Sunday, November 18, 2007

Who do you read?

Tonight, I went to a bar with some fellow grad students and found myself in the midst of one of the intellectual discussions I love. It got me thinking about what types of authors I tend to read. First, the background:

My male friend and I were talking to two women in the "literary nonfiction" program here at UO and he was discussing a course he's taking in that program. He said (and I'm paraphrasing here) that he doesn't enjoy reading first person narratives written by people he can't relate to -- specifically, single, unmarried women (this discussion seemed to stem from what he's having to read in this one class, and one of the other women we were talking to said that professor is a "nutjob.") He suggested that he thinks men mostly read books by other men and women tend to read books by women. So, the four of us got to talking about who our favorite authors are. Every one of the authors I seek out and read regularly were men. I could name two women authors I would read no matter what.

I told my male friend I am the exception to his rule anyway, because I honestly don't care if I can relate to a person's story, so long as the writing is good. He did admit that I read a very wide variety of subjects and authors. He even said he's jealous that I can do that, which was a nice ego boost.

Anyway, after I thought about it, I came home and looked through my books. Out of about 200 books on the shelf, counting class books (but not reference works), nonfiction and fiction, I counted 20 written by women. Only about five of those authors were repeated (I had multiple books by Molly Ivins, Fannie Flagg, Mary Roach, Maya Angelou and Helen Fielding.) I had several male authors repeat throughout my collection.

So, I pose a question: Who are your favorite authors? If you are a man, do you read more books by men (and does sexual orientation make a difference)? If you are a woman, do you read more books by women? I'm talking about both fiction and nonfiction here, although my friend's argument was mostly pertaining to first-person nonfiction narratives.


Mr. Burns said...

That's a good question. I don't know if I've ever really paid attention to the gender of my authors. And I don't think it matters that much. I think you're right when you say what matter is how good the writing is.

Especially when it comes to first-person narratives, writing and story are everything. The writer has to have a solid, compelling storyline before he/she ever puts pen to paper. Otherwise, nobody will get past page one. I think the problem your male friend has isn't that he can't relate to first-person narratives written by single women - but that the narratives he's reading aren't relatable to anyone but other single women. And that's just bad writing, in my smug opinion. These authors aren't choosing stories everyone can relate to. And maybe that's deliberate. Maybe these authors are writing for a specific audience. Maybe they're trying to hit a chord with a specific group of people.

Of course that's pretty bold talk coming from me, considering I don't know whose work reading. But the point I'm making is that if people can't relate to an author's first-person narrative, It's the author's responsibility.

Thought Criminal said...

I think you're right about the fact that the writing my friend was talking about was only relatable to a very specific demographic. It was assigned by the type of woman the authors were writing for, and I think it's her problem more than anything.

My argument was that I don't relate to a lot of the authors I read, but I like them anyway. I'm not a middle-aged man who drinks and uses enough hallucinogenic drugs to kill a horse, but I love Hunter S. Thompson.