Why Don’t Men Read Books By Women… Or Do They?

Today’s post title might seem like a silly question initially but actually it is a rather pertinent one as it is a common fact that a lot of male readers will only read books by men. I can hear people here there and everywhere saying ‘pah, that’s not true’ and if that is the case then that’s great, but as I am one of the speakers on ‘Why Don’t Men Read Books By Women?’ at the Lucy Cavendish Woman’s Word Literary Festival in June this year, which I will also be reporting on from behind the scenes too, I thought it was a subject that we could have a good old natter about on Savidge Reads today please.

As I am sure you will have gathered by now I am definitely a man who does read books written by women, in fact I think I read more books by women than I do by men actually. I myself have a whole host of varied female authors in Mount TBR some of which, as pictured above, that I am going to be reading in the lead up to this event. I have chosen some modern crime, some classics (I didn’t feel that I could do this even having never read a full novel by Jane Austen, oops, it is frankly high time I did, I do think the reasons I have been put off are possibly rather like a lot of blokes I know – more on that in due course), some recently released contemporary novels (which nicely combine with my decision to read the whole of the Orange longlist, currently on hold at the halfway point as I have slight Orange overload at the moment) and some of the female greats I have loved in the past and want to read more of. Where oh where to start with a lovely loot like this?

I have noticed that apart from two modern debut novels and a Booker winner from many moons ago, I haven’t plucked out any books by female authors I haven’t tried before so any recommendations for those are welcome if you have any?

So in the name of research, and also because I am rather nosey and fascinated by other peoples reading habits, what about all of you? Which men will happily put there hands up and say that they too read lots of books by women? Any male readers of this blog who are happy to say they don’t and if so why not? And my lovely female readers what about your male relatives and partners do they read books by women or not and if so which titles have they particularly loved? Oh and let me know your thoughts if you have read any of the books pictured above and what you thought of them please. Oh and of course if you are a female reader, do you find you read more books by women than you do men, or vice versa? All thoughts welcomed and, as ever, most appreciated.


Filed under Book Thoughts

53 responses to “Why Don’t Men Read Books By Women… Or Do They?

  1. A very good question! Being a woman I can only give you my impressions of my husband’s reading and that of my father:

    Husband reads almost entirely sci-fi/fantasy and academic non-fiction (either related to his work, theoretical cosmology, or philosophy/religion) – all of which is almost exclusively written by men.

    My father is much more into literary fiction and I would actually say he reads more fiction by women – Ruth Park, Joanne Harris, Tracy Chevalier and Anita Brookner being among his favourites – and even the crime writing he sometimes picks up is usually written by women (Donna Leon, Kathy Reichs).

    So there are two polar opposites of the spectrum for you. I will ask my father what his own impressions of his reading are and see how they differ from mine!

    • You see thats interesting I would say your husband reads more of the sorts of books that I would assume a man would read… and I say that as if I am not a man. Ha. Sounds like your Dad is rather eclectic… and has some corking crime tastes.

  2. I can speak for my husband and say that he very rarely reads books by women, I asked him about it and it seems that he is just more attracted to male writers rather than him avoiding them. The only female writers he loves are Shirley Jackson, Susan Hill and Sylvia Plath.

  3. Louise

    Thats a lovely display of books btw.. im after The Invisible Bridge and a few other Orange titles.I’ve just got in from a spree, out of the 7 i got today,only one is a male writer,that was Skulduggery Pleasant by derek Landy (it was new and 50p) the rest are all females and one of them is Val Mcdermid,Trick of The Dark.

    Apart from a whole row of Jo Nesbo and Peter James 90% of my books are written by female authors, I’d never really noticed before, and i dont know why i dont have that many books written by males..

    My friends husband reads all male authors, apart from Val Mcdermid and the same applies to another friends husband, what is it about Val Mcdermid? i think i’ll bring this up at book club this week 🙂

    • Thanks Louise, I tried to make it look haphazard but it actually took a little bit of time to put together, making sure covers werent too similar etc.

      I was thinking about the ratio of authors that I have been reading and suddenly thought ‘hang on a second, I am not reading enough books by men’ so I have been fitting some in now and again.

      I do think Val McDermid has a big male following, I wonder what that is about, I think her books are rather blunt which is something I like.

  4. Eva

    None of the men in my non-blogging life read, so I’m no help there! I will say that as a woman reader, when I was in college I read more books by men than women by a pretty fair margin (I think it was something like 70% men) until I realised that and began taking active steps to read more women.

    Also, I can’t help drawing a parallel to the publisher notion that white readers won’t buy books with protagonists of colour, while readers of colour will buy books with white protagonists. And here in the States, there are ethnic categories of fiction in bookstores and libraries; African American lit, Latino lit. While white fiction is inevitably just under fiction! 😉 Similarly, fiction by women can be categorised as ‘women’s issues’ novels while fiction by men is almost never seen as ‘men’s issues’. So I think it has to do with our perceptions of universal writing v writing for specific groups, our notions of ‘serious’ literature, how publishers market books, the kinds of books that get the most publicity (print reviews, awards, etc.), etc.

    I imagine it also has something to do with the fact that men grow up being told that they shouldn’t be ‘girly.’ Obviously, I’ve never been a boy, but I think it would be more difficult to read, say, Anne of Green Gables during free reading time at school than Treasure Island. So perhaps habits formed in childhood make boys and later men believe that women writers just aren’t for them?

    • None of the men in your none blogging life read Eva, none of them at all? I am really really surprised.

      I have never thought of the whole protagonists of colour issue before, I think if I open that now it could be a can of worms that I can’t close, so maybe thats something I will look into in the background.

      I love the fact you said ‘obviously I have never been a boy’ that really really tickled me.

  5. I have just had a quick look at my bookshelf to check and can happily say that I read a pretty much 50/50 mix of male and female authors. Phew!
    However, my other half has read two books in the three years I’ve known him; One John Grisham and Frankie Boyle’s ‘My Shit Life So Far’. I have yet to convince him of another book let alone one written by a women. I am now on a mission to find one he will read… probably starting with something from your list above.

    • I must have a look at the ratio when we get to the half way point of the year and see how well I am doing… or not!

      Oh partners who dont read, thats a whole other kettle of fish.

  6. Sue

    I was listening to a very old rerun of J K Rowling on Desert Island Discs last night (BBC4 Xtra) and she said her publisher insisted on the JK rather than Joanna because boys don’t read books by women. So perhaps it starts early.

  7. My husband doesn’t read, but my father does. He reads primarily crime fiction, and devours male and female authors alike. He also reads literary fiction when has a good recommendation, and reads both male and female writers – he loved The Invisible Bridge, and keeps telling me to read it!

  8. My husband and I both read a fairly even mix. He reads mostly mysteries but will pick up something else if I recommend it!

  9. I think I read mostly female authors but not on purpose, just because 1) my friends who read are girls and we recommend books to one another and 2) it seems most book bloggers are female and they read a lot by women too. So I’ve had a hard time finding good books by male authors with stories that I want to read or who are able to write female characters well. I actually love books written by men and even about men as it’s fascinating to see things from a different perspective than one’s own. As for the men in my life, I’ve yet to meet any who are as crazed about books and reading as I am. My younger brother reads things like Indiana Jones and the Star Wars series but I don’t think he cares about authors and he’s not a prolific reader either.

    • I wonder if one of the reasons, which your comment sort of brings to my mind, is because on the whole I think that women can write men far better than men can write about women. I hadnt thought about that until just now.

      I also hadnt thought too much if women do miss out on books by men as men do by women. All interesting stuff.

  10. I tend to read more male writers simon ,I do try read female writers as I come accross them in translation ,all the best stu

  11. I don’t care what the sex of an author is!

    I’m very, very fond of Colette who seems not to be all that much read these days (or perhaps just not discussed) but she is one of the really great C20 writers in my opinion and I strongly recommend her to you. Also Muriel Spark, Edna O’Brien, Simone de Beauvoir, Margaret Atwood, Angela Carter (very strong recommendation here too; try Nights at the Circus if you haven’t read any of her work yet), Fay Weldon, Marge Piercy, etc.

    I haven’t read Jane Austen either, though I did finish Middlemarch recently.

    As you can see I have no issue with reading books written by women, nor books written by men either for that matter

    • It should be about wonderful writing really not the sex of the author shouldnt it?

      I am about to start a Jane Austen so get ready, I could become an Austen addict.

  12. mee

    I read mostly male authors but not really on purpose. Since I started tracking it’s usually around 75/25 ratio, which shocked me at first. I think the reason is most graphic novels and classics are by male authors, which cover the majority of my reading.

  13. As you probably know, I tend to prefer books by women, although I think it’s more that my experience leads me to suspect I’ll prefer them, rather than anything else. Of my ten favourite authors, only AA Milne is male, and the rest are female.

    I had an interesting experience reading The Girl With Glass Feet by Ali Smith, because I was halfway through before I discovered that Ali was a man – it was intriguing to see how it changed my thoughts about the novel.

    • Do tell us why your thoughts depend on the apparent (or known) sex of the author.

      • I can’t tell you why, but I can tell you how – I feel more at home with books by female authors; more like I’m going to feel empathy, and less like it’ll be a bit of a battle.

      • I think that can happen with me too actually, but I have no idea why. It shouldnt should it.

    • Eva

      Simon, I’ve had similar experiences when reading a couple of Chinese authors! (Thinking they were women only to find out mid-novel that they were men.) It is interesting to see how I change; I started cutting them less slack in their portrayal of women. 😉

    • I think if I had to list my favourite authors of all time only three men would be in the top three and they would be Wilkie Collins, Arthur Conan Doyle and Ian McEwan. I havent found many male authors I want to read everything by.

      Sods law I bet I think I of another one once I press comment.

    • m

      Ali Smith might be feeling traumatised at having undergone a sex change.
      Ali Shaw on the other hand …

  14. Ed

    This is a fascinating question. I can only speak for myself, but I do tend to read more male authors than female. This was probably more so when I was younger. In areas like whodunnits I read both male and female authors. I also read a lot of classics, and these are predominately male especially pre 19th century. To a large degree I think it is subject matter.

    I have read novels by Jane Austen in recent years and enjoyed them. When I was younger I would have stayed away because they are romance novels. I was more drawn to Dickens etc because the romance is usually a subplot rather than the main plot. However I have come to enjoy Austen and many other female writers, and realise that a “romance” novel is not a bad novel.

    I also think men are more drawn to action (in books and movies) which tends to come from male authors. I like some action type books myself eg Patrick O’Brian, but I would not go near Tom Clancy. It still needs to be a good writer.

    • Thanks Ed, it is a really interesting question isnt it and seeing all the responses is very interesting indeed.

      Interesting you mention classics, as I think in my head I would go for female writers over males but with my passion for sensation novels its often the male authors I tend to turn to.

      I hadnt thought of the action aspect, I’m mulling over how true I think that is… hmmm.

  15. Some fascinating comments here!

    I haven’t checked properly but I’m pretty sure that I read a fairly even split. However I did go through a phase when I was in my late teens of reading alot of male fiction. I think that this has something to do with wanting to understand more about the way mens brains work. Results were worrying… (JOKE!)

    Now I actually read more of a mix I think and through blogging have discovered some wonderful female writers I wouldn’t have really known about before such as Barbara Comyns and the adult books of Frances Hodgson Burnett.

    • The comments are great arent they? Just what I need for this talk in the next few months. I have seen the brochure now and I am in it, my name and everything I get a bit over excited about it.

      I keep thinking about how women seem to get into the heads of men much better than the other way around. Then I think of our join read ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’ but was that a rare event?

  16. Ah, and my BF mostly reads books by blokes but they are mostly sci-fi…

    He will read Sophie Hannah but sometimes finds the female characters annoying lol.

  17. I love that you brought this up! My ex-boyfriend (uni days) was one of those: he wouldn’t read female authors, thought they weren’t any good (how does he know if he won’t read them?!) and was basically a real snob about it. As if, only men could write “real” literature. He was a fan of Moby Dick, Hunter S Thompson, Jack Kerouac, that kind of thing – lots of male American authors who were nicely institutionalised already. (You can tell that our relationship didn’t end all that well can’t you!)

    My husband, on the other hand, has no bias against female writers, but struggles to read fiction in general. This I find a fascinating topic all on its own! He tends to read more non-fiction and enjoys female authors there too – Maude Barlow, Naomi Klein etc.

    I’m interested to hear what you think of Pride and Prejudice – we did it in my Classics bookclub a few months back and the three male members who read it didn’t like it at all and found it too, ugh, “girly” for want of a better word. They weren’t entirely dismissive but couldn’t get into it at all. I just don’t think that’s necessarily to do with a reader’s gender…?

    • Ha I hadnt thought of the ‘how do you know if you havent read any’ and I wonder if there are a lot of men out there who havent given female writers a try and vice versa?

      I will be starting P&P very very soon, so keep your eyes peeled.

  18. Bet

    I don’t care about the sex of an author, but looking back at my the last few years of reading, I have read a lot more books by women than by men. I think Persephone and Virago have a LOT to do with this!

    My husband doesn’t have time to read a lot of novels these days, but for several years he listened to books on tape (mostly recommended by me) while he worked. Most of his favorite authors were women. That is not surprising to me, as he is often described as being “very in touch with his feminine side”. He is much more relational and extroverted than I am!

    • Hahahaha another good point with the Virago and Persephone mention Bet. I shall discuss this with Nicola Beauman at the event in the summer as she runs Persephone and is on the same panel as me.

    • Christine

      I wonder what he meant by “feminine side” … was it because he knew they were female? Would he still have said that if the authors of the books were men?

  19. All the men in my life tend to read non fiction – biographies, books about business/finance/cars etc. Not really my cup of tea!

    I mainly read books by women if I’m honest – classics as well as middlebrow mid century stuff and more modern literary fiction. I don’t touch ‘chick lit’ – I find it a rather pointless and patronising genre that doesn’t do much for women’s reputations amongst menfolk.

    I find modern fiction by men to be full of more violence and crime than women’s fiction, and that’s why I don’t read as much of it.

    I’m so glad you read so much women’s fiction. You’ve got some great ones in your TBR pile. I’m half way through The Poisonwood Bible at the moment and it’s proving to be a fascinating read and actually very pertinent as it is told through the eyes of five women and explores their relationships with and views of the male head of the family in a way that doesn’t give the man a voice – turning most fiction on its head, really.I think you will enjoy it!

    • Its that genre thing again isnt it really, not that non fiction is a genre… or is it… oooh I get confused. I like how you say you read more female written fiction but not chick lit, thats another thing to ponder over. (Everyone has given me so much to think about its been great!)

      Did you ever finish The Poisonwood Bible after the incident you had with it? I have been meaning to read it for ages and ages.

  20. I really only know the reading habits of two men. My father reads lots of male-authored non-fiction about anthropology, evolutionary biology, and stuff like that. I know he likes Karen Armstrong’s books about the history of religion, but I don’t think he reads many other women (and I turned him on to Armstrong).

    A male friend of mine reads more broadly across both genre and sex of author.

    In general I read men and women pretty evenly, though I’ve been tending heavily toward female authors this spring.

    I don’t know that much can be drawn from these anecdotes, but I do wonder quite often about men’s reading habits since it seems I’m always hearing that women read more evenly across gender lines than men do. So thanks for bringing it up!

  21. Stephanie

    This is an interesting subject you have raised here Simon. My understanding of the reading public is that it is dominated by middle age women and that men read less books overall than women. Bookclubs in my country have mostly female members.

    In our household both my daughter and I read voraciously; my husband reads occasionally and principally for information – I can not see him reading fiction, although he does patiently listen to my synopses of the current book on the go – and our son not at all. Without checking back on my recent reading history, I would consider I read more books written by women than men. But when I look at the bookshelf that covers the As to Hs, it is a fairly even split. Both my parents were avid readers. My father to the best of my recall read only non-fiction and his reading matter would be dominated by male authors. My mother read mostly fiction, mainly female authors.

    From the work of literary bloggers, I really appreciate the books and authors I am provoked into thinking about reading and then chasing down the book in the library or from a retailer. (and of course I run a ‘books to read’ wish-list)

    • I hadnt thought of the Bookclub market, which now I write some reading guides for them I should have done, yet your right the demographic is much more women.

      Maybe it is just that men dont read that much and so don’t read as many authors? Hmmm more food for thought.

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  23. Adam

    Hey I just thought I would post since I am a man. Up to recent years I read mainly classics, a few discworld books here and there and it was mainly male. I have now started reading some more modern books, started with a bit of Graham Greene, read a Harry potter book (I missed out on this the first time), I have four books “to read” that are by female authors, three by men. So it’s all beginning to balance out. I try most anything I don’t know how to categorise “what I read” to make this easier for you. I just finished Farenheit 451, so thats Sci fi, a few books ago I read “The unbearable lightness of living in Aberyswyth” (male writer) which is a comedy/private eye novel. I hope some of this will help you.
    I have started reading more different books that I would not normally read since I started going to a Bookcrossers group where we exchange books. Recently I have also become the kind of reader who will read doggedly to the end unless I really really hate it.

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