What Are You Reading?

Back on Monday morning, I could not resist:

[Market Square, Potton, Bedfordshire, June 17, 2019.]

Walking to nearby Potton‘s town center (or “centre” as they say here), I felt I had to snap a photo of some local interest. I went back afterwards to working more on the winding down of the new novel. And then, on Tuesday, I decided it was also well past time:

[New Instagram profile, June 18, 2019.]

Yep, I have finally changed my Instagram profile. I don’t think I’d changed it very much… well, in years… and I have even changed the tagline at the top of the blog here too. Making those changes, naturally I also thought about my current manuscript as well as my previous novels.

“Rule 1” I would urge for anyone who wants to write: admit frankly to yourself who you are. That must be your starting point. Considering myself “harshly” in that way, from the outset I have felt I am not particularly “representative” of male fiction writers of the present.

For starters, one of my favorite novels is one you would probably recognize… and it might – or it might not, if you read me – surprise you:

Most others I have read tend to be authored by – to be honest – writers who are now also dead. Some of those dead writers have also been dead, uh, for quite a long time. And probably a majority of those writers of those novels were men:

As I think about that now, I suppose that is because most prominent and living male writers – Gaiman is one example – now write the sorts of stories I have NEVER liked to read. That has made its impacts on me. Despite being a man I have not wanted to write similar types of stories.

[Photo of my Microsoft Surface, taken June 19, 2019. Text Copyright Β© Me, 2019.]

Compared to a few decades ago, prominent male authors now seem to steer clear of romantic historical non-magically-reliant fiction. I am not sure why that is. I suppose that fact therefore also marks me as something of a literary dinosaur throwback.

However, women do still write realistic fiction – and millions of women still read those books and I suspect I get some small benefit from that reality. Most of my readers are women and that is fine by me. For as this 2017 HuffPo piece tells us:

In general, women are more likely to read books at all than men, with the average woman reading 14 books a year, compared with nine books for the average man. Women prefer to read fiction, while men are more likely to read non-fiction books.

And there is really nothing new in any of that. In the 1920s F. Scott Fitzgerald, for one, believed the bulk of his readers were women; and I’m more than happy to be in HIS company at least in that sense. For 200 years (at least in America, Britain, and France) it has been well known women have been novel readers far more than men.

There is also a gulf in the more specific genres that men and women choose, with men tending to read history, biographies and memoir and science fiction, while women are more likely to choose mystery, thriller and crime, romance and other fiction.

In summary, men who read lean towards preferring “James Bond” novels (which are a combination of fictionalized biography, war and spy stuff, and fantasy), World War II histories, biographies (of “great men”), and Game of Thrones (which is outright fantasy).

I haven’t actually read an Ian Fleming β€œBond” novel; but I do enjoy the films.

Far more important to my outlook and background as an author is I have read LOTS of non-fiction over the decades, and that is probably why I am drawn to write fiction as if it really happened: modeled on biography and history.

But having to read… ***fantasy*** like Game of Thrones? Not if I can somehow avoid it. I would much rather spend my time reading an actual history book about, say, uh, actual Vikings plundering actual European coastlines and carrying off actual maidens. (Actually, along the coast of Gaul which evolved into France, where Vikings wreaked havoc for a couple of centuries, the Scandinavians eventually settled down and married and stayed; it might be said French women calmed them down and turned them into farmers and fishermen, but I digress.) As a kid, I loved to watch the original Star Trek, but my favorite episodes were always the ones where Kirk encounters Abraham Lincoln or is otherwise caught up in actual history.

A survey of 40,000 members of Goodreads book review website exposed a sharp gender divide, finding that both men and women leaned almost entirely towards selecting books by writers of their own gender. Male authors accounted for 90 percent of men’s 50 most-read titles in 2014, while of the 50 books published in 2014 that were most read by women, 45 were by women.

That is not a surprise either. Women tend to read female writers. Men – when they do read – tend to read male writers.

That reality, though, always depresses me concerns me about my longer-term prospects (if I have any).

I have long understood – although I don’t think I have ever noted it here before – that given my subject matter a lot more women are going to have to read my books to make up for that fact that any numbers of men probably never will.

“We found that men do not regard books as a constant companion to their life’s journey, as consolers or guides, as women do,” said researcher Professor Lisa Jardine. “They read novels a bit like they read photography manuals.”

Personally I cannot recall having ever read a “photography manual” and I’m not even sure what she is really referring to there. Maybe she meant to say: “they read novels a bit like they read directions for putting together self-assembly IKEA furniture?” Regardless I think we catch her drift.

However, some signs point to a shrinking of the gap between what men and women choose to read, with reports suggesting that women are increasingly reading fantasy fiction, as they have grown up enjoying series such as Harry Potter, The Hunger Games and Divergent.

Which I believe more than anything else says far more about women authors moving into “fantasy” and bringing with them some women new readers where male authors and male readers had long dominated. I detect no similar “reverse” trend regarding male authors and male readers moving into genres previously dominated by women. So that above means almost nothing for (the few) male authors such as myself.

The only book mentioned there that I have even tried to read was Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone… and only because my wife had loved it. Honestly, I made it through only a few exasperating pages before I gave up. I admit here to thinking: “I’m not age 11 any longer and I never liked this stuff even when I was age 11.” So whether written by a man (say, Gaiman) or by a woman (say, Rowling), I am still mostly uninterested in fantasy reading and I cannot even imagine trying to write a fantasy tale.

What we also are seeing now is that those who appear to chat the most on social media about their fiction reading seem be – surprise, surprise – women, much one supposes as that researcher above noted in 2017 about women seeing “books as a constant companion to their life’s journey…”

[From Instagram. As you see, I “liked” her post.]

I see too this continuing trend among my blog followers and even many “passing-thru” post “likers.”

1) Women are often avid and passionate readers, and overwhelmingly they are the ones who run book blogs and write stories and poems they may post online.

2) Men are too, and do that sort of posting, uh, also; but there do not appear to be nearly as many of them.

In the end, and it may sound trite, but it is true: as a writer you must be true to yourself. If you aren’t, why bother writing? Moreover trying to be what you are not won’t work anyway: readers I believe can detect a phoney from as far away as, uh, Hogwarts. πŸ˜‰

Have a good day, wherever you are and whatever you are reading in the world. πŸ™‚

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