The Reading Minority

Blogger John Guillen touches on a reality. Most of us indeed have noticed it. It’s tough not to:

….I know some of you are really interested in BookTube and similar Instagram accounts, but I want to ask you something. When you think of your favorite book accounts on any social platform, who’s running it? Is it a man or woman.

In my experience I’ve found that girls are far more likely to be running these types of accounts. I’ve also found that they’re far more likely to gain a following through them. Maybe men are expected to be talking about sports or politics or something more manly, but some things I just don’t understand….

….But I’d just like to ask why it’s so odd for a guy to enjoy reading. Should he be reading comics instead? Or should he be in the gym working to improve his overall health? Reading is one of many forms of entertainment (and much more to many) that people enjoy. I don’t know why it needs to be for one sex over another….

The issue of who reads fiction seems a perennial one. Every author craves to know generally who their audience is. Social media has also now allowed us more insights into that question than ever before.

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of books.
Free Stock Photo: Illustration of books.

Thinking back, I recall my late mother was a novel reader. A happy memory for Mother’s Day: I remember her with some huge – literally enormous-length – novels. In the late 1980s, for example, she read Karleen Koen’s historical romance of 17th and early 18th centuries’ England and France, Through a Glass Darkly. I remember Koen’s book – Mom had the hardcover – being about 5,000 pages long or something and Mom reading it cover to cover.

In contrast, my father read newspapers and history books. I don’t recall ever seeing Dad, a sheet metal and construction worker, reading a novel. Nowadays, he’s long-retired, and the print newspaper has given way to the PC and iPad (he is quite tech-savvy for 74); but I suspect he still wouldn’t know a fiction book if it ran over him.

Frankly, his brother-in-law being a crime novelist had always baffled Dad. Novelists were always someone else – someone a bit oddbod and “artsy.” It wasn’t “us.”

I grew up more influenced by Dad than I’d realized at the time. My first non-juvenile book was one of his: a paperback he owned of Thucydides. Yes, really. I was a bit of a history nerd as a kid, I admit it.

Another (nice) memory of my now late mother from my teen years. I remember accidentally overhearing her half-crying and laughing – a weird combination, my 14 year old mind had thought at the time – with Dad as they privately (they thought) discussed the girl who, a day or two before, had come over to our house for the first time:

Excerpt from "Frontiers," on the iPad app for Kindle. Click to expand.
Excerpt from “Frontiers,” on the iPad app for Kindle. Click to expand.

Much more recently, as a middle-aged adult when I realized I wanted to write novels (“If my uncle can do it,” I’d thought, “why can’t I?”), I came to see this possibility: I’d write “romances” about fictionalized characters in history, including women as main ones.

I once noted on here that I had read (I can’t find the link just now) that F. Scott Fitzgerald – if I dare refer to myself in the same paragraph as him – had been aware that the majority of his readers were women. Three novels finished myself now, and who are my readers? Thanks to social media, as near as I can tell you are overwhelmingly….women.

A bit of humor in my family growing up as well was my father decided if there should be U.S. troops sent to keep the peace in the former Yugoslavia, while my mother made sure the electric bill was paid. Many of you have similar stories, I’m sure. Anyone who reads novels does seem more interested in exploring close relationships rather more than following “faceless” armies marching on some distant capital. And it does appear that today, a lot like nearly a century ago in Scott Fitzgerald’s 1920s, most of those who do are still women.

Happy Mother’s Day, wherever you are in the world. 🙂

2 thoughts on “The Reading Minority

  1. Male alert! I considered this worry when I wrote my last novel, Harry the Louse. Although the title character is male, it is generally a book aimed a female audience. I was concerned at how my intended readers would feel about a male author writing ‘their book’. I choose to write it seemingly as if I were a woman! I thought it safer. The world of literature is a funny old world sometimes.

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