Men and women – fact or fiction?

Pre-COVID I ran a book club. Hopefully we will soon all meet again. We tried Zoom and soon realized it was a waste of time. Anyone who has belonged to a book club will know it’s not just about discussing the nuances of the text, but actually spending time with like-minded people.

Anyway, at any given time our membership was at least seventy percent female and, talking with other people, this seemed pretty typical, not just of book club membership, but of the reading demographic in general, particularly in relation to fiction. It had me wondering why. Surely book club nights are not just an excuse for couples doing separate things, such as ordering a take-away or watching the football!   

I think it’s more to do with what the different genders read, though I stress right now, I have conducted no surveys! That’s not to say that men don’t read fiction, but book clubs are often founded on a love of discussing novels. Obviously, as a writer myself – as I seek to become a legend in my own mind! – I am interested in knowing about reading habits and I have found that an awful lot of guys as they get older turn to non-fiction. Indeed, in the last fifteen years of my life I have read more of that genre than I did before, though I’ve read less in general as my own imagination and passion for writing novels has taken over.

I don’t think it’s that men are less willing to suspend disbelief. Furthermore, there is a plethora of male authors. So what is the reason? Does fiction open a doorway through which women are more prepared, or have a greater need to step? Hopefully things are changing, but they have typically been born into a world of inequality. They are burdened (blessed?) with the discomfort of pregnancy, the pain of childbirth, the joyful despair of motherhood. For some, is a journey into the world of fiction a marvellous escape – perhaps a chance to enter an alternative dark, enthralling world on which you can close the doors by closing the book?

As I said, a lack of imagination in the male of the species is not, in my humble opinion, a valid reason; a case I believe the likes of Hans Christian Anderson, the Grimm Brothers, C.S Lewis, Roald Dahl, Philip Pullman, J.R.R. Tolkien and yours truly would argue (I couldn’t resist my one and only chance to include myself with those greats!) Are some boys raised to believe, quite wrongly, that reading is a waste of time; a stroll in fantasy-land best left to others while they ply their trades and reap their corn. If so, that, too, needs to change as it creates another world of inequality. They should be allowed to take the mountain passes not just the motorways.

I don’t claim to know the answer. If this has provided food for thought, please let me have your thoughts via this blog and my website.

8 thoughts on “Men and women – fact or fiction?”

  1. I think this is very true although I’ve never really thought about it before. The vast majority of my male friends read non-fiction and only a few read novels that I know of, whereas I always swap book recommendations with my girlfriends.

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  2. Maybe it’s because women have more need to escape from the life’s daily trials and tribulations but I don’t really see why that would be. I wonder if everyone is reading more these days in order to escape from this endless lockdown and global pandemic we find ourselves in?

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    • Thank you for your comments. I think this split of the reading demographic was in place long before the pandemic, though I agree figures show the number of people reading has definitely increased. I can only hope it has a positive impact. out of the evil…

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  3. Very interesting blog, thank you! Ian McEwan once wrote: “When women stop reading, the novel will be dead“. One theory is that women are more empathetic than men, and possess a greater emotional range—traits that make fiction more appealing to them.

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    • I agree totally that without the female readership the novel would struggle as an art form. Isn’t it interesting though that it was a guy who made that comment – a male author. Bears out my observations on some ways. Maybe we’re just more in need of an audience! Thank you for reading and commenting.

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  4. This has just come up as a very interesting time, as I am currently on a weekend away with some of my book club friends to attend the Perth Writers’ Festival (as we do every year.) Yesterday we attended a session with Julia Gillard (Australia’s first female prime minister) about a book she has written about female leaders. So last night (over a few wines!) we had lots of discussions over gender differences and stereotypes. Our bookclub is all female, and we do talk about lots of things other than books. Getting away from partners for an evening is a big part of it too!
    In my experience, I agree with what you say here. Jeff reads, but I think he feels reading for a couple of hours during the day is a bit of a waste of time, whereas I don’t. Any excuse!
    Very interesting article xx

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    • I really appreciate your comments and you taking the time to read this. There is probably no definitive answer. I did just make the observation in response to someone else’s comment here that maybe men need an audience more! However, I’m deliberately being a bit flippant, though there is probably an element of truth. I found I became suddenly inspired to start writing more when I was hit my 40s. Maybe life, in terms of my career anyway, had got as far as it was going to and I needed another outlet for my imagination. Also, as a large chunk of my life was spent without a father around, maybe I absorbed the empathetic side of my mum and sister. Who knows?
      I’m glad life is treating you well!

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