One-Minute Book Reviews

April 1, 2009

Why Don’t Men Read Novels? (Quote of the Day / Gore Vidal)

Filed under: Quotes of the Day,Uncategorized — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:23 pm
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Many studies have shown that women read more fiction than men do, which may help to explain why they also join more reading groups. Why is this so? The novelist and essayist Gore Vidal offers an answer in his essay “Writers and the World” in his Homage to Daniel Shays: Collected Essays 1952-1972 (Random House, 1972):

“It has been observed that American men do not read novels because they feel guilty when they read books which do not have facts in them. Made-up stories are for women and children; facts are for men. There is something in this. It is certainly true that this century’s romantic estrangement of writer from the World has reduced the number of facts in the American novel. And facts are the stuff of art as well as of life.”

(c) 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.


  1. oh Janice,
    thats not true!!!
    i read novels and i really enjoy them!

    i bet that many guys read it too, but i dont know why, they just dont say it!

    thanks for sharing this post and be my guest to see some news on mine!

    Comment by neworldforus — April 1, 2009 @ 5:07 pm | Reply

  2. My husband reads more fiction than I do (he’s retired) – but it’s all mystery and suspense and some thrillers, all genres which don’t lend themselves well to book discussions.

    Comment by speedytexaslibrarian — April 1, 2009 @ 5:38 pm | Reply

    • Thanks to both of you! I’m still having a computer crisis and will try to add more to this later. Jan

      Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — April 1, 2009 @ 5:45 pm | Reply

    • Amanda: So many men resemble your husband in that respect. I’ve never understood, on a gut level, the appeal of a writer like Tom Clancy, though I’ve written more than one article explaining his popularity on other terms. And I agree that most genre fiction doesn’t lend itself well to reading groups.

      But I actually think a lot of book clubs might enjoy and learn from reading some the modern classics of genre, such as Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, John le Carre’s early “Smiley” novels, and almost anything but Patricia Highsmith. Critics have been arguing about some of these for decades, so there’s at least the potential for great discussions about them at book groups.

      Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — April 2, 2009 @ 12:42 pm | Reply

  3. Haha.. I seldom read novels but love factual stuff; from tech to medicine.
    I don’t know about that ‘manliness’ theory, as for me, I like to think I’m finding out things that actually exist in the world when I read something; instead of reading something that may be close enough to reality, but is in essence a made-up story. The things novels teach can be summed up in a few sentences, and if novels have a message I prefer to read a write-up analyzing the message, instead of spending a lot more time reading the entire novel in order to arrive at the core message it wants to convey.

    I don’t need a heart-wrenching account of a misused Afghan woman, I’d rather read a factual piece about their plight, it’s to the point, informative, and it doesn’t take me as long to get through it. I suppose you could call that stilted and cold-hearted, but fictional stories – no matter how well they’re written or how vividly the story is portrayed – never managed to get to me; every time I read a novel I found myself stripping it down in order to establish facts, and found that reading an article or two about the topic brings a lot more insight. I can’t even remember the last time I read a novel I was actually inclined to finish, for that same reason.

    I’m sure a lot of people who prefer factual stuff have their own reasons for it, and I’m sure reasons vary. I suppose many novels cater to people’s escapist desires; though factual accounts do the same thing for me. Though if I read novels and enjoyed them I’d definitely own up to liking them.

    Comment by watchingthedoers — April 1, 2009 @ 5:55 pm | Reply

    • Watching the doers: Factual accounts do have wonderful escapist pleasures, don’t they? There’s been such a flowering of narrative nonfiction in the past couple of decades, I could name many true stories I’ve enjoyed more than a lot of novels — from business books like Liar’s Power to Jon Krakauer’s adventure tales such as Into Thin Air.

      Have you been able to figure out why you prefer factual accounts to novels? For example, when you were young, did your family read imaginative literature (make-believe stories) to you? Some experts would say that you have to develop a taste for it early, though I think it can come later. So I’m wondering if you’ve been able to see anything beyond that dicey “manliness” issue that’s at work here.

      Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — April 2, 2009 @ 12:33 pm | Reply

  4. great post janice, and btw, i read a lot of novels too!!!

    and stop with this crisis and back to work lady!!! lol


    Comment by betterworldforus — April 2, 2009 @ 12:21 am | Reply

  5. I’m completely fascinated by this topic. My husband usually opts out of reading because there’s something else he’d prefer to do, or that he believes is a higher priority for him. But he doesn’t choose his reading material from a fiction vs. fact perspective and I’ve found that if I leave a “manly” book out (“The Road” by Cormac McCarthy for example) as bait, he’ll pick it up and even finish it before I get the chance to. I love when that happens because then we can talk about it later.

    Comment by sarahsk — April 2, 2009 @ 5:02 pm | Reply

    • Sarah — Your husband’s willingness to pick up those books is encouraging. I wonder if men avoid novels because they have preconceptions that might fall away if they had more exposure to books they might like. Your approach sounds like one that other women could try with a profit :).

      Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — April 3, 2009 @ 3:42 pm | Reply

  6. I agree that factual accounts do have escapist elements when the things you’re reading about don’t concern you personally. When that happens it definitely gives the feeling of escaping into someone else’s world, with the exception that the people you imagine it affects are not personally described. I seldom even read factual accounts that ‘flow’ like a story; I read textbooks mostly, just for fun. (I know, I know!), The only story-like factual books I read are a biography now and again and books by Oliver Sacks. The rest are higher-education or specialized textbooks.

    I think I prefer factual accounts to novels because I love knowledge, and I like to think reading textbooks and educational books is a more efficient way of absorbing real knowledge. What’s more I can imagine the things I’m reading to apply to whomever I choose to imagine, as opposed to a person or people who’s characters and looks and lifestyle are all described for you already.

    When I was young my mother did read children’s books to me; I grew up with Roald Dahl, and some local author’s books; though apart from the odd fairytale most of the books I read were realistic; depicted realistic stories about the life of young children. My mother said I asked her to read those as opposed to the novels with a more imaginary theme or imaginary elements, I don’t know why. I grew up in a non-religious home, both my parents were very grounded individuals who were very logical, rational people, so maybe that dislike of all things non-realistic colored off on me.

    Comment by watchingthedoers — April 3, 2009 @ 9:04 am | Reply

    • Your experience of gravitating toward realistic books even at a very young age fits with a lot of the research on the subject what I’ve heard from librarians and others. Children show such strong reading preferences at such early ages! I wonder if decades from now, genetic research will have shown that some of these preferences are inherited, just as it has shown that some people inherit personality traits (such as a tendency to aggression) that experts used to think resulted from poor parenting or lack of self-control.


      Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — April 3, 2009 @ 3:48 pm | Reply

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