About — Why is a guy reading nothing but books by women?

June 2013

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.

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29 thoughts on “About — Why is a guy reading nothing but books by women?

  1. Bravo to you! Love the concept of this blog. I myself only spend money on books written by women (I’ll read books by men if someone lends one to me) because I feel that women get much less support from the publishing industry. I’m so glad to see a man publicly showing up the (mistaken?) belief that men don’t care to read (or watch, or listen to) creative works by women.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Bill,
    I am impressed. Great idea. I have many favorite authors and read everything they write, usually multiple times. I like your blog because it will be a source for finding new favorite authors.

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    • Thanks for dropping by my humble little corner of the Internet, Jackie. I use a variety of sources (some public, some publishing industry “insider” sources) to keep up with new and upcoming books. It’s great for a book lover like me to have access to books months ahead of time both by famous authors and by promising or little-known authors. Like any reader, I like to share books I’m excited about. And the blog gives me an opportunity to interview authors. I hope you’ll follow my blog so I can let you know about some of the great books out there.

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  3. Hi Bill! I am totally excited to be following your blog! Such a great little niche you are filling in the world of book reviews. I have strolled through the blog and already have a list of books to download to my nook. Time to get my read on !

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    • Thanks April. I’m glad you dropped by for a look around and that you found some books that sound intriguing. I’m curious as to which books you’re going to read. I should have another review up by the weekend; I’m halfway through Jessica Anya Blau’s hilarious “The Summer of Naked Swim Parties,” about a 14-year-old girl coming of age in Santa Barbara circa 1976. It reminds me of my own high school years, since I was 17 in 1976. What have you read lately that made an impression on you?

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  4. Hi Bill:
    Thanks so much for visiting “Bookshelf: for the intellectually curious” and for the follow. Most of the required reading for high school and college students are novels written by dead white guys. Finally the female writer has a champion! Cheers. Each year a number of books are published about the influence and impact of literature’s great female writers. For example, the recently published “Well-Read Women” focuses on the wisdom of female literary characters coupled with beautiful paintings and drawings. Also, there is no end to books about Jane Austen.

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  5. I suppose to be an active participant within the current societies of the human race, one would read women writers as well as male. I live with, work with and have cavort with women and thus far, as the human race goes, I have no complaints, or prejudices, other than agreeing and sometimes disagreeing with them as I do with males. I think we are all concerned with pertinent thinking as how to survive on planet earth. Have you read any literature aimed at young adults? The list of amazing authors goes on and on. Actually, there may lay many topics concerning the times for the now as well as for the future. Having worked with teenagers both male and female, I have often found myself to be the student rather than the instructor. One learns by listening I champion from experience . Good thoughts, good blog. Thank you Bill. HM

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    • Hi Harold. Great to hear from you on my blog. To answer your question, yes, I have read many YA novels and I have been uniformly impressed with the quality of the writing and the relevance and timeliness of many of these novels. They are a powerful means of communicating important messages (including that they are not alone or the first to feel a certain way) and important information (history, science, culture). John Green (The Fault in Our Stars, Looking for Alaska), Elizabeth Wein (Code Name Verity, Rose Under Fire), and Laura Halse Anderson (Speak, Catalyst, Twisted, Chains, The Impossible Knife of Memory) are personal favorites. This is the golden era of writing for young people, as well for short stories and fiction by women. In short, so many books, so little time. Thanks for following my blog. I hope you’ll continue to share your thoughts. Best regards to you and Sue.

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      • Bill, Thanks so much for the reply. I’m glad you liked the drawing of Claudius. Interesting approach by Graves to write an autobiography in second person. (or was that third?) I think I recall recommending the Roma Sub Rosa Series by Steven Saylor to you. Not deep reading, A bit of gore actually and I usually won’t read violent stories. His character of Gordianus is pleasant.. A Roman Sherlock Holmes keeping things straightened out. Jean Harris lives in San Diego. YA writer. I’ve chatted with her by email. She is female. I’ve only read one of her books. It was a good one, I thought. Adult fiction I go for Paul Russell. He teaches at Vassar and we’ve also chatted. Actually spent the night on campus there many moons ago. War Against the Animals was especially good. And if you’re a San Francisco buff, there’s always Armistead Maupin with his merry mix of characters including male, female, straight and not so straight, young and old. He started out reading his stories on radio in the evening and then grew into a SF icon. And a story I enjoyed was Mutiny on the Bounty by the Irish writer, John Boyne. He also wrote The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. I like his The Absolutionist as well. Sue and I are avid readers. She out reads me two to one. She is fast and I plod along. Together we read around 8-10 books a month then tell each other the stories. Hard to believe Matthew is graduating college. We have a niece that graduated the same college. And Daniel from high school. I’ve heard of his attention to his grandfather in the last days. Thanks again for your reply. I, unfortunately, fall into the category of men who read men but Sue is more likely to follow your site about women. Say hi to your family including my very first girlfriend in kindergarten. I talked to her before Xmas. Harold

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  6. Amused by your interest in women’s books. Well done for sticking to what you believe in and enjoy. Thanks for the great tips about books to read. Found at least three that I want to read in your latest blog post. Have added them to my goodreads want to read. 🙂

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    • Glad we connected, Kelly. Your blog looks intriguing as well. I’ve followed you so I can get a Canadian’s view of things as part of my informational mix. I know more about Canada than most Americans (which isn’t saying much), but could stand to learn a lot more. I’ve visited Vancouver twice (it’s my favorite city after Melbourne and Sydney), as well as Victoria, Toronto, and Montreal. I like CFL and The Tragically Hip, and I’m trying to read more novels by Canadians, so many of which are never published in the US. I loved The Orenda by Joseph Boyden. Keep in touch!

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  7. Bill, I love the idea of your blog! I know you don’t review self-published books, so I won’t ask, but I wanted to say Hats off to you for being so open and honest about enjoying fiction by women. Maybe more men will follow suit!

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  8. Well, as a young woman who writes literary fiction I can only appreciate the concept of this blog and get excited at the prospect of someone being interested in my work or women’s work in general. Hope to keep in touch…

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  9. Very interesting idea! I need to get more books by women on my reading list. The ones I’ve read are great. I am a fan of a couple female authors, but I know of several that I would probably love reading. Definitely following your blog!

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  10. Bravo, Bill and hello! Now let me throw a spanner in the works. Before I published under my own name, I was a ghostwriter. I wrote as men. Beware of the name on the cover, my friends. It may not reflect what’s under the bonnet. Or anywhere else you care to look.
    But let me assure you, in real life I use female protagonists for thoroughly literary purposes and have never possessed a Y chromosome.
    I’m sure my online posse would like to hear about your blog, so I’m off to tweet. Nice to meet you.

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  11. I’ve never selected my reading based on sex. I think I read fiction about equally between the men and women. I tend more toward short stories than novels. When I come across a new short story writer, I like I tend to read all they have written although The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler and the novels of Anita Brookner are favorites.(Hotel du lac is a recommended introduction to Brookner.) But it is Alice Munro who has swept me off my feet more times than I can count. Each of her stories is perfection. Her award of the Nobel Prize for Literature was well deserved. Two recent female writers I have come to enjoy are Jhumpa Lahiri and Lorrie Moore.They are great practitioners of the art of the short story.

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    • Hi Don. It’s nice to know there are some enlightened men out there reading work by women. As you say, few if any writers can match Alice Munro. There is just so much exceptional writing that deserves wider exposure to men. Maybe artwork that isn’t quite so “feminine” and marketing to men would help; this is a frequently discussed issue in the publishing world. Glad to have you on board and hope to hear from you again.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I don’t think that it is that men don’t read female writers because they are women. I think it is because of the subjects men write about. Men tend to read more non-fiction. The fiction they read is writers like Tom Clancy. From the beginning of the novel, novels had a more dedicated female audience. Occasionally there will be novels that have an equally large female and male audience. But mostly I think it is rare.

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