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June 2, 2005

In the ghetto

My first response to reports like this is always anger. While women read literary-fiction by men and women both, men don’t really do the same, though as this article notes now at least they pretend to dabble in authoresses. I get uppity at such imbalances. However. My favourite book, of one of my many favourites, is Unless by Carol Shields. I think this book handles the state of being a woman and becoming a woman with such a poignant acuity, but I don’t think my boyfriend could appreciate this. He is one of the most brilliant people I know, but the storyline couldn’t hold him and he’d only be reading it out of acquiescence to me, and that doesn’t make him a bad person or a poor reader. I understand that, and I think he is not such an exception among men (in this area only of course). The same goes for my beloved Margarets Drabble and (some) Atwood. He did like Oryx and Crake- case in point. It’s a mixture of style and substance that separates the kind of books he loves from the sort I do. I think he could read them, and even admit their brilliance but that wouldn’t be fun for him, and then what’s the point of that really? There are many books that we do read together, and books that I recommend to him, knowing they have a certain Stuartness about them. Juniper Tree Burning was one of those books, about a woman and so plot-driven and furiously paced that he would have devoured it, even as so much of the story was about various states of womanness etc. A.S. Byatt bristles at “ghettoization”. I think that quality literary fiction is a ghettoised genre unto itself these days. Also, as good citizens/readers (which are often one and the same), all of us have an obligation to read important additions to the canon by men and women. But the fact is that most men are not going to pick women’s fiction up at leisure, and this is why recognition from institutions such as the Orange Prize really is important, to help get these books into the public eye.

In summation, I guess it would be good if Stuart loved “Unless”, but I understand why he doesn’t. And a man not loving a book doesn’t make it any less good.

A remaining question would be, why then are women able to read book by writers of either gender? Perhaps, is masculinity a more universal, less specialised condition, that even women can relate to to some extent? Perhaps, dare I say, there are not books being written about the state of being a man in the same volume as those about women? Or maybe there are, and I just haven’t read them, and therefore things are balanced afterall. Is there a masculine counter to “Unless” and it’s ilk? Please leave recommended titles as a comment if you think so.

2 thoughts on “In the ghetto”

  1. Mike says:

    I think the last book I read by a woman was “Larry’s Party”, which was a rare foray by a woman author into the mind of a guy.

    I tried to read an Atwood book once, in the mists of time, but ended up wanting to punch my face off.

  2. Mike says:

    Suggested guy reading: All the Pretty Horses (which Nathalie also enjoyed), Great Expectations, Last Orders (Graham Swift), A Star Called Henry (Roddy Doyle) and A Farewell to Arms (though apparently For Whom the Bell Tolls is better, but I’m not that far along in my Hem-knowledge).

    And my mom says that the Atwood book I tried (Surfacing) is her worst, and that I should try something else to get a rounded perspective.

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