It all started when Esquire reposted its list of 75 books every man should read. As is turns out, there is only one book by a woman there (but it has the word 'men' in the title). This caused an understandable outrage and made Joyland Magazine publish a list of 250 books by women that every man should read. When I saw it I immediately forwarded it to my boyfriend because I always complain he doesn't read any female fiction. His bookshelves are full of the usual suspects like Irvine Welsh, Chuck Palahniuk, Martin Amis and such. He, however, always refuses to admit he has sexist literary tastes and wrote in his reply to me:
"For the last time I don’t have an issue with books written by women and I do have many books written by women. The only reason I probably don’t have more is – as we’ve discussed – the book cover. If there are any flowers/children/anything that looks like a summer or spring day I’m not going to buy. Almost every fiction book I have has a strange illustration because I’m drawn to the cover first, then the synopsis. I don’t care who the writer is. For the last time I DON’T CARE WHO THE WRITER IS." (He is obviously a very angry young man).
So is it really about the cover? Are publishers scaring men off with pink flowers and children on the beach? Are pink flowers necessary? And are headless women necessary? This one publishing trend I just cannot understand. If there is anyone out there that could explain to me the publishing houses' fixation with headless women I would be extremely grateful. Even David Mitchell has recently fallen victim to this dangerous trend. His latest book "The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet" had a beautiful hardback cover:But when it was released in paperback, the publisher couldn't help themselves and decapitated another woman:
But I digress. We were talking about male and female writing. Just as everyone got over the indignation over the Esquire list, came a bomb in form of VS Naipaul who stated that no woman (dead or alive) can write as well as he can. He said that, unfortunately, women don't make good writers because they just write sentimental babble and he can always guess the author's sex after just one paragraph. Naipaul ramblings caused mass hysteria on the internet and put the forgotten author back on the map. Guardian jumped at the opportunity and prepared a gender test in which you can check if you are as good as Naipaul at establishing the author's sex after just one paragraph. I have taken the test and failed miserably. It started off with a scene of what looked like a typical sentimental family saga, so I clicked 'female'.
It turned out it was VS Naipaul.
I think it is safe to say that men don't read a lot of female fiction. I didn't realise just how bad the situation was until last night when I want to Orange Prize Shortlist readings. The shortlisted books touched on variety of subjects like war, hemaphrodytes, mental insitutions, tigers - generally the kind of things anyone could be interested in regardless to their sex (and I am happy to report that no shortlisted book had a headless woman on the cover).
The audience, however, was made up almost entirely of women. Of course, I expected the majority of the audience to be women, but, good God, that was a landslide. There were hundreds and hundreds of women and maybe ten men (who seemed like they were dragged there against their will).
So ladies (and gentlemen), this is the sad state of affairs. Men just don't read 'feminine tosh'. My questions is: whose fault is that? The women's because they write sentimental yarns, the men's because they are sexist and prejudiced or the publishers' because of their silly covers and targeting?
And more importantly, what can be done about it?