Sunday, January 24, 2010

Sunday Salon - January 24

In light of the football season winding down (you will soon find me reading much more once there are no games to watch), I thought it might be fun to have a Super Bowl of sorts between what constitutes women's literature and what makes a book a "guy" book. Isn't it interesting that, while there is a genre called "women's literature," there is not genre titled "men's literature."
Certainly there are plenty of men out there that read literature. And there are, to be sure, books that are primarily aimed at a male audience. Are they never considered "literature?" Or is it a matter of women being just as likely to read what might qualify as "mens' literature" as a man whereas men rarely venture into the world of women's literature? I know a lot of women who have read a lot of Cormac McCarthy but no men who read Sophie Kinsella, for example.











Is it really a case of "men are from Mars, women are from Venus?" Do books which aim at our emotional core (such as Jodi Piccoult's do) appeal more to the more emotion-driven females and books which are more action driven (such as Robert Parker's) appeal more to the psyche of men?









I wanted to do a little research into this to see if I could some up with some answers to these questions. Guess what? No matter what search query I put in, I couldn't find a single article or site that explored this issue. Even when I tried to simply look for information on "writing for men" or "writing for women" I got nothing. Zip. Zilch. Is it even possible that no one has explored this?

Has it simply been a marketing thing? "Let's see. This book is full of action and has a lot of male characters. Therefore, we will market it to men. We will give it a dark cover and a tough name." Or "This book is focuses on relationships and it's very character driven. It must be for women so we will put pink on the cover and give it a gripping (or quirky) title." Surely that's not the case.

So what do you think? Is there any such a thing as "guy-lit?" Shawn Klomperan's "Two Years, No Rain" certainly struck me as "guy-lit" since it's protagonist was male and the book primarily focused on the relationships in his life. But I don't know very many guys to whom I would recommend the book. Is that being sexist? Is the assumption that guys are more likely to enjoy a sports book sexist? And why is it that even women, for whom "chick-lit" is clearly written, are often embarrassed to say that they read it and often won't read it in public?

This is starting to read like the book that was recently released that is composed entirely of questions. It's actually not what I imagined the post would be like when I started typing. But I find that I've got more questions than answers. Help!

Speaking of Robert Parker, both he and his fellow Cambridge, Massachusetts native son, Erich Segal (of Love Story fame) passed away this week. Segal has not written a best-seller since Love Story but Parker has continued to be successful and I know many people, my mom among them, are sad to know there will be no more adventures of Jesse Stone or Spenser (does this guy even have a first name?) and no more wonderful western tales.

14 comments:

  1. You bring up some great questions here, ones for which I do not have the answers. I wonder if there is not a bit of assumption on the part of publishers that all books are for men unless they change the title or make the cover obviously girlie. Maybe it really is as simple as using a dark cover and blocky font for men's literature and a pastel cover and flowery font for women's literature, as you mentioned.

    Another thought, other than specific genres, like romance and science fiction, can't all literature be considered gender-neutral? Literature by its very definition does not fall into one category or another. They are attractive to all genders and all ages for very different reasons. Definite food for thought.

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  2. Interesting points. I'm sorry to say that judging from book covers, your fifth paragraph has answered your question. For the most part. Things will always be marketed to sell the biggest number. And it seems that whatever works once, goes for always. Forty years ago or now. The same silly pink covers or the same half clad or standing with her legs apart women on the covers. It works for the mindless majority so it's what we get.
    A survey of every male in my family (except my son) shows that they don't read fiction-at all. They consider it a waste of time.
    When you force them to tell you the real reason, they invariably refer to bad experiences in school that put them off reading. I don't now what we can do about it. Except make sure we raise our own children to love reading for pleasure. Just my two cents worth.
    Enjoy the rest of your day.

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  3. This is a really good question. Personally I think there are books that appeal more to men, even though women read them, like crime thrillers and courtroom dramas and murder mysteries. Much like movies although we all go to them too! Maybe that says more about women since they won't read chick-lit although you do often see them dragged to girl movies on a date :)

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  4. Interesting that I was thinking of something similar as I looked at all the books donated to the nursing home library. We received a quite a few books with tanks and fighter jets on the cover - which I would assume would be 'male-oriented themes' and yet I would guess that less than 5% of the residents are male.

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  5. I'm not surprised that you couldn't find anything on this!! LOL...I don't think most men would read an emotional book about women. I know my husband won't!! Isn't it strange though how women will read just about anything?

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  6. Very interesting! We have two men in our book group (out of 22 people) and they often complain that the books that we choose are geared towards women. If you've seen our reading list, it's anything BUT women's lit.

    We've asked them countless times to suggest books that they believe will appeal to males and interestingly enough, they do not pick action packed novels or thrillers. They pick books that are very similar to the ones we would have picked.

    So, is it just a guy thing? If they pick it, then that makes it okay? I'm not sure. I can't believe no one has looked into this. You should write an article about it.

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  7. Very interesting topic. I recently was surprised when two of the men I work were reading The Lovely Bones, I read it years ago and didn't really think it was a "guy" book. And now I've borrowed it from one of them to reread it with my book club. I've recommended books to men and often wondered about what appeals to them...besides the basic spy/cowboy type book. Maybe I'll ask a few that I know who read.

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  8. I think it's marketing and "who's" reading the book that catagorizes it. My aunt gets recommendations for books from my blog and buys the books for my uncle and he reads them and is none the wiser. He likes historic fiction and doesn't know that all the female book bloggers are "talking" about those books. But, maybe more men will expand their horizons if they read on digital readers (if they read in public) or didn't feel that reading Jodi Picoult books or Sarah's Key would make them look like pansies to their guy friends.

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  9. I think it's marketing and "who's" reading the book that catagorizes it. My aunt gets recommendations for books from my blog and buys the books for my uncle and he reads them and is none the wiser. He likes historic fiction and doesn't know that all the female book bloggers are "talking" about those books. But, maybe more men will expand their horizons if they read on digital readers (if they read in public) or didn't feel that reading Jodi Picoult books or Sarah's Key would make them look like pansies to their guy friends.

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  10. I think it's marketing and "who's" reading the book that catagorizes it. My aunt gets recommendations for books from my blog and buys the books for my uncle and he reads them and is none the wiser. He likes historic fiction and doesn't know that all the female book bloggers are "talking" about those books. But, maybe more men will expand their horizons if they read on digital readers (if they read in public) or didn't feel that reading Jodi Picoult books or Sarah's Key would make them look like pansies to their guy friends.

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  11. But then, think about it, the AFL season is not that far away!
    If you weren't careful you could find yourself watching some kind of footy almost all year!
    Oh goodness me, guy lit (if you can call it literature) is stuff like Wilbur Smith and Dale Brown. Yuk. Yuk.
    I can't be a very macho man, I've never once read a "sports book"

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  12. I definitely think there is "man-lit" out there, it's just not necessary to really advertise it as such. I would put the following books into that classification: war/battle books (esp. those that are are detailing specific battles and tactics), westerns (although I do like some Louis L'Amour books I would hazard a guess that the bulk of the Western reader audience is male), and some action/thrillers.

    I tried reading a Clive Cussler book once and had to set it down because I was rolling my eyes at everything that the main character said, how he was described, and how he viewed himself as God's gift to women. It was definitely a "man's" book.

    I think the biggest reason you don't see things marketed as "man-lit" is that publishers don't want to be seen as discriminating. So why do they then market chick-lit? I think probably because men aren't going to be offended by being excluded from the marketing from these books. And I'm not talking about regular literature here, but the really fluffy chick-lit like Sophie Kinsella books (or even ranging into Harlequin romance-type books).

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  13. Great post! I've been told that I read men's books because I like authors like George Pelecanos. I do read chick lit, too, though. I think part of it men don't read as much as women do.

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  14. Very interesting - I was just thinking about the seeming double standard regarding "dude lit" vs "chick lit" as I was finishing up Jess Walter's "The Financial Lives of the Poets" the other day. Let me explain: That book and Jonathan Tropper's "This Is Where I Leave You" could almost certainly be classified as the "dude lit" or "lad lit" (depending on which side of the pond you're from), and both of those books showed up on many Best of 2009 lists and thus could presumably fit into the category of "contemporary literature." Jodi Picoult, possibly, but will Jennifer Weiner or Sophie Kinsella ever wind up on those lists? Highly doubtful.

    Maybe women enjoy Tropper and Walter much more than men enjoy Weiner or Kinsella? Not sure...Any thoughts?

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