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Men, women, and reading


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#1 dirac

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Posted 01 June 2005 - 01:48 PM

From the U.K. Observer, an article reporting the results of a recent survey of differences in the reading habits of the sexes:


Four out of five men said the last novel they read was by a man, whereas women were almost as likely to have read a book by a male author as a female. When asked what novel by a woman they had read most recently, a majority of men found it hard to recall or could not answer. Women, however, often gave several titles. The report said: 'Men who read fiction tend to read fiction by men, while women read fiction by both women and men.


http://observer.guar...1494932,00.html

#2 vagansmom

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Posted 01 June 2005 - 05:12 PM

Well, I am pleased to put forward the two most important men in my life - my husband and my son - as being among the minority. They will both read a good book whether it's written by a male or female.

My husband's favorite author is Jane Austen (yeah, I know - that seemed to be the only exception to the rule according to that article) but he has also read Willa Cather, Virginia Woolf and Rumer Godden and loved their books. Two of his favorite books of all time were Denise Giardina's "Saints and Villains" and "Good King Harry". Same is true of my son. He loved Giardina's books. He loved Mary Shelley. He also loves anything written by Toni Morrison. Oh, and my daughter's boyfriend counts "Good King Harry" as one of his favorites too!

My son is a slow painstaking reader so he hasn't read all that many novels. But I'd say that his choices are split 50/50 between male and female authors. It's probably true of my husband as well, if we discount business manuals.

There ARE certain kinds of books written by female authors that neither of them like. I'd say they are of the reflective sort. One of my favorite books, "Unless", by Carole Shields was a thumbs-down by my husband. He described it as a book where the first-person protagonist whines and wallows a lot. He didn't find any of it humorous, as did I. I remember him saying specifically that it is a style some female authors adopt and he vehemently dislikes it. I happen to think there are some famous male writers who fit that category of wallowing too. And I will defend Shields's book because it was a device she used for that one book alone.

But I understand what he's saying. I also realize that I have several female friends who feel the same way about that style book. In fact, one didn't much care for "The Kite Runner" (written by a man) because she thought the first person protagonist was a whiner! :o

Anyway, I'm not surprised by the findings. Recently I heard, on NPR, a piece discussing the use of (or non-use of, I should say) a woman's voice on movie trailers. It's not done. Why? Because the movie industry believes less men would pay attention to the trailer and therefore sales would be hurt. None of them wants to be the test study that confirms or discredits that belief.

I think it's true that we women have been forced, by virtue of growing up within the culture, to accept men's voices, spoken and written, in all areas of our lives whereas our past and present male counterparts haven't been presented with that "opportunity". :)

I try to remain hopeful that we are raising more males to be as open as the men in my life are so far proving to be.

#3 Farrell Fan

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Posted 01 June 2005 - 06:45 PM

I think it's true that we women have been forced, by virtue of growing up within the culture, to accept men's voices, spoken and written, in all areas of our lives whereas our past and present male counterparts haven't been presented with that "opportunity".

As far as spoken voices, when I was growing up in the 30's and 40's, there was no such thing as a woman radio announcer. They have been ubiquitous now for many years. And since, as a male, I enjoy patting myself on the back, I want to point out that my favorite contemporary author is Anne Tyler and my favorite book reviewer, Toni Bentley. I am a member of the Jane Austen Society of North America, and the idea of reading anything by Tom Clancy or Dean Koontz makes me sick to my stomach. Am I not enlightened?

#4 Dale

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Posted 01 June 2005 - 07:29 PM

I wonder if all those men know that the Harry Potter books were written by a female. I see a lot of men reading those books on the subway and train (I haven't read any of them).

#5 vagansmom

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Posted 01 June 2005 - 07:33 PM

FarrellFan, If my husband knew you, you would be his best friend :) Another man who loves Jane Austen! He is literally always in the midst of re-reading any one of her novels. For the past two decades, he has treated them like really good, expensive chocolate - a little drop (a few pages) at a time, savoring every piece.

#6 dirac

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Posted 02 June 2005 - 09:50 AM

I wonder if all those men know that the Harry Potter books were written by a female. I see a lot of men reading those books on the subway and train (I haven't read any of them).




I don’t know if J.K. Rowling’s use of initials was a deliberate attempt to avoid immediate ID as a woman. If so, it was a shrewd move. (It was also wise to call her protagonist Harry and not Harriet.)


A few years ago I read an article about movies that made a similar point. Studio market research indicated that women would attend a movie aimed primarily at men even if said picture wasn’t their first choice, but men generally resisted attending movies made to appeal to a female audience. This is one among several reasons that most high profile movies today are made with a view to attracting male viewers.

#7 carbro

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Posted 02 June 2005 - 09:56 AM

A study of young children's reading preferences reached the very same conclusion. Girls are less particular (in terms of books' intended audience) than boys. Gosh, I think a lot of boys would like Pippi Longstocking! Maybe not Beezus and Ramona, though.

#8 vagansmom

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Posted 20 July 2005 - 10:13 PM

I just listened to "Sense & Sensibility" by Jane Austen again on a long car trip. I may have come up with one reason why she is the exception when it comes to many men's unwillingness to read women authors. Austen's book are conversation-laden. She is more reflective - well, observant may be the better word - but in a different style, than many writers, female and male, regarding human relationships. Others choose to write in a heavy tone when pondering human interaction whereas Austen supplies wry witticisms and concise comments that strike us with an expert marksperson's dart-like precision.

If a reader "gets" biting sarcasm, then that person generally loves Austen. She's right out "front center" with it. Her writing is set apart from that of many other noted female writers such as Carole Shields (my current favorite) whose phrases cause me to ponder and reflect on their intent. With Austen though, I simply sit back and enjoy the plot twists and turns and her knack at using caricature to explore human relationships.

So, you men especially: why do YOU think Austen's work is more approachable to male readers than that of many other female writers?

#9 Hans

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Posted 21 July 2005 - 04:40 AM

I don't have an answer to that question vagansmom, although I do enjoy dry wit, but my favorite author is Edith Wharton (Austen is a close second). Here's the weird part: I can't stand Henry James, who is often considered to be superior to Wharton. (Wharton and James were good friends, and even she wrote privately that she couldn't finish The Golden Bowl because it was so boring.)

One male author I do admire is Thomas Hardy.

#10 bart

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Posted 21 July 2005 - 10:20 AM

vagansmom asks why some men like Austin more than other female writers.

When I read the first post in this thread I also thought: well I like Jane Austin. I've read each novel several times with great pleasure, but admit to "not getting" the extreme adoration of the Janeites.

So what about vagansmom's question? I think that subject matter has a lot to do with it, for me at least. Looking through my shelves, I find that most books by contemporary female writers that I have read and kept are actually serious historical fiction rather than works set in the present. (About helf and half female-male.) The novels I have that are situated in the present or recent past tend to be pretty exclusively by men. I had never noticed this before.

Perhaps I read and re-read Austin as a kind of historical novel -- fascinated precisely because many of the situations she deals with (eg. gentle pursuit of, or waiting for, socially and emotionally appropriate husbands) are so very arcane and distant to my own concerns.

Her use of irony is gentle (to us, though sometimes sharp in context), which is a wonderful break from the way contemporary fiction views and hammers social interactions. The pace of life is slow; the concerns are based in family and small commuities; the manners are delicate and rule-bound compared even to our best; the rebellions are tiny and often held inside; the political and economic forces that form us are kept well out of the conversation and apparent concerns of the characaters, though they do have an impact -- mostly indirectly. (Yes, I KNOW that books have been written recently about X's family's involvement with the slave trade, the evils of primogeniture, and this or that piece of legislation pending before Parlliament. Knowing this adds only a little, I think, to the novels. What is NOT talked or thought about is still quite striking.)

I quite understand vagansmom's husband's practice of reading Austin a small bit at at time. This is something to be savored before forging back out into our brasher, cruder, more complex world and our great, gulping approach to life today.

#11 dido

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Posted 22 July 2005 - 05:08 AM

J.K. did indeed deliberately side-step the gender question. I worked in a dedicated children's bookstore for many years, and this has been my experience: it was only boys (though not very many of them) who in principle would not read a book written by a woman. I think this probably says more about societal pressure and expectations than any thing else.
I never ran into a girl who refused a book simply because it had been written by a man, but there were plenty who tended not to because they only liked the Meg Cabot/Joan Bauer type of books.


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