(some) books are for girls
April 10, 2006 10:28 PM   Subscribe

Gender differences in literary taste - The Guardian (inter alia) has been reporting two English professors' studies of reading habits and feelings about books by gender. Others (newest to oldest): most revelatory books by reader gender (for men), (for women), author gender by reader gender. The methodology may not be unassailable but the findings are interesting and plausible. [viaduct vianochicken]
Sidenote: I did a little research following a comment on MR and reached a non-obvious conclusion: women hate Akira Kurosawa (check out those charts; for comparison). Theories welcome.
posted by grobstein (36 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Well assembled post. Interesting stuff. But Albert Camus's The Outsider as the most influential book among men - I don't buy it (but the interviewees are the more literary Brits, of course).
posted by blahblahblah at 10:47 PM on April 10, 2006

You have a point. Also, asking people which books influence them isn't a really great way of discovering which books actually influence them -- the self-reported results will skew towards the literary, at least.
posted by grobstein at 10:53 PM on April 10, 2006

Well I remember well a while using the London tube, where in every carriage about half of the blokes who were reading were reading 'High Fidelity', while about half the women who were reading were reading the first Bridget Jones one.

I read them both, and High Fidelity's better...
posted by pompomtom at 10:55 PM on April 10, 2006

"The men's list was all angst and Orwell. Sort of puberty reading," she said. - from the second link.

My head nearly popped off when I read that.
posted by Navek Rednam at 10:56 PM on April 10, 2006 [1 favorite]

I don't get these chick-lit books like Bridget Jones, etc. Why would you want to read about a life like your own? You're already living it!
posted by delmoi at 11:15 PM on April 10, 2006

Because she's fat and all the men love her. It's Lord of The Rings... for girls!
posted by basicchannel at 11:20 PM on April 10, 2006 [2 favorites]

Also, where would this fit in the spectrum? Angst? Check. Author has vagina? Check.

posted by basicchannel at 11:21 PM on April 10, 2006

She's NOT FAT. The whole point is that she thinks she's fat but she's not. Did you even read the book? [pet peeve] read the damn book before commenting on it [/pet peeve]

Helen Fielding is a pretty good writer, she has a light hearted but insightful take on people, she writes great characters when she bothers and she messes around with a lot of literary conventions and current trends. Bridget Jones Diary is a lot better if you're familiar with P&P AND at least one BBC miniseries, for example.
posted by fshgrl at 11:27 PM on April 10, 2006

As a woman who adores Kurasawa and all sorts of other "guy" film and lit, I have no theories to proffer, but I can report it's helped more than once to win a young lad's heart.
posted by scody at 11:33 PM on April 10, 2006

Anyone else find the tone of the articles about the books me read condesending?
posted by Rubbstone at 11:34 PM on April 10, 2006 [1 favorite]

I've too noticed the negative ratings from women (especially teenage girls) while looking at the breakdown on imdb of ratings for Kurosawa films. It really puzzles me as other violent, male-centric films like American History X or Fight Club are highly rated by women. (Making a wild guess here, maybe Kurosawa lacks a homoerotic element found in other male action films?)
posted by bobo123 at 11:39 PM on April 10, 2006

Lists like these just confound me. I've read everything on both excluding the particular Graham Greene, and I have favorites from both. For me, literature is for destroying boundaries, of gender but also of class, nationality, and history, but most important, of life experience and the vagaries of perception. I find Margaret Atwood to be precise, enigmatic, rather cool; Gabriel Garcia Marquez is all lush passion: both minutely observe the way the sexes war, but if we're going to stay trapped in classic definitions of gender, stylistically, she is masculine and he is feminine. I get intense pleasure from both. What does that mean? That I'm bi-literal?

When I studied literature, I found the neat little boxes of identity authors wound up stuffed in sad as coffins. And dull, dull, dull, as good books never are. I didn't read Marquez to dutifully get my RDA of Colombian authors, or of men, or of magic realists -- I did it because he belongs to an exclusive yet democratic club that anyone can join if they've got the gift: writers of great stories. I just can't imagine limiting my reading the way described by the article. Christ, how depressing.
posted by melissa may at 11:47 PM on April 10, 2006

Women hate the Three Stooges, is what they hate.
posted by Nicholas West at 11:54 PM on April 10, 2006

Crappy research (I wouldn't even call it research frankly), but very interesting results.

The results seem to be as much due to interpretation of the question by the interviewees as anything else, so it probably does reveal something, but more about how we manufacture self-image than anything else I suspect.

Oh yes, also what melissa may said ;)
posted by winjer at 12:09 AM on April 11, 2006

I was almost tempted to post this one myself...

My guess as to the results comes from the methodology, and in particular, the fact that they asked about the most influential books, rather than - say - the ones that readers had enjoyed the most. I would assume that in the majority of cases, people are more likely to be "influenced" during their most impressionable years, adolescence & young adulthood.

This may partially explain why both lists look remarkably similar to high school reading lists. A quick tally shows that around 70% of the "male" list was on my high school curriculum.

These high school books may also form a kind of lowest common denominator (but not in the "low" or "common" senses that people often misuse this term). Chances are that if you are asked to nominate ten books, at least one or two might have been from your school years. It only takes a smallish proportion of other readers to nominate the same textbook, and it will find itself on the list.
posted by UbuRoivas at 12:31 AM on April 11, 2006

Sorry I didn't use scare quotes when referencing Bridget as "fat".

Wait... ""fat"". There it is again.

Of course she isn't... only in our perverse mother/whore-complex-meets-lolita-obsession culture could she be considered as such.

posted by basicchannel at 12:31 AM on April 11, 2006

By far the most influential book in England is the Da Vinci Code, well taking my office as a sample. If only I could get them to read Camus or y'know puberty reading like Orwell...
posted by brilliantmistake at 2:15 AM on April 11, 2006

I'd be more interested if this wasn't a survey conducted among men whose names probably all sound like Reginald Chesterfordworthington.
posted by Clamwacker at 2:48 AM on April 11, 2006

The men's list is a bit slanted: "Professor Lisa Jardine and Annie Watkins of Queen Mary College interviewed 500 men, many of whom had some professional connection with literature, about the novels that had changed their lives."

So a lot of these guys -- teachers or publishers or writers, literary folk, or at least officially literate folk -- are selecting what they know they should select, selecting books that they are familiar with because they have had to review or teach or sell or compete with these books, etc. If you cut from the sample all the men who had "some professional connection with literature," and asked the common reading guy, someone who reads but doesn't read many novels other than action/adventure stuff, I bet at least half of these books wouldn't have made the list. Lord of the Rings, sure, but Crime and Punishment? Yeah, right!

They say their "sample of reading men was selected on exactly the same principles as the women - that way, we felt the results could be directly compared." But I didn't see that qualification about "some professional connection with literature" in the article about the women's list. There, it says they polled 14,000 readers, 93 percent of whom were women.

In any case, at least four of the top five on the women's list were bestsellers (and turned into big-screen films, miniseries, and tons of chat), so I trust it a bit more as a reflection of what women in general, not just women in the literature professions, say is something that changed them. (Of course, maybe the women were just spouting names they remembered from the movies...)

[Cool fact about Jardine: she's Jacob Bronowski's daughter.]
posted by pracowity at 2:56 AM on April 11, 2006 [1 favorite]

Well chuffed (US: real happy) that I've read 11 of the books on the list. Now not sure why I should be, though.

The OP warned us that this was an unscientific study and, no shit, it is. The sample populations of women and men are very different, as are the questions. But it made me think what I would answer if someone asked me - remember - the question is what novel "means most to you" or alternatively "the book which, above all others, had sustained [you] through key moments of transition or crisis [...]".

Probably the book most notable by its absence, given the wording of this latter question is the Bible. I can see no mention of it or discussion of it's absence in the articles - I think a US study would at least mention it and this says a lot about just how secular Britain has gone.

A nod to the Bible aside, I would vote for The Road Less Travelled, Heinlein's "Stranger in a Strange Land", The Dice Man and everything by Martin Amis. YMMV and I hope it does.
posted by magpie68 at 3:47 AM on April 11, 2006

How exactly does one gage how "revelatory" a book is?

Frankly I don't think I'd ever ascribe that word to anything I've ever read.
posted by Target Practice at 4:02 AM on April 11, 2006

...and that's including the dozen or so books I've read that are on those lists.
posted by Target Practice at 4:08 AM on April 11, 2006

The Hobbit is about angst and isolation? (And hell, The Handmaid's Tale isn't?) Looks to me like they're being pretty selective with their data.

(Pity, too, because I do think the results are interesting. I just think the pithy psychological conclusions they're trying to draw from them are way the fuck off.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 4:43 AM on April 11, 2006

It really puzzles me as other violent, male-centric films like American History X or Fight Club are highly rated by women.

Well, the answer is obvious: Edward Norton (and Brad Pitt doesn't hurt).

Who's Kurosawa got? Some Japanese dude? Why should women care about him? He's not a hunk! His half-naked body doesn't appear on the cover of People and US Weekly! I don't hear about his love life on TV or radio and thus can't live vicariously through gossip with my other female friends!
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:50 AM on April 11, 2006

It's a messy, confused and unscientific study - actually two studies and some pontification. Don't look for comsic answers in it.

Interestingly, not many American authors on there? Why do British readers hate America?
posted by magpie68 at 4:52 AM on April 11, 2006


Women left alone with their more tormenting attributes don’t start wars. They moan, cry, bitch, go shopping; they’re anxious, neurotic, put-upon, argumentative, manipulative, analytical and brooding.

Why do women put up with this kind of crap being writen about them? If women really are as neurotic as the author describes, I suggest you go shopping for a small hand grendade, then brood over which orafice of the writer you wish to shove it in.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:57 AM on April 11, 2006

The Hobbit is about angst and isolation?

You can't get much more isolated than Gollum can you? Hundreds of years living under a mountain eating raw fish?
posted by octothorpe at 7:28 AM on April 11, 2006

No Dickens?

I'll just go sit here in the corner by myself and read Our Mutual Friend.

I can't think of a book "that changed my life," but I did read a lot of P. G. Wodehouse as a teenager to console myself with comic relief through turbulant times.

As to the paperback vs. hardback issue-- I hate paperbacks. They turn yellow with age and the pages fall out and the print is small. Give me a good hardback any day.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 7:32 AM on April 11, 2006

magpie68 writes:

"Interestingly, not many American authors on there? Why do British readers hate America?"

As someone who has family and friends in the UK and who goes there every year, usually twice a year, I can tell you that an enormous number of intelligent Brits, I can't imagine not the majority, very strongly dislike America (and their own Tony Blair) at the moment because of the whole Iraq thing.

It's a whole spectrum of dislike, ranging from exasperated annoyance to outright loathing and you hear it very clearly.
posted by Nicholas West at 7:41 AM on April 11, 2006

as scody says, lots of women love Kurosawa. and samurais are hot. especially Le Samouraï. samurai movies are perfect for dates -- the only movie genre that's better for dates is vampire movies

[pet peeve] read the damn book before commenting on it [/pet peeve]

you want to shut down MeFi, right?
posted by matteo at 8:46 AM on April 11, 2006

magpie68 writes "Interestingly, not many American authors on there? Why do British readers hate America?"

Because they hate freedom, Magpie. It's the only explanation.

All that aside, I have to say this fpp alone restores some of the faith lost in the blue over the last wee bit. Good on ya, Grobstein! And prescient since my book club let the ladies take over this month and I shall be reading Louise Erdrich (Love Medicine). Which, you know, is exactly what i'd like to tell my male friends i'm into. I can't WAIT for people to see me reading it on the subway!
posted by indiebass at 8:51 AM on April 11, 2006

What melissa may said.

(But women really do hate the Three Stooges, in my experience.)
posted by languagehat at 10:19 AM on April 11, 2006

So women don’t read Mack Bolan? Howabout Mickey Spillane?

Broads are weird.

“I just can't imagine limiting my reading the way described by the article.”

posted by Smedleyman at 3:11 PM on April 11, 2006

Broads are weird.

That's "Dames" to you, Buddy.

And this Dame likes Kurasawa but is mildly put off by The Three Stooges.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 5:21 PM on April 11, 2006

Jane Eyre is the girls Three Stooges for boys who read Tolkien.
posted by stbalbach at 9:48 PM on April 11, 2006

I was really shocked at the lack of voting for Ikiru which not only should everyone see (I thnk its easier these days, I had a VCD flown in from Hong Kong many years ago to get it) but from which flows beauty in absolute sadness nonstop (except for a hilarious beginning take on beauracray) to the point that NO one I have watched it with was able to *not* cry at least twice...beautiful in every shot. ::goes to watch now::
posted by gren at 6:34 AM on April 12, 2006

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