Of course, there are many variables to the query. After all, men do read. Things like Maxim, the Wall Street Journal and Sports Illustrated are predominantly aimed at and consumed by males. So perhaps the question should be rephrased: Why do women read more fiction than men?
The assertion that women read more fiction than their gallant counterparts is probably beyond dispute. In the recent issue of Writer’s Digest (August 2006), in an article entitled “Do Men Read?” Maria Schneider puts it bluntly:
Conventional publishing industry wisdom has it that guys just don’t buy fiction. Men account for only 20 percent of novel sales...
And then, quoting Karen Holt, deputy editor of Publishers Weekly:
“The gap starts early, as girls in elementary and middle school read a lot more than boys, picking up a lifelong habit that most men never develop. Whether by cause or effect, most novels are published with women in mind.”
Proposed answers to this enigma range from bio- logical, to socio- logical, to emotive. In the afore- mentioned article, one author suggests that men do not read fiction because they don’t want to deal with “complicated, painful internal conflict” – and I must admit that the thought of reading most current fiction provokes those feelings in me. Some offer that “women tend to be shoppers” making even the casual female reader susceptible to a well-marketed book. (Does this explain all the pastel, flowery, cut-and-paste chick lit covers?) And there's other, more and less nuanced opinions.
Maybe we’ll never know the exact reasons, but for me it’s disheartening. Either I am metrosexual, a genetic anomaly, or most men are Neanderthals (a distinct possibility, aptly reinforced by my co-workers). Whatever the case, I’m in that 20 percent.
Blogging has affirmed this uncomfortable reality – and here I’m speaking entirely from my own experience. The circles I traffic in – mainly writers blogs – are anchored by women.
For instance, Penwrights (the critique group I’m involved with) is predominantly female. Currently there’s 4 men (3 of which rarely participate) and over a dozen women. This percentage seems to hold up across the board. For instance, I’ll be attending the ACFW conference in Dallas this September. A writer friend casually mentioned in conversation that, because there are so few men who attend these things, the ones who do get more attention (I must remember to bring extra cologne and breath mints). Furthermore, the Board of Directors for the ACFW, the largest association of Christian writers in the universe, consists of 6 women, and the Advisory Board, 6 women and 1 man (hey, 1 outta 13 ain't bad, even though it seems token). The Master’s Artist , one of my frequent cyber stops, is comprised of 8 women and 3 men. Charis Connection maintains a similar pace with 12 women and 5 men making up their contributors. A terrific new team blog, Speculative Faith, which includes some friends of Decompose, Mir and Becky, follows a similar differential at 6 to 1 (an interesting fact, considering that the site explores speculative fiction, a genre which was once considered akin to a men's only club).
But this discrepancy appears to apply primarily to writer’s blogs. Sites like Thinklings and Evangelical Outpost, which delve deeply into theology and culture, appear to lean towards a predominantly male readership. And perhaps that’s the divide. Men read -- they just don't read fiction.
Okay, so I'm thinking out loud. Maybe I'm wrong for even asking the question; I mean, I sure don't mind the company. But one of the reasons this bothers me is the nagging sense that men are always behind the eight ball, sloughing off their role of leadership, relinquishing higher callings to lesser passions. Perhaps this doesn't apply directly to reading, but I suspect it's in the mix. Until it can be proved otherwise, I'll continue to believe that most men are AWOR: Absent Without Reading.