gender differences in reading, revisited

Tom-ay-to, Tom-ah-to

Tom-ay-to, Tom-ah-to

Waaay back in 2006 I posted thoughts on a list I’d seen in The Guardian, from an article about gender differences in reading. In the article, two lists were generated, one a Top 20 favorite novels of men, the other a Top 20 favorite novels of women. I’ve posted thoughts on the subject since but I don’t have links to those posts at hand and frankly don’t have the incentive to go diving for them. While doing onling blog cleanup and maintenance, I happened to stumble upon this 2006 post and found it still interesting. And that’s why I’m back on the topic.

Since that long ago 2006 post, there have of course been many, many other articles on the topic of gender-preferred reading, books which tend to fall into one of the two camps. Among them, this fascinating offering from Esquire, a periodical most decided slanted toward men, which lists 80 Books Every Man Should Read.

Lots of these listed are about war, many about rugged, outdoorsy settings as well as those featuring a great deal of violence, books by writers such as Cormac McCarthy, for example. Ernest Hemingway, Henry Miller, Kurt Vonnegut… Not exclusively in the male purview but leaning that way.

Interestingly, most of the books appeal to me and not just a little. Many I’ve read and many others I’d like to, soft confirmation of what I’ve been told before: I identify strongly with what I consider a masculine taste in reading.  What does this say about me? Nothing earth-shattering but more than once I’ve offered up lists of favorite books to be told that, without knowing my gender, the person studying the list would have pegged me for a male.

Scientific? Of course not. Interesting? I think so.

On the flip side for the purposes of this very unscientific, heavily biased post, there’s this list compiled by Huffington Post, listing the books every woman should read. Included in this list are books I’ve personally reviled, a few due to their overt sappiness, others for their bloated reputations and complete lack of literary quality, books such as:

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret – Judy Blume (outdated; has not aged well)

The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold (must I say it, really?)

The Help – Kathryn Stockett (the ultimate novel of white guilt)

Disappointingly, HuffPo also chose a disproportionately large number of self help books to round out the list. I consider this a cop out, not to mention a biased take on what serious female readers value. In their favor, a great number of heavily literary novels, like Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, did make the cut, the reason I chose this as my female-representative list. Even with its flaws, I feel it’s fairly well representative of books geared toward women, some I’d consider book group books but some, again, of high quality, as well.

Agree or not, it’s a fascinating topic, that of the reading differences between men and women. And I know, gender these days is a loaded term, complicated by the new need to consider gender identity. It’s not that I’m completely discounting that but rather I’m not a gender studies expert. Neither am I the sort to stop and ask with which gender do you personally identify. That’s on you, not me. I’m too busy, not to mention too old school, to make allowances for every possible combination of gender preferences.

The fact remains, there are two sexes, two ruling hormones: estrogen and testosterone. And, while not 100% of the makeup of our natures, this is a very heavy determining factor separating us. With each come certain characteristics which are very real, neither positive nor negative but, rather, different and complimentary.

Again, there is crossover. Please note I have said that.

The line is dashed, rather than solid, however, the line is there. And I could of course go far more deeply into the topic, delve into the research, comparing and contrasting hundreds more lists, examining characteristics of what makes a masculine or feminine read but this isn’t a treatise. This is an opinion post, based heavily on my own experience spent reading, no small feat.

Gender preferences in reading will always intrigue me. I will never stop reading the lists, considering the factors which make up masculine and feminine reading. So keep ’em coming. And if you know of lists, have thoughts or would like to weigh in, well, you know the drill.


One thought on “gender differences in reading, revisited

  1. Your liking for books that have been categorized as “male” is not surprising. Some of them are very good books. But women aren’t as likely to want to read them. I do have a pal who loves to read about Arctic and Antarctic explorers, which would fall into your – or Esquire’s – “male” group. She also loves Regency Romance. So yes, the line is there and it is certainly dotted. The thing is, women read the war and adventure and sports books, but I know exactly one man who unashamedly reads “women’s fiction.”

    Thanks for your fine blog.


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