21 August 2008

While I Was Out....

I'm back. And not too worse for wear. I'm not quite back into the swing of things yet, but for what it's worth, here's my take on gendered reading. I'm just going to jump in so if you want some prep, read the link first.

From what I can see, a male writer who can write well about relationships, and where most of the action takes place in a domestic setting, is likely to be read by both men and women. His work won't be considered a "woman's book", even if it's mostly about love or family dramas. He won't get a dreadful pastel cover (E.g. Nick Hornby's About A Boy, How to Be Good, etc). If the book is very good it may win prizes. (Ian McEwan's Atonement).

However, a female writer who does the same will for some reason have a tough time getting the male audience. This is the Anne Tyler conundrum. Margaret Atwood has seemed to escape this with Oryx and Crace and maybe, to some extent, with The Blind Assassin. So elements of science fiction help. And maybe scope can help as well: I've never seen the "woman's book" label applied to Zadie Smith.

The "woman's book" issue is pertinent. Increasingly, any book written by a woman or thought likely to be of interest to a woman, is given one of those dreadful, pastel, can't-tell-one-from-another chick-lit covers. As noted by Diane Shipley in The Guardian,

Male authors who create sympathetic female characters are also at risk. Douglas Kennedy's work is frequently lauded for its intelligence and vision, yet his novels all feature non-descript pictures of wistful-looking women and the ubiquitous flowing script that denotes a female-friendly beach book.

What I'd like to see is the opposite: more women authors being given the cross-over by their publishers. Surely the marketing departments understand that dressing a book in that wistful way means alientating most if not all of the male audience. That's a lot of book-purchase power at stake! (And while we're on the subject, why continue to insult us women?)

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