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#1 Christian

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Posted 03 June 2009 - 12:02 PM

Ron Charles, whose book reviews have become my favorite part of the diminished Book World coveage in The Washington Post, get above-the-fold, top-story treatment in today's Style section wtih his review of Ron Carlson's The Signal. I've put a hold on the novel at my library, which has the title on order, but I wanted to highlight the review to discuss a broader point Charles makes in it: The lack of appealing fiction for men.

I've brought up this subject before here. A&F has its share of male book lovers, and we discuss fictional works most of the time. But studies show that, in general, men gravitate toward nonfiction, while women gravitate heavily toward fiction. 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).

So what's the answer? Books like The Signal, suggests Charles.

Back in olden days, before we started worrying about the survival of novels, we used to worry about the survival of novels for men. But that battle was lost so long ago that we should declare the field a national park and open a visitors' center (Look, kids -- Norman Mailer published right on this spot!). Chuck Palahniuk and his "Pygmy" vibrator gags notwithstanding, polls suggest that only 20 percent of fiction readers are male. Ian McEwan warned in the Guardian that "when women stop reading, the novel will be dead."

Well, don't blame the authors. Or even those supposedly mercenary, Oprah-chasing publishers. A couple of weeks ago, we ran a roundup of five novels about guys behaving badly -- not psycho-legal thrillers but genuine works of literary fiction. A man's man couldn't go wrong picking from this list: funny, crazy, existential, libidinous -- whatever he's after. And best of all, each one clocks in at around 200 pages, perfect for the commitment-phobic male.

The latest addition to this burgeoning category of high-quality macho novellas comes from Ron Carlson, who writes like Hemingway without the misogyny and self-parody. If there's a smart man in your life who might still be tempted into the pleasures of contemporary literary fiction, "The Signal" could be just the gateway drug you're after. (Father's Day is June 21, and let's face it: Dad's not going to get through Bolaņo's "2666" no matter what you tell him.)


Hey, I read up to Book 3 in 2066 before my Book Club discussion on it, and still hope to return to it someday. In the meantime, I've just renewed the latest George Pelecanos novel, The Way Home, and I've still got to read his previous novel. So I have some good "guy books" to supplement my reading in film-criticism this summer.

Who else do the men at A&F favor? More important, WHY do we prefer these authors? We've discussed Cormac McCarthy, Richard Price, Denis Johnson (I just started the audiobook of Nobody Move). Who else writes novels that men might gravitate toward?

I'm not suggesting men should read male authors only. What female authors would guys like, and why? We all love Marilynne Robinson and other females. But is there something distinctly appealing to men in her works? I don't think so. Male readers like good writing, whether from men or women. But what things beyond good writing -- maybe in spite of good writing -- make certain authors appeal to men?

#2 Darrel Manson

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Posted 03 June 2009 - 01:12 PM

I just read Carlson's Five Skies. (Listened to him read it actually) I liked it, but my wife liked it more. Definitely male oriented.

#3 Andy Whitman

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Posted 03 June 2009 - 01:23 PM

QUOTE (Christian @ Jun 3 2009, 01:02 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Ron Charles, whose book reviews have become my favorite part of the diminished Book World coveage in The Washington Post, get above-the-fold, top-story treatment in today's Style section wtih his review of Ron Carlson's The Signal. I've put a hold on the novel at my library, which has the title on order, but I wanted to highlight the review to discuss a broader point Charles makes in it: The lack of appealing fiction for men.

I've brought up this subject before here. A&F has its share of male book lovers, and we discuss fictional works most of the time. But studies show that, in general, men gravitate toward nonfiction, while women gravitate heavily toward fiction. 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).

So what's the answer? Books like The Signal, suggests Charles.

Back in olden days, before we started worrying about the survival of novels, we used to worry about the survival of novels for men. But that battle was lost so long ago that we should declare the field a national park and open a visitors' center (Look, kids -- Norman Mailer published right on this spot!). Chuck Palahniuk and his "Pygmy" vibrator gags notwithstanding, polls suggest that only 20 percent of fiction readers are male. Ian McEwan warned in the Guardian that "when women stop reading, the novel will be dead."

Well, don't blame the authors. Or even those supposedly mercenary, Oprah-chasing publishers. A couple of weeks ago, we ran a roundup of five novels about guys behaving badly -- not psycho-legal thrillers but genuine works of literary fiction. A man's man couldn't go wrong picking from this list: funny, crazy, existential, libidinous -- whatever he's after. And best of all, each one clocks in at around 200 pages, perfect for the commitment-phobic male.

The latest addition to this burgeoning category of high-quality macho novellas comes from Ron Carlson, who writes like Hemingway without the misogyny and self-parody. If there's a smart man in your life who might still be tempted into the pleasures of contemporary literary fiction, "The Signal" could be just the gateway drug you're after. (Father's Day is June 21, and let's face it: Dad's not going to get through Bolaņo's "2666" no matter what you tell him.)


Hey, I read up to Book 3 in 2066 before my Book Club discussion on it, and still hope to return to it someday. In the meantime, I've just renewed the latest George Pelecanos novel, The Way Home, and I've still got to read his previous novel. So I have some good "guy books" to supplement my reading in film-criticism this summer.

Who else do the men at A&F favor? More important, WHY do we prefer these authors? We've discussed Cormac McCarthy, Richard Price, Denis Johnson (I just started the audiobook of Nobody Move). Who else writes novels that men might gravitate toward?

I'm not suggesting men should read male authors only. What female authors would guys like, and why? We all love Marilynne Robinson and other females. But is there something distinctly appealing to men in her works? I don't think so. Male readers like good writing, whether from men or women. But what things beyond good writing -- maybe in spite of good writing -- make certain authors appeal to men?

I'm always baffled by these kinds of questions. It's not that I doubt the results of the surveys, or the dire trends they portend. But I've never been able to relate to the concept of "men's literature," and really the concept has the same appeal to me as that of a men's church retreat involving blue face paint and whitewater rafting. Which is to say, no appeal at all.

Aside from Hemingway, who failed to write about chainsaws and snowblowers only because they hadn't yet been invented, it seems to me that the most stereotypical "men's writers" are those who have worked in the mystery and espionage/thriller genres. I don't necessarily know that these books would predominantly appeal to men, but I would think so, and certainly the protagonists are men. There's the obvious question of whether such works should be considered serious literature, but I do think that writers such as Raymond Carver, Elmore Leonard, Raymond Chandler, Graham Greene, Dashiell Hammett, etc. do it well. Greene, of course, had a much more serious "literary" side, too. I'd probably add Larry McMurtry to the list, if only because most women have no aspirations to rustle up the dogies on the Old Chisholm Trail. And yes, Cormac McCarthy, at least for his Border trilogy.

But when I think of my favorite female authors -- among them Flannery O'Connor, Alice Munro, Annie Dillard, Jane Austen, Eudora Welty, George Eliot, Marilynne Robinson, Toni Morrison, and Edith Wharton -- I don't think in terms of themes or subject matter that is particularly "feminine." Well, maybe Jane Austen, but that was only because of the times in which she lived. I love them because they write very well, and tell stories worth telling. I read my favorite male authors for the same reasons. And thus, at least for me, the whole focus on gender escapes me.




#4 J. Henry Waugh

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Posted 04 June 2009 - 09:11 AM

I am a male fiction reader who spent years reading the Great Novels on every recommended reading list. For the past decade I have gravitated mostly toward writers like McCarthy, Richard Price, George Pelecanos, James Sallis, etc.

While I wrap my head around the other questions raised in the initial post, I would eagerly recommend Joan Didion's novels, particularly, The Last Thing He Wanted, as a novel that would appeal to the kind of guy who mostly sticks to genre but is willing to dip his toe into the literary pool.

One aside: when Ben Kunkel's Indecision was receiving heavy praise in 2005, I remember a few complaints that the same book from a female perspective be labeled Chick-Lit and, perhaps sell better but without its author receiving praise as An Important New Voice. I don't mean to pick on Kunkel in particular and how people react to his book versus others is not his fault, but I do see the legitimacy of the comments.

Edit: Just a quick edit to add that even in my decade-long semi-retreat to genre, I was blown away by both Gilead and Home. I've keep a list of novels I've finished since college and out of the thousands of titles listed, those two are among the most memorable.

Edited by J. Henry Waugh, 04 June 2009 - 09:20 AM.


#5 BethR

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Posted 04 June 2009 - 12:42 PM

Thread from a while ago about "guy lit"--mentions Nick Hornby and Patrick O'Brian, among others.

#6 Jason Panella

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Posted 04 June 2009 - 03:11 PM

For better or for worse: James Ellroy. (Hey, he's actually finished the last novel of his American Underworld trilogy! Only took him a decade.)

#7 Christian

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Posted 04 June 2009 - 08:32 PM

QUOTE (BethR @ Jun 4 2009, 01:42 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Thread from a while ago about "guy lit"--mentions Nick Hornby and Patrick O'Brian, among others.


Thanks, Beth! I knew I'd written on this before. From that other thread:

The thread is evolving into a "books guys might like" thread, rather than one devoted to a squirrly genre known as "guy lit," so let me mention here how much I've enjoyed Richard Price and George Pelecanos in the past couple of years. Pelecanos' Soul Circus, which I read while on my cruise last year, was the least interesting of a string of Pelecanos and Price novels. Why I gravitate to gritty cop stories -- I've never fancied myself a "pulp fiction" man -- is a mystery to me, but I'm happy to have a few authors that write gritty stories, often in urban settings.

Just what a white guy from the suburbs responds to.


Andy, I get what you're saying and half-anticipated your comments. Why do "guy" books fall into the genres of crime, war and westerns? Manly men stuff.

I might roll my eyes a little at the mention of Toni Morrison, if only because she's become her own brand and deals with Big Themes in her earlier work. But I've also just finished Lalita Tademy's Red River for my book club, expecting something very Morrison like, and found myself quite captivated by the novel, which is rich with history and very nicely written but without much noticeable metaphor (can't have that!).

(BTW, one of the things that really stands out in Red River is the number of times someone explicitly expresses their Christian faith.)

When I read Pelecanos, I don't get much thematically, although The Turnaround was markedly different, I thought, than some of his earlier work. Price goes a little deeper, but even then, I feel like I'm reading a good yarn, with characters who speak plainly, and events that unfold without much literary finessing. I guess the word I'm looking for is "straightforward"? Maybe that's what defines literature for men. I hope that doesn't sell the authors -- or their readers -- short, atlhough it sure sounds that way.

Maybe I'm being condescending. I'm still working this out, trying to figure out what it is in some of these novels that appeals to me.

Edited by Christian, 04 June 2009 - 08:33 PM.


#8 Overstreet

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Posted 04 June 2009 - 11:34 PM

Andy wrote:
QUOTE
I'm always baffled by these kinds of questions. It's not that I doubt the results of the surveys, or the dire trends they portend. But I've never been able to relate to the concept of "men's literature," and really the concept has the same appeal to me as that of a men's church retreat involving blue face paint and whitewater rafting. Which is to say, no appeal at all.

Color me similarly baffled, similarly unable to relate. I read more writing by women than men -- fiction or otherwise. And yet, I'm a big fan of Cormac McCarthy. My favorite male novelist is Mark Helprin... but I know more women who are his fans than men.

Christian wrote:
QUOTE
I'm not suggesting men should read male authors only. What female authors would guys like, and why? We all love Marilynne Robinson and other females. But is there something distinctly appealing to men in her works? I don't think so. Male readers like good writing, whether from men or women. But what things beyond good writing -- maybe in spite of good writing -- make certain authors appeal to men?


Robinson writes from a man's point of view... in both Gilead and Home. The primary relationships in Gilead are between men. (I haven't read Home, but I suspect it's similar.) The book explores father/son relationships, pastor/congregant relationships. It would seem to me that those aspects might "distinctly appeal to men", at least to some degree.. But I'm speculating.

I hate to say it, but I suspect that what appeals to a lot of men in movies probably appeals to a lot of men in books. Stephen Lawhead read at Seattle Pacific on Friday and there were a lot of guys there. Far more than at a typical public reading. His books are often full of battle scenes and heroism and the burdensome vision quests that famous male heroes often undertake. Like Braveheart. Gladiator. The Patriot. The Matrix. Etc. But I'm usually bored by battle scenes, and machismo doesn't excite me. Men tend to like stories in which men save the day, fix things, solve things, and indulge in things that the reader would be reluctant to risk in real life. Or stories in which women need to be saved. This annoys me, so when I write stories I try to mix things up to avoid the cliches of the powerful, charismatic man who is the only hope for the feeble damsel in distress.

I would hope that men would enjoy reading Annie Dillard. And Patricia McKillip. And Anne Tyler. And Jane Austen. I don't see what there is to put them off, unless their idea of an intelligent woman unsettles them, or a story in which The Man is not the primary power.

Edited by Overstreet, 06 June 2009 - 07:46 AM.


#9 Harris-Stone

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Posted 05 June 2009 - 12:40 AM

QUOTE (e2c @ Jun 4 2009, 10:23 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Indian writer Abhijit Banjuri on "chick lit," "guy lit" and stereotyping. I like what he has to say. smile.gif


I like what Banjuri says too: "To me a novel is a novel. Every novelist essentially shares a world view with a reader - either real or fictitious. By ascribing that world view to gender, I believe we pigeonhole the creative work."

I suspect the real divide exists between those -- male or female -- who read fiction regularly (or read it at all) and the great rest of those (most people) who don't. Do most readers stay within a particular genre? None of the readers I know do.

Why are men more likely to be in the non-fiction reading group? In general I believe our culture downplays novels as having anything real and relevant to say. Fiction seems to be viewed as entertainment, not much more. Maybe more men would read fiction if the culture saw it as serious. When was the last time the President reading a novel was a news event? I remember hearing about Reagan reading "Hunt for Red October." Have any novels featured in our national conversation the way "Uncle Tom's Cabin" did during the period before the Civil War?

When I visit my relatives (by marriage) in the UK, I get the sense of an entirely different and more serious literary culture happening. That's probably true in Germany as well. Do men over there read fiction more?

#10 Overstreet

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Posted 05 June 2009 - 01:55 AM

I suspect that men who focus on "men's books" may sometimes do so out of a lack of interest in the Other.

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.

I recently posted a snarky bit at Filmwell about some reviews of the film The Orphanage in which the reviewers were incensed to discover that, lo and behold, the movie was in a foreign language! 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.

In the same way, perhaps a story from a woman's point of view is threatening to some male readers who need to be reassured in their manliness. And I suspect this might be related to the way that a lot of Christians seem very concerned about watching movies made by non-Christians, and seem very eager to create an alternative world of movies made by Christians that speak to them in the language that makes them feel safe.

To grow in appreciation of artistic encounters is to grow, to an extent, in humility. That is to say, we learn to desire and enjoy perspectives beyond our own, because we learn from them. The wearying rigor of living in a world that seems crowded with enemies and aliens and threats of that nature begins to lift, I think, when we become curious, and when we start desiring to see the world in new ways.

Or we choose to live there, reading about the men we are, or the men we wish we could be.

Edited by Overstreet, 06 June 2009 - 07:49 AM.


#11 Cunningham

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Posted 05 June 2009 - 06:13 AM

I'm wondering if the posters who are denying the real existence of "guy lit" would also deny the existence of "chick lit." There really does seem to be a sort of writing that utilizes masculinity, or masculine qualities, in it's expression. Some examples have come out here: McCarthy, and Hemmingway, but I'd also add Faulkner and Melville to the (currently short) list. Their writing just feels masculine to me, in the same way that Daphne DuMaurier's or Kazuo Ishiguro's writing seems feminine. But, then again, I don't think anyone would categorize Ishiguro is "chick lit" even if his writing leans more to the side of feminine than masculine.

Wikipedia defines chick lit as follows "Chick lit often features hip, stylish, career-driven[1] female protagonists, usually in their twenties and thirties. The women featured in these novels may be obsessed with appearance or have a passion for shopping.[1] The setting is generally urban and the plot usually follows the characters' love lives and struggles for professional success (often in the publishing, advertising, public relations, or fashion industry). The style is usually of an airy, irreverent tone and includes frank sexual themes. It frequently makes use of current slang and cliches."

Interestingly, most of the "guy lit" author's I've suggested, seem to be almost the inverse of this. Generally older protagonists, disgusted with superficiality or materialism. Rural or rustic settings. And it's not usually "professional success" that the protagonist is seeking, but more along the lines of personal fulfillment. The style is often weighty. Melville, McCarthy and Faulker have all been described as "Biblical" in their style, and I would never describe Hemmingway as "airy".

So on one hand there's, I think, a continuum of masculine and feminine writing, and it's often pretty easy to say which side of the center an author falls on. Then you have an actual genre that has come to be known as "chick lit," with well defined characteristics. Logically, literature with the opposite characteristics could be "guy lit".

Edited by Cunningham, 05 June 2009 - 06:26 AM.


#12 pilgrimscrybe

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Posted 05 June 2009 - 08:58 AM

I've been lurking through this conversation and really found it interesting. I've been a life-long reader (of both fiction and non-fiction) and even carry an ancient little-used graduate degree in literature. To be honest, I agree with those above who suggest that good fiction is going to transcend a guy- or chick-lit label. Good stories do that.

But out of curiosity, I started Googling "books popular with men" and "guy's lit." On the first page of the searches, I found a blog dedicated "to bring literary news and reviews to the attention of teenage boys and the people who care about them" and a list of "guy-lit" tagged books on Library Thing. I also ran across a site that listed 100 Must Read Books: The Essential Man's Library and The Essential Man's Library: 50 Fictional Books Edition. Of the first list, there were many books I count among my favorite (and I'm on the female side of the species). Of the second, there is some crossover with the first; and again, there are quite a few books on that list that I absolutely adore. When I bring up lists of "chic-lit," however, I wonder how many men would find near as many books on that list as I found on the previous two? Not many, I'd bet (though most, I suspect, would find a couple of books they've read and enjoyed). Perhaps, as a previous poster put it, they just aren't interested in a perspectives beyond their own, heh. More likely, though, perhaps there is a certain kind of story that a swath of women resonate with that most men don't (not saying men can't resonate with that genre or that all women do).

Is there a kind of written fiction that a large swath of men resonate with that most women don't? I can't think of one so drastically drawn (though that doesn't mean there isn't one out there, just that I can't think of one off the top of my head). In my experience (read: anecdotally and unscientifically), more of my girlfriends don't like science fiction than those who do (thankfully my best friend loves it). But among my girlfriends, I would venture that literary fiction (many of them belong to book clubs), spy and crime stories (James Patterson seems to be a favorite and Raymond Chandler is a fav of mine) are just as popular if not more so than "chick lit."

Maybe this means we females are generally capable of a wider palette when it comes to fiction, heh.

My point? None, really. Just finding this whole discussion rather interesting and thought-provoking.

#13 Cunningham

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Posted 05 June 2009 - 09:17 AM

QUOTE
Maybe this means we females are generally capable of a wider palette when it comes to fiction, heh.
I was going to suggest this very thing. This thread is evidence that there are many females who can appreciate and enjoy masculine literature. There are a lot of guys who enjoy literature by women and that reflect feminine characteristics (again, Ishiguro comes to mind, as does Barbara Kingsolver) but I seriously don't know any guys who would be excited about reading Bridget Jones' Diary. Though I (as a male) did read Twilight and found interesting and appealing elements in it, but even though it's a romance novel, I definitely don't think it fits into the "chick-lit" category....

I know that Beth is a fan of it, but in the several years I've been teaching, I very rarely find female readers to enjoy All the King's Men (which I teach in English 12), but the guys in the class almost always eat it up.

Edited by Cunningham, 05 June 2009 - 09:26 AM.


#14 Cunningham

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Posted 05 June 2009 - 11:59 AM

QUOTE
I think there are certain ideas that are fueling the guy books/women's books part of this discussion that are true, as well as a lot that are really pretty debatable.
I'm having a hard time distilling from your post which you think are which.
QUOTE
I think that there's an exception for every so-called "rule."
Without a doubt. In fact, I don't see anyone suggesting any "rules" anywhere. Just tendencies and characteristics.

QUOTE
do lots of guys gravitate toward certain kinds of books? Yes. Does that mean that there really is some sort of gender-based hierarchy of preferences? I don't think so - except in marketing terms
What exactly do you mean by a hierarchy of preferences?

#15 Christian

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Posted 05 June 2009 - 12:40 PM

QUOTE (Cunningham @ Jun 5 2009, 12:59 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Without a doubt. In fact, I don't see anyone suggesting any "rules" anywhere. Just tendencies and characteristics.


Thank you, Cunningham! Tendencies. Characteristics. And data. From Charles' review, which everyone is quick to dismiss:

polls suggest that only 20 percent of fiction readers are male

But, but ... some guys do read fiction! Many A&Fers do! Therefore, ignore everything the book critic writes. He's just been going through a bad pile of fiction lately.

Maybe he has, but the data is the data. Guys simply don't read fiction as much as women do. Why is that? I figured, when starting this thread, that the fact that males don't read much fiction would be a starting point, not the entire debate. By all means, if everyone thinks this argument is nonsense because they have a male friend who purchased a Twilight book, feel free to say that. But it doesn't reassure me. I think the implications of only 20% of men reading fiction isn't about the health of the publishing industry, or the skill of book marketers. It extends, as I hinted in my first post in this thread, to how we educate students (elementary and high-school students in particular), how we instill not only a love for reading, but a love for reading good books. Many of the authors we love are the ones that have been assigned to students for years, and what is the fruit? Twenty percent of men read fiction.

There's got to be more to this discussion than a shrug of the shoulders and a vow to never read Ron Charles again.

Maybe I feel strongly about this right now because I saw The Class not too long ago and am now reading this book about education more broadly, and these things are weighing on my mind as I look at my two young boys, wondering how, and what, they'll be encouraged/assigned to read in school, and the possibility that those assignments might turn them off to reading forever.

I'm doing my part. Our kids like books and reading ... for now. But my two sons are 2 and a half, and almost 1 year old. It's early.

I do draw one lesson from this thread that I'll be sure to instill in them: "Don't read Ron Charles! Guy's a crank!"

#16 pilgrimscrybe

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Posted 05 June 2009 - 01:07 PM

This topic started out with a concern about a low percentage of men who read fiction (not necessarily those on this board) and asking if there are certain kinds of authors men gravitate towards and specific aspects in fiction that might appeal to men--and if so, what those are. As I said before, I am the first to very adamantly advocate that a good story will appeal to both men and women (no matter whether a man or woman wrote it); in fact, I believe that the vast majority of good fiction out there falls in this category. But, to be honest, I also think it's interesting to explore whether there are certain elements in stories that appeal to us because of our gender.

Now, please know that I don't think it's possible to lump women in one category and men in another--the posts here are a prime example of that. And I'm the first to jump at overturning sterotypes. (When my daughter was three, she was pretending she was running from a dragon. When I asked her why she didn't turn around and fight it, she said "only boys can do that." I corrected that misconception very quickly, heh.) And I also agree that marketing is a big component in how we think about fiction and the categories and labels we give it--not that that is anything new (see this article at Salon.com on Twilight that touches on that). And it probably makes a difference that I grew up in a generation of girls where it wasn't even remotely an issue to read both Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys.

But I also think it would be interesting to explore if there are aspects of a story (whether written by a man or woman) that can appeal to gender in general (again, I emphasize "in general" because there is no hard and fast category here and we each have our own exceptions to those descriptions associated with gender). For example, when I was in highschool, it wouldn't have been unusual to find The Hobbit and a Harlequin Romance in a stack of books I brought home from the library. But how often would you find a Harlequin in a highschool boy's stack? Is that a marketing influence? A cultural influence? A gender influence? A combination? What kinds of books aren't found in girl's stacks? Why? And again, is that marketing, cultural, gender, or a combination?

Personally, I find it fascinating the kinds of stories that appeal to both my six-year-old son (and his friends) and my 10-year-old daughter (and her friends)--and where they differ (and how that changes as they grow older--and why). And this is also interesting to me as someone who someday might actually put her lit degree to practical use and seek a job teaching, heh.

Edited by pilgrimscrybe, 05 June 2009 - 01:08 PM.


#17 pilgrimscrybe

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Posted 05 June 2009 - 01:24 PM

QUOTE (Christian @ Jun 5 2009, 01:40 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Maybe I feel strongly about this right now because I saw The Class not too long ago and am now reading this book about education more broadly, and these things are weighing on my mind as I look at my two young boys, wondering how, and what, they'll be encouraged/assigned to read in school, and the possibility that those assignments might turn them off to reading forever.


Christian, my post above went up before I saw your post--I didn't mean to misdirect the topic! FWIW, your concern is one I also share as both a parent of a boy as well as someone who might go back to teaching someday.

#18 Harris-Stone

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Posted 05 June 2009 - 01:29 PM

QUOTE (Christian @ Jun 5 2009, 12:40 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
From Charles' review, which everyone is quick to dismiss:

polls suggest that only 20 percent of fiction readers are male


Most of the men I know who don't read fiction simply aren't interested in things that are "made up" or "untrue." For them I suspect fiction is purely irrelevant. That's why I mentioned earlier about whether the culture takes Fiction, as an enterprise, as a serious activity or a frivilous one. This is not to be confused with whether the fiction (within the world of fiction, is considered serious.) For example, most men in our culture take football very seriously, though its not seen as having a serious message.

I'm curious as to whether this is true in other cultures. Does the gender divide hold true worldwide, or is this an American thing? I'm also curious as to whether this was true historically. Once upon a time, fiction served the role that films serve today. When fiction was a dominant form of entertainment, did women readers still vastly outnumber men?

I think that's the real question: why don't American men in general like to read fiction? As to matters of fictional genre, style and substance, there is and always has been plenty to appeal to both genders. I fully agree with others here that "chick lit" is simply a genre like fantasy or urban fantasy, mystery, etc. It says more about the type of book than it really says about the reader.

I can't really agree with the idea of a "feminine" and "masculine" spectrum of writing style. While individual works by particular writers can be described as "masculine" or "feminine" in some aspects, to put all books into that classification seems difficult at best. What about Shakespeare? Tolstoy? Doestoevsky? George Elliot? Flannery O'Connor? To me, these writers and many others fit BOTH classifications in different ways.

Edited by Harris-Stone, 05 June 2009 - 01:32 PM.


#19 Harris-Stone

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Posted 05 June 2009 - 01:45 PM

QUOTE (pilgrimscrybe @ Jun 5 2009, 01:07 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
But I also think it would be interesting to explore if there are aspects of a story (whether written by a man or woman) that can appeal to gender in general (again, I emphasize "in general" because there is no hard and fast category here and we each have our own exceptions to those descriptions associated with gender).


Well, a big one is that readers in general tend to like protaganists they can relate to in some way. So the gender of the protaganist, and even more, the types of conflicts the protaganist faces, will affect the overall gender appeal of a work.

The second thing is the cover art and marketing. A male reader is less likely to want to pick up a book heavily marketed toward women -- i.e. romances. Same thing with an adult picking up a book marketed towards kids. It's not that they won't, but they will be going against the current as it were.

I'm hoping my son will read because we do. Actually, at 18 months he already flips through books by himself, But all kids are different. Maybe our next kid will be less into reading.

#20 Christian

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Posted 05 June 2009 - 04:20 PM

Thanks for these responses. I feel like I should rephrase the question that interests me:

Why don't men read fiction?

That better encapsulates my concerns. We all know some men read fiction, but why do they disproportionately read other stuff?

What is it about fiction that men don't care for? Some respondents here have touched on this, but others have refused the premise, as if it could be wished away. It's a fact. It's reality.

But why is this the reality? And can't everyone agree that this is a problem? It's hard to suggest solutions when the reasons for the problem are unclear -- or, worse, we turn a blind eye toward the issue.

Edited by Christian, 05 June 2009 - 07:48 PM.