Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Gendered Aspects of Who Reads Whom

Time Magazine online, on 12/1/14, in an article titled “Survey: Readers Prefer Books Written by Authors of Their Own Gender,” by Eliana Dockterman, reported on a Goodreads poll of readers in England. The poll indicated that 90 percent of the most-read books by each gender were by authors of that same gender. I find this discouraging but not very surprising. And yet I acknowledge (and I have written about this before here) that after my high school, college, and graduate school years, during which most of the literature assigned in my classes was by male authors, I began to read more and more novels, stories, plays, and poetry by women, in a burst of discovery. I felt I was making up for lost time, balancing out the canon, and relating more directly to the works with female perspectives. And ever since then, I have read more fiction by women than by men. But there are many male authors whose work I also read, value, admire, and treasure. Contemporary male writers in this category include William Trevor, Ian McEwan, Colm Toibin, Richard Russo, Julian Barnes, Andrew Sean Greer, Tom Rachman, and Stewart O’Nan, to name just a few. But back to the survey: What does this division mean? Maybe it is natural? But surely the point is that we publish and read the best of what is written, giving everyone wonderful choices? On the other hand, we know that “the best of what is written” is at least partially subjective, and influenced by who has power in the publishing world and elsewhere. This is a complex and vexed topic, and I am not entirely sure of the ins and outs of my own views on it. I will conclude with another intriguing piece of information found by the Goodreads survey: Both genders rated books by women more highly than those by men.
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