"Immersion in the life of the world, a willingness to be inhabited by and to speak for others, including those beyond the realm of the human, these are the practices not just of the bodhisattva but of the writer." --Jane Hirshfield

Friday, June 22, 2007

Who Reads Women Authors?

According to this article in the London Times, it's not men. I think we have to take into account that many books are written for female readers -- 77% of women vs. only 44% of men buy and read fiction. According to author Joanna Kavenna, men are unwilling to read books by women, while women tend to read books by either sex.

It may be that my preference for female authors -- slight though it turns out to be -- is mostly a matter of compatible points of view, but I must also confess that I do not find many male authors capable of writing interesting and convincing female characters. I yearn for fascinating females in my fiction reading, so I read fewer male authors. There's nothing quite as disappointing for me as starting a promising book, only to find that the main female character is a large-breasted cardboard cutout, or worse, some poorly drawn remnant of the author's childhood, perhaps, that should have been psychoanalyzed away.


John Baker said...

It's a serious charge but one that cannot be totally denied. While I feel I must defend the many male writers who can produce good female characters, you are, of course, right in drawing attention to those who can't.
Character isn't easy and is the place where good and bad fiction often part company.
I am one of the men who do read novels by female authors as well as male ones and I believe that both genders are capable of portraying cliched characters of either sex.
When I come across bad writing of that kind I put the book to one side and usually don't bother reading anything else by that author.
Similarly, when I come across something good, I make a note of the author's name and keep half an eye open for anything else by him/her.
I must say, I don't normally put fiction writers into male/female boxes; it's much more real to put them into good/bad boxes.
But perhaps I'm missing the point?

Zen of Writing said...

Of course you're correct that some women draw shallow male characters -- it's the same problem -- whether it's bad writing or lack of empathy for each sex -- men and women authors are both guilty at times. Maybe I find the shallow female characters more galling because I'm female, or maybe it's the decades of near naked female bodies draped over new automobiles, shoes, etc. that have honed my sensitivity, or maybe I've weeded out the shallow male characters without taking as much note...

I agree it's more real to put writers into good/bad boxes than male/female -- in fact I had to count up how many books I'd read this year by women or men -- fortunately, for the first time, I'm keeping a list. I expected the women to outnumber the men by a greater margin, but I did have a number of sci fi authors, mostly male, tilt the totals more toward equality -- shallow, big-breasted female characters and all. Oh well, what we read in the name of research (for my own post-apocalyptic novel).

Kay Sexton said...

By and large, I agree, but I wonder how people really know? We all remember JK Rowling hiding her gender, and when I write science fictin I do it under a genderless name because I COULD NOT get published as a woman. Is it a preconception that causes us to look for a certain thing in relation to the perceived gender of the writer, and to find it? I have to agree though, that some of my favourite male writers (Bernard Cornwell, for example) do produce pretty awful stereotypical women - but what about Alexander McCall Smith's Precious Romotswe? Roths' women are little more than place holders for his male characters, but F Scott Fitgerald produced such rounded women that there was once a rumour that Zelda 'wrote those bits' so I think it's much more about writing to perceived audience than masculine inability.