Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Am I a Sexist Reader

The other day, I talked a little about how much the work of certain writers had affected my life, and I realized today that all the writers I mentioned were male. Steinbeck, Lewis Thomas, Peter Matthiessen, etc.. I began to wonder if this makes me a “sexist?” When I give this possibility a closer look, I realize that most of the writers I read are indeed male, and that most of my favorite books have been written by males. Any list of my favorite authors would include, Ernest Hemingway, Robert E. Howard, Karl Edward Wagner, Ray Bradbury, Louis L’Amour. Some of my most recent favorites are Scott Westerfeld and David Gemmell. Why are they all males? Am I truly a sexist reader?

First, in my defense let me say that there are a number of women writers who I do enjoy. I read everything I could find by Andre Norton when I was a teenager. She was a great adventure writer. Of course, a devil’s advocate might point out that I didn’t know Andre was a woman at the time, and that she almost always wrote about male characters. On the other hand, I knew C. L. Moore and Janet Morris were both women before I ever touched their stuff and yet I’ve read most of Moore’s work and quite a bit of Morris’s. Moore’s Jirel of Joiry stories certainly rank her among my top ten favorite writers in fantasy. Janet Morris’s work in the Thieves’ World books with the character of Tempus was also extraordinary. And one of my favorite books is Frankenstein, written by a woman. I also really like the work of Leigh Brackett, especially her early fantasy/SF stuff. Her Sword of Rhiannon rocked.

On the other hand, I’ve never read anything by many contemporary female authors who are supposed to be good. Books by Amy Tan, Anne Tyler, and Fannie Flag have never shadowed my face. I once read a book by Erica Jong and didn’t like it. I barely made my way through The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. I’ve read but not really enjoyed stories by Octavia Butler. For classic female writers, I only read Ayn Rand because I was required to, and the only thing I ever liked by Eudora Welty was her book on writing. (Lest you think I only “dislike” books by women, let me assure you that Moby Dick, The Metamorphosis, and Leaves of Grass are among my all time least favorite works.)

In a final analysis, I don’t think I’m a sexist reader (let me know if you do). I think I’ve read mostly male writers, and find works by male writers to be atop my lists of favorites, for several reasons. 1) When I was growing up in the 1960s and 1970s women were underrepresented among writers of SF and fantasy, which was most of what I read. When they wrote that “stuff,” as with Moore, Brackett and Norton, I read them. 2) As a male, I like a lot of traditional male stuff. I like battles and gunfights; I like football. Even today there are few women who write westerns, football stories, and books about World War III. When it comes to fiction, I read what I like, and quite often it is the male writer who writes it, quite probably because they like that stuff too. 3) Related to my #2, there are some things I don’t care to see in fiction. I don’t mind a good strong male/ female relationship, but that had better not be the main focus of the book or it’s going to lose me. I don’t care anything at all about recipes, clothes, shopping, or the upkeep of a castle. I recently read a fantasy novel that my girlfriend prized highly and I found it very boring because there were long stretches that focused on the clothing at court and the proper way to accept a suitor’s advances. The prose was well written but, sorry, not my drink of choice. Women and men have much in common, but there are differences that I don’t think diminish either gender. I certainly don’t think it’s sexist to prefer war stories over romances. Nor to prefer romances to westerns.

My final conclusion. “I’m all right.” (Did you see that one coming?

1 comment:

cs harris said...

I don't think you're sexist, Charles; I think you're just a guy! I tend to read a mix of male and female authors, but even the female authors I read--Dorothy Dunnett, MM Kaye, PD James-- lean heavily toward adventure and mystery. I have no interest in reading about shoes, shopping, cooking and cleaning tips, etc. I even have a low tolerance for personal angst, which is a favorite with literary writers of both sexes. And while I enjoy a good love story, it had better not be silly, and I want it served with a healthy dash of adventure (one of the reasons I can't read Nicholas Sparks--a male writer of love stories). But then, my daughters are always telling me I should have been born male.