Surveys tell us that women read more books than men and readers prefer writers of their own gender. The latter is certainly true for men but women are more likely to cross the divide. Writers such as Lee Child or Mark Billingham are testament that women are more flexible with their choice and don’t discriminate. Men, on the other hand are much more like to buy books by male writers rather than their female counterparts. A quick survey of my own bookshelf anecdotally proves the point revealing that my tastes are extremely biased towards male writers. I don’t think I’m alone.
I’ve asked myself why? Is it because there is unconscious sexism in my choice of reading or is it something more fundamental?
Let’s be clear I am not against women writers. It was a woman who got me to love reading in the first place where I preferred Enid Blyton’s Famous Five to Captain WE Johns Biggles books. I’ve read The Girl on the Train and Gone Girl which I agree are well written novels but given the choice I’d rather read Don Winslow’s The Cartel or anything by William Boyd.
When I was reading the classics, Thomas Hardy and Charles Dickens influenced me more than George Elliott. In the latter case, she may have given herself a male pseudonym but it could not disguise the female centric plot. Conversely, I did like Jane Austen not for the plots but for the language. I use to love reading Jane’s books out loud and she often made me laugh. I’m not averse to romance but more in the mould of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina than the Bronte’s.
Looking again at my bookshelf, I think the real reason is to do with the subject matter. It’s all about the book. I don’t deliberately set out not to read books by female writers. For example, I’ve always enjoyed the late PD James and Ruth Rendell who I admire and would continue to read if they were still with us. Although, these writers’ books had macabre male antagonists, their character development is more nuanced. Women writers seem to be competing about who could make the antics of their bad guy more sickening. The popularity of the phycological ‘domestic noir’ thriller is also not that interesting to men. Rachel in The Girl on the Train is every man’s worst nightmare of what a woman should be so why would we want to spend time with her? As I write I’ve just received an email from Book Bub about a book call Saving April. Here is the blurb:
‘Hannah Abbott is terrified of the world outside her own house – but she will need to overcome her fears and anxieties to uncover the truth about her neighbours. A spine tingling psychological thriller.’
Now tell me why I would want to read that book. It is unashamedly targeted at female readers. The books on my bookshelf are targeted at both genders. Here are just a few:
Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks
Istanbul Passage by Joseph Kanon
Solomon Creed by Simon Toyne
A Colder War by Charles Cumming
Dominion by CJ Sansom
The Abrupt Physics of Dying by Paul Hardisty
Tightrope by Simon Mawer
So here is the challenge. Please send me your suggestions of women writers who write stories that men will enjoy. Email me with your thoughts.