by Ariel Kusby
When it comes to the difference between the reading habits of women and men, study after study has shown that females generally tend to complete more books per year, regardless of genre. While there is no definitive answer as to why this is true, female readership has undoubtedly increased over the past century.
Though women read more in general, they also tend to read more of certain genres and less of others. A 2007 NPR article reported that women account for eighty percent of the fiction market. Men, in contrast, have been reported to read more nonfiction, the most popular topics being history, politics, and business. Men are also more likely to read science fiction.
These differences beg the classic question of nature versus nurture: are we reading different genres because we are biologically inclined to be interested in different subjects, or have we been conditioned about what kinds of books we are supposed to be reading? In her response to Esquire’s article, “The 80 Best Books Every Man Should Read,” Rebecca Solnit argues in “80 Books No Woman Should Read,” that men have been trained to read books that fit certain standards of masculinity.
A few trends proliferate amongst the books listed on Esquire: all but one of them was written by a man, many of them are centered on war, and few feature female central characters. While this is certainly not representative of what all men like to read, it does reflect certain long-standing attitudes about what is appropriate for each gender.
There are undoubtedly certain authors we associate with traditional ideas of manliness, such as Jack Kerouac, Charles Bukowski, and Ernest Hemingway, (all featured onEsquire’s list), that attract more male readers than others. The same could be said of female readership when it comes to authors like Jane Austen, the Brontë sisters, and Virginia Woolf. In general, readers tend to prefer fiction that features protagonists of their same gender. These observations are, of course, generalizations, but I believe that it is important for us all to examine what we are reading and question why we gravitate towards certain books rather than others.
Personally, as a cisgender female, my taste in books does not necessarily fit into these generalizations. I love reading non-fiction. I read political books regularly, and enjoy them very much. I still love the Harry Potter books, which, statistically, are favored by boys and men. I also have many male friends and acquaintances that read novels, who love authors like Margaret Atwood and Sylvia Plath.
To be honest though, many of the books represented in Esquire’s list do turn me off because of the way that women are represented as literary “manic-pixie dream girls,” rather than sympathetic human beings with flaws, fears, and vulnerabilities. I enjoy reading about female characters that are written with as much humanity and realism as their male counterparts. It’s not that I don’t enjoy reading books written by men and featuring them, it’s simply that they often leave me feeling misrepresented. Women are expected to relate to male characters, but often books with female protagonists are dismissed as “women’s books,” and are less frequently assigned to children in school.
I certainly remember that the majority of the books I read in middle and high school had male protagonists. I enjoyed them, but also wondered why the boys were not expected to relate to Charlotte Brontë in the way that I was expected to connect with Ernest Hemingway? I remember how particularly upset the guys were the year we read The Awakening,which was very different from everything else we’d read. It had been written over one hundred years ago, and yet it was still shocking. As I’ve grown older and gone through college as an English major, I’ve started to question these trends. Why does my taste in reading material differ so much from most of the men I know? What makes us decide whether or not a book matters, and for whom it matters?
Guest post contributed by Ariel Kusby at the Blooming Twig. The Blooming Twig is an independent, boutique publishing house that supports the adventurous tastes of its readership.