Forgive me if I’ve already gone on the following tangent before (though I don’t think I have), but over the course of the last year or so I’ve had an insatiable appetite for reading. We’re talking about a level of fervent passion akin to a tween’s ability to consume vampire novels and faintly-masked tawdry romances involving at least one participant with a life-threatening illness. This was a spirit and want that I was convinced college had knocked out of me the old fashioned way, with reading lots of primary sources. Nevertheless, I quickly proved myself wrong, and was digesting tales just as swiftly as girls half my age. Amidst all of this reading, one trend I noticed from the stack of titles I’d acquired is that the majority were written by men, guys, dudes, boys, or whatever you want to call them. Though I’d never shied away from reading books that were either written by men or had male protagonists (i.e. Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Ned Vizzini’s Teen Angst? Nah…, and Dan Ehrenhaft’s Tell it to Naomi) I never aggressively pursued books like these or made it a point to stray from the likes of Meg Cabot, Megan McCafferty, or Sarah Dessen. So maybe now all these years later, I’m making up for things? Or is it that, on some level, I’m connecting more with the subject matter being written about by men? To anyone remotely interested in gendered marketing or anthropology, this is a fascinating and bewildering case study, but to everyone else, there probably isn’t much meaning in my drastic change of reading material. I grew up and things changed, what’s the big deal?
I recently had a conversation with a colleague about the grand debate that is male vs. female writers. I mentioned my unaware bias toward men, whereas; she had a very calculated gravitation toward women. And her reasoning totally made sense—part instinct and part emotion, she felt that women write relationships with more nuance and understanding, while men are defter at writing span and big picture. While I don’t completely disagree with this statement, I don’t necessarily agree with it either. Two of the books I read last year exemplify a man’s deft ability to understand, explore, and illuminate interactions and relations with a fine sense of detail: Ted Thompson’s The Land of Steady Habits and Boris Fishman’s A Replacement Life, despite their being superficially quite different from one another. It’s unfortunate, but I do think that guys have earned a reputation of not caring about or being cognizant of details, the intricacies of contact included. Unless, that is, you’re Woody Allen. Conversely, women are assumed and expected to be the emotional, understanding, and observant ones, which is unfair and not always the case (as is true with most generalizations).
In light of these feelings I’ve started using the horribly insensitive term dick lit—in direct reference/homage/disgust to the previously deemed, long-standing phrase chick lit, which has so much baggage it’s a five-piece set! While I initially started categorizing titles as such that were perhaps more guttural, gruff, and gritty, I’ve come to use it in the colloquial sense for any book written by a man. This sometimes refers to highly literary work like Paul Beatty’s The Sellout, because hell, it was penned by a dude. I suppose there is some validity in calling these books more manly because, and this is my truth, most of the women I know read mostly commercial titles, but if they are upmarket or literary, they’re still written by women.
I’m not really trying to make a point here, if that’s what you’re wondering by now. I just happen to like books written by guys and since they’re giving me plenty of chances, it would seem a shame to pass them up.
*I should also mention that I wrote this post before this one was published.