Musing Mondays: Can novels survive without women readers?

I recently read an article (here), that I found through BiblioAddict’s blog, that talked of “why women read more than men”. In it, author Ian McEwan is quoted saying:

“When women stop reading, the novel will be dead.”

Do you believe this to be true? Why, or why not?

My personal life leaves no doubt that if women quit reading, the novel would be severely wounded. Yet because my fiction consumption has actually increased over the last few years, I doubt it would be stone cold dead.

A lot of people are surprised at the number of books I read. Yet my wife reads a lot more. I would also speculate at least 50 percent are novels. But I think both the question and the study upon which it is based are somewhat flawed.

I think it important to wonder about the type of novel we’re dealing with. A glance at most bestseller lists indicates they contain what I would term “mass market” novels, not (a term I really hate to use) “serious” literature. If anything, the latter is probably already at risk regardless of the sex of the reader.

Second, it is appalling that the survey uses the term “avid readers” for women who typically read nine books a year and men who typically read five a year. I know life is busy (and, of course, there is the great god, television) but our country should be embarrassed if someone who reads far less than a book a month is considered an avid reader.

I don’t think the question is whether novels can survive without women readers. I think a more important question is how long American literary culture and literacy can decline before the damage is irreversible.

…though we can condemn the material suppression of literature … we are powerless when it comes to its worst violation: that of not reading the books. For that crime, a person pays with his whole life.

Joseph Brodsky, 1987 Nobel Lecture

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1 comment to Musing Mondays: Can novels survive without women readers?

  • Thanks for your thoughts. Good to hear from another man. And, yes, we should all be concerned about the decline of literacy in America.