“What are you reading?” It’s a question authors are asked all the time. It’s a question non-writers are asked all the time. Do the answers ever surprise you? Do you assume what someone will and won’t read based on gender? I know I do. I stopped apologizing for what I write, that my books likely appeal to women more than me. I’m okay with that. I’m not only okay with it, it’s intentional. But, do you ever wonder why there is a gap in reading preferences?
The Book Widows did.
Read on to discover their findings, and to find out more about them!
The Gender Reading Gap
The Book Widows’ Perspective on Reading Differently
by Rona Simmons
There we were, white wine in hand, at a literary event. Four women authors of a cross section of genres, each happily married and yet not a husband in sight. We laughed and cried and shared that our husbands seldom read books, rarely novels, and not the stories we write. While not unhappy about the latter (who wants a live-in literary critic anyway), we wondered aloud if we were unique. After dubbing ourselves “book widows,” we set out to explore the reading gender gap. Do men and women read differently? If so how and why? And, could or should we do something about it?
Was it simply that women read more than men?
According to one survey, the typical male reads four books a year, the typical female six. That was better than we might have guessed, but it didn’t explain the lack of male readership for our novels.
Was it that people aren’t reading as much anymore and our husbands were ahead of the curve?
What book lover hasn’t noticed the dwindling number of bookstores? Remember Binders, Borders, Walden Books, and Waterstones? Accurate assessments of the trend in the number of bookstores are elusive. It depends on your definition of what a bookstore “is.” Besides book superstores like Barnes & Noble, do the aisles of books within a big-box store like Target and Wal-Mart count? And, how about the cozy mom and pop on Main Street with a coffee shop in the back? One source claims bookstores in the U.S. fell from a high of 29,000 stores in 2011 to 22,000 today. But, there is good news too; online stores have absorbed some of the slack. Meanwhile, independent bookstores are making a comeback; they’ve grown from 1,600 stores in 2009 to over 2,000 stores in 2014. Then there’s the grassroots move to make books more accessible—the “Little Free Library” phenomenon. According to the sponsoring organization, over 36,000 of the charming “take one, leave one” carts dot the country.
Was it that women do the book buying for the household and they buy what they like?
We don’t want to be accused of stereotyping women as shoppers, but—hold on to your hats—women do buy the majority of books. And, according to a 2014 survey of 40,000 Goodreads members, women prefer to read books by women and men books by men. There’s another silver lining here, at least for the future. Years ago, women might have had a difficult time finding books written by women. But the number of books on the New York Times Best Seller list written by men and those written by women in 2014 and 2015 are fairly close.
So, it seemed, women do read differently than men.
Women’s fiction, mystery, and thriller titles authored by women outnumber other genres on the New York Times list. Women of course far surpass men in reading “women’s fiction” or romance, but they also exceed the number of men reading mysteries or thrillers. On the other hand, men surpass women in reading nonfiction work, whether history, political, current events, or business texts. The exceptions are self help and true crime—genres with far fewer titles.
But, why do men and women differ in their preferences?
With more research and a bit of speculation, we decided women are more empathetic and thus prefer books where strong emotional elements are present, works that contain relationship and family issues. Thus, they gravitate to character-driven stories while men prefer action, adventure, facts, and history, or plot-driven stories.
How can we bridge the gap?
Isn’t it natural to want to share our passions, whatever they are, with those closest to us? Book lovers are no exception. We long for the opportunity to share what we read and write. But how? Our amateur psychoanalysis said women must take the first step. So, going forward, we’ll buy, read, and share more plot-driven books, particularly those laced with a heavy dose of human emotion.
For starters, we compiled a list of books that met the cross-gender criteria. Our list includes recent and time-tested books, books penned by men and women, as well as books from several genres. It includes works of mystery or thriller (think, Harlan Coben), horror or suspense (Stephen King), satire or humor (John Kennedy Toole), and history (Bill Bryson). But, we didn’t stop there. We went on to find and join co-ed book clubs that alternate selections of what the men and women members want to read. Occasionally, they even pick a crossover book. We took to the road and discovered common ground by traveling literary routes and booking cruises with “floating” book clubs.
We discovered all is not lost. If men are indeed from Mars and women from Venus, at least there is an Earth somewhere in the middle, a common ground for reading.
Four authors, published by Deeds Publishing, a Georgia-based publisher, have banded together to promote reading among both men and women after finding themselves alone at book talk after book talk, their husbands like other men rarely reading fiction and even more rarely participating in book clubs or attending book talks. They dubbed themselves “The Book Widows”.
Valerie Joan Connors, author of In Her Keeping. Shadow of a Smile and A Promise Made
Susan Jimison, author of Dear Mark and Through the Eyes of a Tiger
Connie McKee, author of The Girl in the Mirror
Rona Simmons, author of The Quiet Room and Postcards from Wonderland