I really have no proof of your existence other than my blog stats. But they tell me you are out there and some of you come here everyday.
I am writing today to tell you I haven't been so angry with the internets for a very long time. Here I was, gently surfing, or perhaps strolling is a better word, through some random corners of the World Wide Web when I came upon the website of one fantastic publisher - Persephone Books. Delighted, I decided to read their publication - Persephone Books Bianually. I am a very organised person and I do things in order and according to lists, so I started with the very first issue, supposedly from 1999. As soon as I started reading I thought I went a little too far in the archives and found myself in 1899 after all.
The piece, which you can find here is a reprint from Observer (they did have Observer in 1899, right?) and it talks about the differences between what men and women read and it was written by some Nicci Gerrard (excuse me if I sound condescending, Nicci will return the favour shortly). Whenever I see that something is trying to compare with all seriousness things that men and women do/think/feel I know to expect a lot of imbecility and probably a conclusion that I am either a man or some androgynous in-between form.
To come to conclusions about men and women reading habits Nicci Gerrard used a wide sample of herself and her husband (and a little bit of their children when it fit). To summarise here is what men read: novels, short stories, poetry, maths and science books, Ancient Greek Made Easy, the New Testament, biographies, essays and philosophical reflections. And they can read all that at the same time. They can actually have about fifty books they are 'reading'.
This, Nicci claims, is impossible for a woman. Women read only one book and immerse themselves completely (which goes against another fantastic stereotype about women being multi-taskers and men being more single-minded). I guess the reason behind it is that women just don't have the brain power to take on board more than one book. Right now I am reading two books and a magazine, and God, I know I am pushing my luck here, I might collapse soon.
Then Nicci says that for men books are a way to control the world and acquire knowledge. For women books offer an escape. As she says about her and her daughter:
"Together, we read Little Women, adore the March sisters, and cry over their misfortunes. Swimming or sinking, waving or drowning. Men and women read differently."
My growing up experiences were quite different. My mother certainly did not read 'Little Women' to me and I have never cried with my mother over anything. What my mother did was teach me binary code when I was six and five years later give me a University preparation coursebook on physics which I found delightful.
My father, on the other hand, gave me books about adventures in faraway lands and sometimes we read them together.
According to Nicci Gerrard's analysis my mother is a actually a man and my father is a woman, which, you can appreciate it, is a disturbing thing to discover about your parents.
Then she says:
"When, at about 14, I first read Jane Eyre, I knew at once that it was written for and to me. I was the Dear Reader. It wasn't just a simple matter of identification with the plain, stubborn, misunderstood and unloved heroine. The novel has everything - it is like a masterclass in what women want from fiction (it mimics our favourite fairy-tales and it spawned tens of thousands of Mills & Boons)"
Oh, and now I am angry. Speak for yourself!
"Women fall in love with Darcy, with Heathcliff. We become Rebecca, tremulous with fear and yearning. Sylvia Plath allows us to become raw and raging masochists (and masochism is a strong element of female identification: from gentle and self-sacrificing Anne in Persuasion to the terrifyingly complete victims in Jean Rhys's novels)."
I suppose I can agree with masochism as I am still reading this article and it can only be explained by some masochist streak in my personality.
And just as I thought it was as bad as it gets I read this:
"I have never met a woman who has read Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels."
I was flabbergasted. Just exactly how many women have you met in your life? Five? I mean, if she said Charles Bukowski, then maybe I could understand where she was coming from but Terry Pratchett??? Terry bloody Pratchett?? Everybody reads Terry Pratchett! What planet are you from?
She did then admit - "(although I'm sure there must be a few around, just as there are a few girls who play War Hammer and learn football results by heart)", so I thought maybe I am one of those weirdos who hang out with women who read Terry Pratchett and understand math. Therefore, to be completely fair, I went to Goodreads.com, picked a random book by Pratchett and checked the readers. No, still pretty much equal division between guys and girls (but of course, those girlsprobably play football and don't shave their armpits)
And then Nicci goes (because she is obviously on a roll now):
"Men write satires and parodies; women usually don't. Men are sarcastic, sceptical, abstract; women are sincere and often sentimental."
Yes. I can feel I am definitely growing a penis now.
"Girls concentrate, boys don't (five minutes is their apparent attention span). Girls play imaginary games and boys tumble and fight. Girls collaborate and boys compete. Girls are emotional and empathic; boys more abstract and judicial. Girls talk about feelings and boys talk about facts, ideas. Girls are interested in people and boys in ideas. Girls like stories, boys like lists. Girls like fiction and boys like fact."
Yes. Ha ha. I am definitely a man, and have been one since a very young age. Sadly, it seems that my sister is rather masculine as well.
And you just have to read the ending of this tour de force because she wraps the thing up with this delightful thought:
"Sean undoubtedly knows more than I do. He knows about logarithms and quarks and premier leagues and Bobby Fischer's best chess games and the dates of the Hundred Years' War and Wittgenstein's linguistic theories and when electricity was discovered and he can always remember the speed of light and the speed of sound and how many miles it is round the circumference of the earth and what the capital of Guatemala is. But I know what it is like to fall in love with Darcy."
Swing low, sweet chariot, she doesn't even know the capital of Guatemala. It's Guatemala City! How fucking hard is that?