPR article referenced a few posts back) that Harry Potter gave a good segment of boys a deeper appreciation for reading. Anecdotedly, I saw that when I volunteered with at risk kids in an after-school tutoring program awhile back. Boys who "hated" reading were reading those books. Good stories like Harry Potter could be not only a good entrance into a change of attitude towards reading but also as a stepping stones to good stories written by more classic authors. Just a thought (which I am sure is not original, heh).

Edited by pilgrimscrybe

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I've known a couple of people (male) who went from being indifferent toward reading to loving it, but that change took time. I think part of the problem (in one case) had to do with the "classics" assigned in HS English (Lorna Doone and Moby Dick, for example) as well as (possibly) not-great teachers who didn't show any enthusiasm for their subject. One of these people wnet on to get advanced degrees in English.

So I think there's reason to hope that things can change, but - as with most difficulties - it's one person at a time...

Interestingly, we also have a friend (in his 50s) who didn't read novels at all. One day, after hearing him talk about how he likes detective and crime films/television shows, I handed him a Raymond Chandler book and he absolutely loved it--and read the rest of our collection. Now, he reads a lot. I know it's anecdotal, but it seems there is something to finding what people connect with in order to discover (or rediscover) the world of fiction...

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It's also alien to me - I have to work to get through 19th-c. novels and short stories. Full-length Dickens novels are a kind of purgatory for me.

I've known a couple of people (male) who went from being indifferent toward reading to loving it, but that change took time. I think part of the problem (in one case) had to do with the "classics" assigned in HS English (Lorna Doone and Moby Dick, for example) as well as (possibly) not-great teachers who didn't show any enthusiasm for their subject. One of these people wnet on to get advanced degrees in English.

So I think there's reason to hope that things can change, but - as with most difficulties - it's one person at a time...

When I was in high school (late '60s and early '70s) I was fortunate to encounter both wonderful English teachers and a curriculum that was far ahead of its time. It was, in many ways, a college curriculum. There were perhaps 70 or 80 English classes from which to choose, and within broad but mandated categories (literature, composition, grammar, linguistics, speech/communications, humanities, etc.), students could select the classes that sounded most appealing to them. I remember, as a callow youth of 14, being blown away by the novels and short stories of Ray Bradbury. That was in an English class called The Writings of Ray Bradbury. I took a class on Kurt Vonnegut. I took a playwriting class. I've always read voraciously, so I'm sure I was biased, but for me those English classes were an absolute delight. I looked forward to them every day.

Re: the classics, I certainly couldn't handle them at 14 or 15. And I was a good student, and a particularly good English student. The appeal of Dickens totally escaped me. I hated Great Expectations, which was force-fed down our throats, albeit in an abridged fashion, in eighth grade. I hated Moby Dick a couple years later. I honestly don't believe there are many 14- or 15-year-olds who could truly appreciate these books. But they planted seeds. And years later I rediscovered them, and was off on another great adventure. It seems to me that the ideal high-school literature curriculum should be some combination of books that are an absolute blast, and books that cannot and will not be fully appreciated at the time, but which plant the seeds for the future.

For what it's worth, I read all the time, probably 40-50 books per year when I'm working 1.5 jobs, more than that when I'm working .5 jobs. B) I can't imagine why anyone, male or female, wouldn't read novels and non-fiction and excellent music magazines whenever they have an opportunity. But that's me.

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Andy, am I reading this right? * 70-80 choices *?

Even 7-8 would stagger me; I had none, and neither did my brothers. (In Jr. HS and HS, at least.) They had the same English teacher my mom had. I had another one. But there was only one HS English teacher.

My love of reading started at home, as my parents were/are avid readers. And oddly enough, I got berated by my 4th grade teacher for reading too much and having too many library books crammed inside my desk. (As in, publicly berated.)

Y'know, so many kids who love to read get relentless teasing - and bullying - about having their nose stuck in a book - and not just by their peers. Former Washington Post Book Review editor Michael Dirda published a piece where he described what his dad did every time he caught Dirda reading. He kicked the book(s) out of his hands, then said/shouted many humiliating things. My guess is that this was partly (from what Dirda said) that he was resentful/jealous that his son actually could read, as he hadn't had any formal education. (IIRC, his dad was a steelworker in Youngstown, OH.)

There are far worse things than parental indifference.

Yes, I think 70 - 80 classes. I went to a large high school in a suburb of Chicago, and there were probably 12 - 15 English teachers. But yeah, I distinctly remember Shakespeare's Tragedies, Shakespeare's Comedies, and Shakespeare's Histories (as separate courses), British 19th Century Classics, classes on Ray Bradbury and Kurt Vonnegut, History of Science Fiction (we read Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Arthur C. Clarke, Bradbury, Frank Herbert, and Robert Heinlein, as I recall), and the novels of Hermann Hesse. Hey, even though technically the decade had changed, it was still the '60s.

I really had a wonderful HS English education. In addition to the amazing array of classes, two of my teachers went on write fulltime, and do pretty well at it. One of them, Mort Castle (is that the name of a horror writer, or what?), is something of a master of the horror genre, and now teaches writing (primarily horror writing) at the college level. He was a wonderful writer, a very fine teacher, and someone who genuinely cared about the little dweebs under his charge. I realize how fortunate I had it.

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Not long ago I was looking over my personal library and realized that the vast bulk is comprised of books written by men. However, when I attempt to make any sense of that fact, I am utterly flummoxed. I don't even know where to start.

It baffles me because personal identity--whether that of the author or my own, whether in terms of race, sexuality, gender, class, or nationality (etc.)--has nothing to do with whether I find a book pleasurable, or whether I am interested in seeking out and reading a particular book. My chief goal in reading is the derivation of pleasure or what Vladimir Nabokov called "bliss." I have found that certain authors are likelier than others to bless me with the gift of literary pleasure. Some of these are women, many are men, some write stories, some write novels, some write poetry, some write essays and reportage.

I have noticed that, as far as recent writers (20th century and on) whose work I delight in, the list is increasingly dominated by women, figures like M. F. K. Fisher, Rose Macaulay, Christina Stead, Marilynne Robinson, Cynthia Ozick, Ivy Compton-Burnett, Elizabeth Bishop, Sylvia Townsend Warner, Colette, Elizabeth David, Shirley Hazzard, Janet Flanner, Elizabeth Bowen, and Flannery O'Connor. If the trend continues and my library eventually becomes surfeited with works by women like these, I will be happy. Or if not, I will be happy. Either way, I will defer to the pleasure imperative. And to me literary pleasure primarily means pleasure in well-wrought language. My definition of the proper relationship between writer and reader is a shared commitment to be educated in the stewardship of language.

It is sometimes said that men prefer stories with action whereas women prefer conversational pieces. But I wonder about the usefulness of such distinctions. For instance, in Anton Chekhov's stories, relatively little happens in the way of "action," in the usual sense of dramatic convulsions of plot, murders, adventures, etc. But to say nothing happens in Chekhov would be a terrible mistake, because what happens in Chekhov ("stays in Chekhov"?) is, first of all, language. Language happens in Chekhov, language happens in Nabokov, in M. F. K. Fisher, in Marilynne Robinson. And it seems to me that anyone can learn to bear witness to that miraculous happening, regardless of sex or race, but it requires the proper teacher and a willingness to be humbled.

Ultimately, while questions about who reads fiction vs. non-fiction, who reads at all, etc. are very interesting on a sociological level, I think that as far as the spiritual health of culture, the more important question is whether our neighbors are reading good literature. That is an extremely difficult conversation to have, I admit, in an intellectual atmosphere in which the very idea that some works of culture are better than others is immensely offensive.

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Add me to the list of those jealous of Andy's education. What an English program!

Like Andy I warmed up to the classics, etc. slowly. I loved books as a kid, but mostly read escapist stuff. Alstair Maclean became a favorite, Edgar Rice Burroughs also, and lots of other middle grade stuff from the library. In high school I pleased my English teacher with a paper I wrote trashing Moby Dick for its mish-mash of styles! After graduation I spent a couple of years on the ship MV Logos. There I encountered the work of Francis Schaffer via L'Abri tapes and have never been the same since. I came home, began University, got into honors English and loved it. That's how my own adventure began.

For me, reading is more about story than language. Although I love beautiful, precise prose and cherish a well turned phrase, books without a solid narrative element tend to put me to sleep. What I want more than anything is rich story, one that leads me deeply into the human condition, that leaves me, upon closing it, awakening to a bigger world in some way.

All that to say I agree with everyone here that getting people to read, period, is the essiential thing.

In my own extended family a lot of the men, including my Dad, don't read fiction. Mostly it seems to be a lack of interest. I do think though Jeffery Overstreet is on to something in his post about some people feeling threatened in some way by art. As an artist, I've experienced that personally and painfully. Boy, and how!

My wife, a professional orchestra musician, offered this thought. Men tend as a group to be more visual. (As an example, consider porn aimed at men.) Whereas women's porn -- her words -- are romance novels. I'm not sure romance novels are strictly that, but thought it's an interesting idea. She thought men go to movies more than women. Again, I'm a bit more reserved, but am curious what others think...! By the way, she probably reads close to 100 - 200 books a year.

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I once watched a young boy run into a room, slam the door, and cry hysterically because he heard electric guitars in a rock song, and his family had told him that rock music was Satanic.

When I was about 19, a friend and I were letting a high school group watch Happy Gilmore with us. We are talking about 15-18 year olds here. My friend and I were chewed out for this. Now, mind you, I would have accepted that the parental chaperone felt it was not appropriate. I would have respected that. But the way she chewed my friend and I out and proceeded give speeches about kid who got together to pray and cry about it. Now, I realize that Adam Sandler films generate a lot of responses-negative ones (and over the years, I have had negative responses to Sandler films) And at that point it became us rolling our eyes. Honestly, if and Adam Sandler movie has you in tears-and if you are not some snobby elitest movie critic, crying over an Adam Sandler movie is... over the top.

(hmmm..might make for an interesting thread-weird, uncomfortable and unexpected responses from audiences you have watched a movie with)

As far "Men's Fiction"...I guess I always thought much fiction was aimed at men as a default general audience (kind of like how mvies will routinely focus on a male protagonist-yet not be considered automatically a Men's Movie...but have a female protagonist and it is instantly a "Girl Movie").

Edited by Nezpop

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A bit of a threadjack of my own, but related to the main thread:

My book club coordinator has announced that Thursday night's meeting will include suggestions for titles to be discussed later in the year. I had thought the year was already booked, but apparently not.

I'm suggesting The Signal, but in the coordinator's note, she mentioned that someone had previously suggested reading a "classic" work. That someone would be me, before my interest in "guy fiction" flared up again more recently. So now I need to step up and suggest some titles.

What would you choose? It can be "fiction for men" or for women, classics or something else. But just give me one title. The shorter the novel, the better. :)

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A short "classic" novel? How about Dostoyevsky's Notes from Underground? Or Camus' The Stranger?

Unfortunately, short + classic = modernist literature = depressing

Actually, Invisible Cities, by Italo Calvino is short and classic, and not as depressing as the other works that come to mind.

Also, The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro is shortish and classicish and very good.

Edited by Cunningham

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A bit of a threadjack of my own, but related to the main thread:

My book club coordinator has announced that Thursday night's meeting will include suggestions for titles to be discussed later in the year. I had thought the year was already booked, but apparently not.

I'm suggesting The Signal, but in the coordinator's note, she mentioned that someone had previously suggested reading a "classic" work. That someone would be me, before my interest in "guy fiction" flared up again more recently. So now I need to step up and suggest some titles.

What would you choose? It can be "fiction for men" or for women, classics or something else. But just give me one title. The shorter the novel, the better. :)

Graham Greene -- The Heart of the Matter. It's short, it's beautifully written, and it has enough depth to keep you and your book club busy all summer if you so desire.

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A bit of a threadjack of my own, but related to the main thread:

My book club coordinator has announced that Thursday night's meeting will include suggestions for titles to be discussed later in the year. I had thought the year was already booked, but apparently not.

I'm suggesting The Signal, but in the coordinator's note, she mentioned that someone had previously suggested reading a "classic" work. That someone would be me, before my interest in "guy fiction" flared up again more recently. So now I need to step up and suggest some titles.

What would you choose? It can be "fiction for men" or for women, classics or something else. But just give me one title. The shorter the novel, the better. :)

The Moviegoer by Walker Percy.

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I really feel uncomfortable with pronouncements of "men are this, women are that." While there's often some truth to them, they're not the whole truth by any means.

Actually I fully agree and share your discomfort with gender generalizations.

Since it's fairly documented that men, as a group, read less fiction than women, we speculated that one possible cause may be that men as a group are more exclusively visual. That may be too much guessing in one sentence, but there it is.

After more discussion, we also agreed that romance novels were women's escapism -- not porn. But of course only some women like romance novels (and probably some men too) so this is limited.

Why do men read less fiction than women? There are plenty of novels in any bookstore that should appeal to someone looking for a man overcomes adversity, conqueors all, wins kind of adventure. Honestly, I don't know. :D

Edited by Harris-Stone

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Here's the thing, though - were those polls about "literary fiction" (like the NEA study), or genre fiction, or both? If the NEA's definition of literary fiction doesn't include genres like mystery and suspense, fantasy, sci-fi, etc.(aka genre fiction) then their figures are way, way off. (Ditto for the other polls.)

I still haven't been able to determine what they NEA actually means by the term "literary fiction."

All good questions... From the NEA site:

The NEA research brochure Reading on the Rise is based on early results from the 2008 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts (SPPA). SPPA is a periodic survey that has been conducted five times since 1982 using data obtained in partnership with the United States Census Bureau. Detailed results from the 2008 survey will be available in 2009. The 2008 SPPA survey has a sample size of more than 18,000 adults. The 2008 survey's literary reading questions - which form the focus of Reading on the Rise - were the same as in previous years: "During the last 12 months, did you read any a) novels or short stories; B) poetry; or c) plays?" Since 1992, the survey also has asked about book-reading. In 2008, the survey introduced new questions about reading preferences and reading on the Internet.

NOTE: sample size more than 18,000 adults. Note also the question that was asked. In their definition, "literary reading is novels, short stories, plays or poems read in any format, including on the internet." It includes genre fiction.

Here is the link if you want to see more: http://www.arts.endow.gov/news/news09/ReadingonRise.html

And here is a link to a page of NEA reports: http://www.nea.gov/research/ResearchReports_chrono.html

The Executive Summary of the more recent report has a lot of tables and info in it. The full report can also be downloaded if you want more detail.

Attached is a table showing the gender specific results from one NEA survey (reading at risk) The numbers are the percentage of adults who responded to the question about whether they've read a novel, short story, play or poem in the last year.

nea.bmp

Edited by Harris-Stone

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My book club did indeed select Carlson's "The Signal" for this fall.

Today, the Book World editors at the Washington Post are hosting a chat about summer reading. I submitted the following question to Ron Charles, who responded:

Hey, Ron Charles!: Question for Mr. Charles, and the others, too, if they care to chime in.

First, you mentioned in your missive to Dave Eggers You said the paper version of "Book World" was well loved by readers, but the online reviews don't get much traction. Can you quantify that?

Also, I recommended "The Signal" to my Book Club as a guy's choice, because I'm the only guy in the club. They selected it for this fall. Yay!

Ron Charles: Our masters guard washpost.com traffic data like it's Don Graham's genetic code. If I revealed even what little they tell me, I'd be immediately shot.

So glad to hear you'll get your book club to read THE SIGNAL. (Women, of course, will enjoy it, too. I was just trying to get some attention from the guys with that review: http://tinyurl.com/ryveu5)

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