It’s “common knowledge” that men don’t read books by women. But the truth is a little more complex; in fact, some men do read books by female authors — but it happens to be mostly non-fiction.
So, evidently, I am that relatively rare creature: an man who not only reads many novels by women but often prefers them. I have always been interested in realistic fiction that addresses the human condition and relationships more than the genre fiction most men read (thrillers, mysteries, military strategy, sci-fi, fantasy, etc.). I suppose being an English major in college had something to do with it, but my tastes have always run to “literary fiction.” And a lot of novels in that category are written by women. It would take a concerted effort NOT to read literary fiction by women.
I recall reading my high school girlfriend’s copy of Cosmopolitan magazine way back in the mid-1970s because I wanted to see what they were telling her…about the world, about herself, and about me (or at least guys generally). And I learned a few things. Although I am far from an expert on what makes women tick, I have learned a lot from my relationships and reading since my high school days. Twenty-three years of marriage has been a good education, too. I’ve never thought it was odd to read books by women, and the fact is that I find women more interesting intellectually, psychologically, and emotionally than men. So why wouldn’t I read books by and about them? I want to know what women are thinking and how they look at the world. I want to learn from them. And there is always a lot to learn.
In the past 20 years I have read, enjoyed, and recommended novels by the likes of Barbara Kingsolver, Jane Smiley, Anne Tyler, Alice Munro, Margaret Atwood, Donna Tartt, Sandra Cisneros, and Louise Erdrich. I count some of their novels among my favorites (The Bean Trees, Pigs in Heaven, A Thousand Acres, Moo, Saint Maybe, Ladder of Years, Runaway, Alias Grace, The Secret History, The House on Mango Street, Love Medicine). More recently, I have been impressed by novels and story collections by Ann Patchett, Roxana Robinson, Elena Ferrante, Kate Grenville, Jennifer Haigh, Joan Wickersham, Karen Russell, Jane Gardam, Mary Gaitskill, Amanda Coplin, and Eowyn Ivey.
And 2013 has brought us more good novels by women than ever, making my reading list particularly unmanageable. Currently circling the night table waiting to land are River of Dust by Virginia Pye, A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki, The End of the Point by Elizabeth Graver, The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud, The Celestials by Karen Shepard, Battleborn by Claire Vaye Watkins, You Are One of Them by Elliott Holt, Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi, and the upcoming Cartwheel by Jennifer DuBois. And I’m missing dozens more.
Perhaps my perspective on these particular novels might be of interest to other readers, writers, and publishers. Maybe, just maybe, I will be able to convince some other men to pick up a novel with a woman’s name on the cover. And perhaps they too will discover the pleasures and benefits of reading novels filled with the unique insight, compassion, and sense of humor that only women can provide.