Absent Without Reading

I’ve been blogging for a year and, among other things, the experience has inflamed a nagging question: Why do women read more than men?

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.


Jeanne Damoff said...

To give men a bit of a break, I think society pushes them toward a) sports, and b) being providers. Neither are bad things (especially b--why do you think women have so much time to read?), but both pursuits deplete a man's discretionary time.

My husband is a big reader, but he mostly prefers nonfiction: biographies, history, theology, and truckloads of scientific journals. He does have his favorite novelists, but they're a throw back to his English minor in college (e.g., Chaim Potok, Joseph Conrad, Hemingway, Herman Melville, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle), not contemporary authors. He reads the occasional current novel when one of our adult kids or I recommend them.

TV is a major culprit for both sexes. The Victorian woman in your first photo would most likely be watching Oprah if she were alive today. Men weary from a long day's work often just want to veg in front of the tube, not stir their emotions or stimulate their imaginations.

I take comfort in knowing that literacy is still alive and well in the upcoming generation. My college-aged son and his friends are voracious fiction readers, and not just material of the required variety. Even so, the facts remain. Men don't read as much fiction as women.

Maybe when your books hit the shelves they'll cause a mass revival of muscular readership, Mike. One can hope, eh? :)

Katie Hart said...

An addition reason females dominate ACFW is that not so long ago it was ACRW - and if few men read fiction, even fewer read (and write) romance.

The Faith in Fiction community seems to have a healthy percentage of guys - perhaps because it's headed up by a guy?

Anonymous said...

My husband read his first novel in...well, I can't remember the last time I saw him read a novel. Maybe when we were newlyweds in the early 80's.

I had been carping on how he'd play video games, play role playing games, and that while he'd get story in those venues, he didn't read fiction. Yes, non-fiction, stuff for work, stuff for self-edification, theological stuff for Bible study, but not FICTION. As his wife is trying to be a "viable" writer, this irked.

So, he read a novel and he enjoyed it. And he's read a few short stories. He's not ebullient about it, but he's read some. :)

My brother reads Field and Stream and other fishing magazines. Occasionally the paper. Sometimes an article in National Geographic. That's it.

My BILs: One I've never seen reading. The other reads in secret, far as I can tell.

But the women in my family usually have a book nearby, whether to read to the kids, read with the kids, or a romance novel or bestseller that caught the eye.

I own a few thousand books. I make up for the boys in the family, I guess. :)

Hey, thanks for linking to Speculative Faith. We are trying to make it a good hangout on the blogosphere. :)


Mike Duran said...

Thanks for the comments, girls! Jeanne, I think your observation about gender roles used to be more true. With so many women working outside the home nowadays, having time to read still seems like a big challenge.

Katie, I agree with you about Faith in Fiction. In writing this post, I checked through their members list. It's definitely NOT as disproportionate as most, but still lady-leaning. I don't know if the answer's as simple as that it's hosted by a man, though. Perhaps it's because Dave tends to be rather cebebral in his posts...

Mir, I really hope your new site does well. Maybe as I delve into spec-fic more, you might consider adding another male. Blessings all!

Mirtika said...

If you ever have a post idea that's very specific to christian SF, we have made it part of our mission to allow guest voices. :)

I'm hoping Elliot from Claw of the Conciliator will one day guest blog. I'd step aside on one of my Fridays for that guy. And if you ever have a killer one you think is right for SF, let us know, babes.

Did you behold the amazing loveliness that is now Mirathon? Yeah!


Carol Collett said...

Hey Mike, I've often wondered the same thing about guys. My husband reads, but mostly non-fiction. He will very occassionally read fiction.
Oh, I second Mir-I'll give up a Wendesday for you on Speculative Faith.

jimmmaaa said...

Hi Mike,

I just discovered your blog because of the interview did with Jared from Thinklings....I like your blog and especially this entry. I think you hit a nail on the head in your last paragraph. I think there are many reasons that Men don't step to to the plate in leadership, but I think one is that, to generalize, is due the the feminization of society. I'm not putting woman down, I just think as a society, women & girls have been highlighted and men and boys have not....sometimes it is extreme. Men have a role in this as well as the have "let" it happen.

Just of the other day I was watching a little documentary called the "The Trouble with Boys." It was about how education is failing boys. There has been some popluar writers who have resonated with men, Robert Bly, and John Eldridge and I would say there is a reason for this. On a general level men/boys are not valued for their masculinity. Feminity is put on a pedestal and masculinity is somewhat seen as bad or negative.

I have a lot to say on this, but must get back to work. I will be adding you to Bloglines account.

Ame said...

My pastor occasionally says, when he's "guessing" at how something might have been yet there is nothing to support it, and he always states such ... he will say, "You can't prove that I'm right; but you can't prove that I'm wrong, either!"

You know ... women think they want to be men ... but then they want men to be real men ... then they complain when men are real men ... then they complain when they aren't "sensitive," ... really ... women simply can't find anything to make them happy ... especially when trying to make a man into their happiness ... lots of sad and lonely women still trying to make men what they want them to be and it's not working ... goes back to the basics ... happiness is only found in God ... not in forcing a man to become her "gimme" god - her be all to end all - will only happen in her warped fantasies ... never in reality.

Becky said...

Mike, I noticed the trend in Christian SFF to include women, too. It still has more men readers than most, I think. In our latest CSFF blog tour, we had a 2 to 1 ratio, women to men, among participants.

I suspect the causes are complex, but I can't help but think the publishing industry has nearly given up on male fiction readers. It's a troubling trend, I think. Fiction is a primary way we pass on our mores. So where are men learning what is societially appropriate?