Where Are The Men?

What I’m Thinking About Wednesday: May 21, 2014

On Monday, I attended the 84th Bi-Annual Book & Author Luncheon of the Metro Detroit Book & Author Society.  One of the best and largest one-day author events in the country sponsored heavily by local area libraries, this was my fourth luncheon in a row.  The book room opens at 11:00, where people gather to purchase the speaking authors’ books and mingle until the main doors open to the nearly one hundred round tables circled by ten seats each.  Lunch is served, then the writers speak about their book and/or writing career.  At the end, the authors are escorted to tables back in the book room where attendees seeking autographs line up to meet them.

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It is blatantly obvious to anyone who attends these luncheons that women outnumber the men.  By a significant margin.  A huge margin.  Each luncheon I have attended I was either the token male at the table, or there would be another who was the spouse of one of the other eight women.  Scott Lasser, who signed a copy of “Say Nice Things About Detroit” in October, 2012, joked with me that this is why more single men should take up writing.  Greg Iles, who signed a copy of “Natchez Burning” on Monday recognized me because I sat at a table three rows from the stage simply because I was one of the few men in the room.  “We’re a rare species at these things,” I told him.  “Women read more,” he replied.

In a 2012 survey conducted by the National Endowment for the Arts, it found that 56.1% of women, versus 36.9% of men, had read at least one work of literature (novel, short story, poem or play) in the past year.

Gleaning from my own experience, I have found that women tend to read more fiction  Many women friends and acquaintances have talked about books they’ve read either on their own or as a part of their predominantly female book clubs.  When it comes to the men I know, very few of them read, and if they do they are usually works of nonfiction or fantasy fiction.  The garage and estates sales I occasionally visit that have books reveal whether the woman or man of the home was the predominant reader.  Military history, general history, sprinkled with a few espionage or thriller novels, usually by best-selling male authors, fill a male dominated library.  General and literary fiction, as well as romances, adorned the woman-dominated shelves.

Back in 2007, Eric Wiener wrote for NPR his theory about why women read more.  He posits that the fiction gap is a result of women’s higher level of empathic feelings.  “The research is still in its early stages, but some studies have found that women have more sensitive mirror neurons than men. That might explain why women are drawn to works of fiction, which by definition require the reader to empathize with characters.”

I tend to agree.  I admit, I’m a male.  I have my moments where I don’t get where someone is coming from.  I can’t understand their experience and their thoughts and actions based upon that experience.   The few male friends I know who read consume plot-driven works about the stagnant protagonist outwitting or overcoming enemy agents, walking dead, dragons, or empirical rule.  Especially if the gadgets and gizmos are cool.

My favorite writer is Lawrence Block.  A grand master of mysteries, Block has created a number of series characters such as the alcoholic private detective Matthew Scudder, the used book store owning burglar Bernie Rhodenbarr, and Keller, the hit man with a heart.  He is my favorite because his was the inspiration for my writing style.  However, his novels are mysteries which are for the most part plot-driven as opposed to character driven.

In literary fiction I am carried into the experience and mind of the protagonist.  I figuratively walk a mile through three to four hundred pages in a character’s shoes.  It not only entertains me, but also forces me to understand humanity.  It is also the fiction I prefer to write, hoping to connect my reader to the heart and soul of my protagonist and characters instead of relying on a clever plot.    Recently, I read William Kent Krueger’s “Tamarack County” which is a character-driven mystery novel.  I still enjoy the fun and style of Lawrence Block’s novels, but Krueger’s novel opened me to the possibility of how to write a literary mystery novel.

I also think reading is a personal endeavor.  Especially when one reads character-driven novels.  And let’s face it.  We guys don’t open up easily.  We prefer results to ambiguity.  We will gladly talk about the weekend’s soccer matches and the performances of our favorite teams and players, but would be less comfortabel to discuss the tragedies that formed Etto’s young life, and how Yuri Fil, Ukranian soccer star, and his sister Zhuki, use soccer to help heal the young man in Brigid Pasulka’s “The Sun and Other Stars.”

Yes, the Metro Detroit Book & Author Luncheon is a Monday daytime event, which prohibits people who have traditional careers to attend.  Yes, the great majority of the attendees are the 65-74 year olds that the NEA found to be the age group with the highest percentage of readers.  And yes, I may be that rare species of male that enjoys reading and writing fiction that is character-driven.  I just have to have the presence of mind which crowd I’m in when it comes to conversation starters.  The table at the luncheon wouldn’t understand much if I shared the fun I had at the Detroit City FC match over the weekend, and my bowling team would give me blank stares if I told them I had attended a book signing with Colum McCann.

Personal anecdote:    My wife and I are the reverse image of this.  She reads nonfiction almost solely, whereas I read far more fiction than nonfiction.  I write fiction so that should be obvious, eh?  In the NPR article by Weiner, he included this quote:  “”We see it every time in our store,” says Carla Cohen, owner of the Politics & Prose bookstore in Washington, D.C. “Women head straight for the fiction section and men head for nonfiction.””  I found this to be funny because Literati Book Store in Ann Arbor has two floors, and when my wife and I go, she heads directly downstairs where the nonfiction is, whereas I browse the fiction shelves on the main floor.

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6 thoughts on “Where Are The Men?

  1. You touched on this, but senior citizens are big readers. That age group along with adolescents seem to read more. I’d like to think that if we had more leisure time, we would all read. But it might just mean more jet skiing or mountain biking and shopping.

    1. Thanks Dawne. The only books my wife and I agreed on were nonfiction books – specifically Buddhist books written by Geri Larkin. Unless you count comic books. We both enjoyed the New Teen Titans from the Marv Wolfman/George Perez era – the only comic books she liked.

  2. When I actually go out to a bookstore to buy a book, I tend to get reference books. This is because I do a lot of my fiction reading online and most of the people I read don’t have books out yet (or I already own them if they do :)) Chris and I are also both audiobook people so the results are a bit skewed hehe definitely fiction for him though.

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