I Am Not a Target Market: What Are Men Reading?

Hello, welcome to an A Certain Bent Appeal mini-series devoted to studying the reading habits of men.

I know, men are not a particularly exotic species (unless you work in publishing). However, I posted a review two weeks ago of The Time Traveler's Wife and labeled it 'women's fiction.' Well! Several of you commented/tweeted me to say that you knew a dude or were a dude who had liked the book very much, please and thanks.

I responded that though the novel may not have been written specifically for women it had indeed been marketed primarily towards women, an idea that only intensified with the arrival of the film adaptation.

I started to think about several articles I'd encountered in the past few months that seemed to point to a sort of alienation of men from reading or at least how women read. I remembered the intense debate on BookNinja as to whether there was truly reason to belittle women's fiction. I recalled a profile of a Toronto all-male book club in The Globe and Mail (whose members seemed to be able to barely contain their disdain for women's fiction and female book clubs). There was also a great essay in the last issue of The Walrus about science fiction and for the (male) writer that they served in his youth as an escape from the messy complications of male-female relations (classic sci-fi has few female characters and even less room for sentimentality).

Then there was that article in The Telegraph last year. It cited a recent study that claimed that women were more avid readers than men - more than half of women surveyed completed a book soon after starting compared to 26% of men. Also, the men of the group were twice as likely to read only one or two books a year.

This opened a whole can of question-worms for me. What do men read these days? Do they read fiction? How often do they read and what determines their reading habits? Were they early readers and if so did the habit evolve or stall as they grew up?

There's also talk that fiction has become a female domain - women are more likely to host book clubs, to read magazines that review books (whether it be ELLE or otherwise), to blog about books etc. Women's fiction, chick lit and YA are huge genres and backed with a healthy amount of advertising/marketing. Where do guys figure into this? Or do they read it, too?

So, tomorrow you'll get meet Eric Rountree, a bookseller hailing from Halifax, Nova Scotia. It stands to reason he'd read but what? Find out tomorrow.

More profiles to follow next week. Hey, and if you're a guy email me, tweet me, comment below, hell even call me at home (actually, don't do that) and let me ask you questions. I am very nice and I will send you my patented 'good vibes' via air mail direct.


Lindsey said...

I am my husbands fingers for the moment (his are busy killing internet dragons on WOW). My husband reads almost as much as I do, which means we do a lot of damage to our credit card on our weekly Chapters excursions. I would say we both average one to three books a week. His favorite authors are all from the fantasy or sci-fi genre. His favorite author of all time is Terry Pratchett but it goes without saying that he also loves, J.R.R. Tolken, and Robert Jordan. Due to his love for gaming he also enjoys anything from the Warhammer series (despite the very cheesy covers). Occasionally he even picks up a book or series I love and gives it a try. He enjoyed the first few Laurell K Hamilton books (which I love) but when it got to sexual he stated, "That woman has no idea what men are really like." The only book we have both read and liked are, Interview With The Vampire, The Vampire Lestat, and The Queen Of The Damned. My husband does make fun of a lot of the books I read because he feels vampires would never sparkle, werewolves would eat humans not love them, and hot men with wings just can't be manly. We both love authors who's books blend the otherworldly with our world but he just appreciates it more when its done in a logical way!

On a side note I have a really hard time enjoying books that are written by men (aside from Tolken, Scott Westerfeld, and Garth Nix). Maybe men have a hard time connecting with the characters written by women?

Heather said...

I am always on the prowl for books for my hubby. He is big on Sci-fi . He also likes an long time series 'the Destroyer' by Warren Murchpy & Richard sapir (described to me as men's romance). He reads these ones again and again. In the last few years he has read more non-fiction, particularly anything to do with rockets and their design.

He was quite take with a Nevil Shute book that I gave him last year (No Highway) he could hardly put it down.

Not really sure what it takes in a book to attract him. Seems to be hit and miss.

John Mutford said...

I don't feel my reading choices are typical for men (i.e., I don't read a great deal of westerns, sci-fi, fantasy or other genre fiction and I read more fiction than than nonfiction, which I've heard is also atypical.) But then, I don't read much stereotypical female books either (not many romances, no Shopaholic, and no Austen either). Somewhere down the middle for me, but just to keep myself well-rounded I do on occasion try from any of the above).

I was surprised, however, when I compiled my end of year reading lists last year that a great deal more of my picks had been by male authors. Maybe it was purely coincidental, maybe my subconscious had something to do with it!

Clare said...

Two guys I know who read A LOT both work at book stores. Dan Evans at The Bookshelf in Guelph and David Worsley at Words Worth Books in Waterloo. They always have great recommendations and have very different tastes from each other. Either one of them would be a great interview for this.

Scrat said...

My husband and I are both readers but he tends to read more non-fiction than fiction -- most political and historical works -- John Ralsten Saul, Linda McQuaig, Robert Fisk, Will Durant, Edward Said, Noam Chomsky--and in terms of fiction he has enjoyed Alan Cumyn, Joseph Boyden and for some historical mind-candy, Colleen McCullough's Rome series.

B.Kienapple said...

A lot of food for thought here. Three questions arise in my mind
1) What is it about classic sci-fi that attracts a male audience - is it the gadgetry, the classic male heroes, the world building?
2) Are men socially conditioned not to read fiction or do most men really not prefer it?
3) Why do men prefer male writers? This may seem obvious but I want more explanation.

SO if any of you would like to volunteer your sci-fi fanatic or non-fiction reading husband for an interview here I would be MOST obliged!

August said...

I can't speak for all men, but:

1) What is it about classic sci-fi that attracts a male audience - is it the gadgetry, the classic male heroes, the world building?

Some of this question, I think, precedes from a misunderstanding of 'classic' sci-fi. Yes, some of it is John Carter of Mars stuff, strong, smart white men fighting and conquering and getting the girl with his fancy gadgets. But the vast majority of the truly great, classic works aren't like that at all.

What Asimov's Foundation books or Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle have to say about the individual's relationship to history or how we construct identities through memory makes most of our sepia-toned CanLit doorstops look like See Spot Run by comparison, in terms of the ideas behind them, if not the prose stylings. What their prose sometimes lacks, their intellectual/philosophical sophistication more than makes up for.

The gadgets, the world building, and so on, are all tools for expressing those ideas in the best SF.

As for the great men (unless you're reading Heinlein, often you'll find the protagonists are weak, paranoid, people caught up in events they don't understand and can't control--even James Bond is just an insecure alcoholic who gets beat up a *lot*, and immolates his humanity for causes he can only ever see the edge of) I think it relates to a conversation I had with an ex over why men prefer political history over social history, or the Great Men approach. I told her it's because I don't need anybody to tell me what it means to be an ordinary man; I'll be an ordinary nobody my whole life. I want to know that there's something else out there somewhere, for someone.

2) Are men socially conditioned not to read fiction or do most men really not prefer it?

I think a lot of it has to do with social conditioning. There's tremendous pressure to make everything you do quantifiably practical, useful. It may be different with folks who come from more intellectual backgrounds, but despite my parents saying "we're okay if you're digging ditches, as long as you're happy", I still have to justify every single choice I make, from where to live, where to work, who do date, what my hobbies are, the clothes I wear, based on how it affects my bank account. And not just to parents, but to friends, girlfriends, everybody. My ex spent hours in mediation, but when I spent hours reading a novel I was 'wasting time'. Non-fiction at least gives you the illusion of learning something, though I think that if fiction teaches you nothing, you're probably not a very good reader.

3) Why do men prefer male writers? This may seem obvious but I want more explanation.

I don't know that that's necessarily true beyond the casual reader. For years my two favourite novels were by Carol Shields and AS Byatt, and I think most folks know that almost all of Canada's finest short story writers--*our* genre--are women.

That being said, often I need a male view of maleness. Like anybody, I need to look in a book and see myself. I'm not going to get that from Larry's Party (I don't know what Larry is, but he's not a man--he's not a woman, either, he's just some gender neutral thing).

I hope my answers have been at least marginally helpful.

B.Kienapple said...

August you just opened a whole other can of worms - we're going to have to take this over into a Q&A. I'll be in touch...!


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