I shudder to think. Stats show women read more fiction than men. What does this mean? I mean, besides the fact that they’re smarter?
In recent years, various pundits have used this so-called “fiction gap” as an opportunity to trot out their pet theories on what makes men and women tick. The most recent is New York Times columnist David Brooks, who jumped at the chance to peddle his special brand of gender essentialism. His June 11 column arbitrarily divided all books into neat boy/girl categories—”In the men’s sections of the bookstore, there are books describing masterly men conquering evil. In the women’s sections there are novels about … well, I guess feelings and stuff.” His sweeping assertion flies in the face of publishing industry research, which shows that if “chick-lit” were defined as what women read, the term would have to include most novels, including those considered macho territory. A 2000 survey found that women comprised a greater percentage of readers than men across all genres: Espionage/thriller (69 percent); General (88 percent); Mystery/Detective (86 percent); and even Science Fiction (52 percent).
Brooks’ real agenda, however, is not to deride women’s fiction, but to promote the latest conservative talking point: blaming politically correct liberals for a “feminized” school curriculum that turns young boys “into high school and college dropouts who hate reading.” According to Brooks, we have burdened little boys with “new-wave” novels about “introspectively morose young women,” when they would be better served by suitably masculine writers like Ernest Hemingway.
Desperate efforts to “macho” up the novel include Penguin’s “Good Booking” campaign, which sent out—who else?—beautiful models to award prizes of £1,000 each month to any British man under 25 caught in flagrante with one of its testosterone-friendly titles. The advertising tag line? “What women really want is a man with a Penguin.”
Apart from sex with beautiful models, men are also socialized to seek out activities that confer status—which, these days, sadly doesn’t include reading novels. According to novelist Walter Kirn, “If novelists have become culturally invisible—at least to today’s men—it’s partly because the life of a novelist offers few rewards to the traditional male ego. It’s not about power, glory and money,” unlike the adulation our culture reserves for rap stars, athletes and movie actors.
You mean, those girls in the coffee shop aren’t hitting on me? I thought that was barely-restrained sexual tension, not giggling! Hey, speaking of raw cauldrons of bubbling tension, Phillip Marchand is quoted here. (Thanks, Franklin)