Monday, March 30, 2009
Real Men Read Fiction
by Clare Langley-Hawthorne
As I rushed to finish my current book club book over the weekend (which is, by the way, the terrific Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See) I could sense my husband getting antsy - he kept asking me what I had to 'do' each day and, when I remained vague, he catalogued all the errands and chores that he would be doing. I felt I could hardly confess that apart from playing with the boys, cooking and the like my only plan was to read...because let's face it in my husband's world that was tantamount to doing pretty much 'bugger all'.
So what is it with men and reading?! I did a quick google search before writing this blog and the statistics were depressing - basically the death knell for the male fiction reader has well and truly been rung. I only have to look at most of the men I know to be convinced of this- sure they read (well sometimes) but when they do it's usually non-fiction, and the mere suggestion of forming or joining a book club is met with stony-eyed suspicion. As all the surveys indicate, women are the major purchasers of fiction, they consistently read more books and participate in book groups to the almost complete exclusion of men. So what does this mean for the publishing industry and, is it in part the fault of the industry that men don't want to read much fiction anymore?
The exception to the fiction-free zone for men is (apparently) what some of the articles termed 'manfiction' - you know, the full blooded male adventure thrillers by the likes of James Patterson, Clive Cussler or John Grisham - the kind of stuff that some of my fellow bloggers might write (though I have to confess I doubt any of my stuff would ever be called 'manfiction' by any stretch of the imagination...) When it came to most other forms of fiction, however, (particularly that written by women) the gap soon widens up and this started me wondering: who failed whom? Was it the industry? Writers? Or was it just all the men's fault :)?
I certainly know that when it comes to historical fiction everyone in the industry always says that a strong female protagonist is essential unless you are writing military historicals...Romance, which commands a whopping percentage of the market is pretty much solely for women and when it comes to that dreaded term 'literary fiction' , I think women are also the primary target - for they rule when it comes to book groups (and book groups are probably the only way literary fiction can become commerically successful). So what are you blokes out there going to do about this situation? Do you even care?
If you are a writer, does the fact that so few men read fiction affect your writing? For me I confess I have always assumed that women will be my main readership base (I'm always amazed when I get an email from a male reader who loves my books!) and I probably (though not deliberately) write accordingly. But it depresses me nevertheless - so will one of you endangered male fiction readers out there try and explain to me why you think this is the situation and tell me (reassure me perhaps?) - do you think it's ever going to change?