If you peruse my bookshelves (of which there are many in our house), you will readily see that probably 95% of the fiction titles available are by women. Some of this is because I prefer to read romance in some form or another, but I also have a pretty hefty mystery section. It is in the latter and in fantasy and classics where the books by men tend to pop up. The classics are fairly self-explanatory–the traditional English canon is dominated by white men, and I confess to having at least 3 copies of the complete works of Shakespeare. Fantasy covers my favored Tolkein and Raymond Feist. Apart from those, I’ve got six or seven books by various male authors in my TBR pile that have been there for…well, in some cases, years. Several of these books were impulse buys at library book sales or my favorite used bookstore. Clearly something about them induced me to buy them–an interesting premise or title probably, as that’s my usual MO when it comes to buying books. A couple were recommendations elsewhere.
So why haven’t I read them (apart from that whole general lack of time that’s keeping me from reading much of anything these days)?
Because they usually disappoint me.
Please, hold your stones so I may explain. I read books to escape, to be entertained, and to feel something. With a few exceptions, it’s generally the latter where the fiction I’ve read by male authors tends to fall short. For example, at the moment I’m listening to Jolie Blon’s Bounce by James Lee Burke. This man has to be one of the most talented authors I’ve read when it comes to description. He paints Iberia Parish, Louisiana with broad and vivid brushstrokes for the reader. I absolutely see everything that hero Dave Robicheaux talks about in this book. But I don’t feel anything. Dave is spiraling down into his own addictions while trying to figure out the connection between two apparently unrelated murders, and I just don’t care. If this wasn’t easy listening in my car courtesy of books on CD from the library, I’d have long since put it down. Which is exactly what I did with my paperback copy months ago when I picked this up the first time. So far the book has meandered around so much, I barely remember anything about the victims this case is allegedly about.
At the risk of making a sweeping generalization, by and large fiction by men (usually marketed toward men) seems to be all about action and not at all about emotion. Male authors usually don’t make me care about the characters and unless the story fascinates me despite myself, emotion and caring about the hero or victims or whoever, is what makes me finish a book. This is not to say that female authors always do a fantastic job of this, but it’s much more the norm for books written by women to center far more on emotion.
None of this is surprising given gender differences between men and women. It’s a long and well-established fact that men and women do not approach things the same way. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. I’m not one of those women who thinks that the sexual revolution means that women have to be like men. But I do wonder if these sorts of differences in fiction influence people’s reading choices more widely? I would guess (with absolutely nothing but gut to back it up) that women are more likely to read books by men than men are to read books by women. What do y’all think? How does gender (your own vs. the author’s) influence your reading choices?