Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A story

Yesterday, in an entirely non-bookish setting, 6 unrelated people between ages 17-79 (two men, four women) were told to name a few books they'd read recently. The room split into two groups, men vs. women, and each group pulled up names of books in an attempt to stump the opposite "team".

Of the books listed, none were common. Except for one book, the men didn't recognize any of the women's books. The women recognized one of the men's books, and the others not at all. One of the books was a children's book that one of the men had read to his child recently. Another was a non-fiction history book. Among the books the women read there was a book about the Holocaust, a memoir, and an internationally popular bestseller.

I can't say I was surprised, but it was strange to see this clear, sharp divide. The men's list was shorter and contained more non-fiction books. The women's list was primarily fiction, with a smattering of memoirs here and there. Each woman seemed surprised when the men didn't recognize their books. The men seemed unsurprised that the women didn't know theirs.

It's a small story and an isolated incident, but there's something odd to it. What's with this divide? I'd be curious to hear any opinions, thoughts.


  1. Since I spend my days in a bookstore, I can say that I'm not very surprised by this, either. We've known for a while that men read more non-fiction than women do and that women tend to read more in general (as a side note, did you know that Father's Day is the second biggest book-buying holiday after Christmas? All those women trying to get men to read....), and they consistently request different kinds of titles.

    At any given time, there are hot titles that men are after and hot titles women are after, and there is usually very little crossover. Some of the big bestselling authors seem to have equal readers of both genders, and there are the occasional books with universal appeal (lately, Marley & Me and The Last Lecture come to mind), but the divide is real.

    As a case study, my husband and I are both avid readers (and let me tell you, 2 toppling TBR piles in one house can be a bit overwhelming), and though we have relatively similar interests, we look for very different things in books and very rarely share with each other.

    I don't know how to explain it, and I'm not even sure it's a bad thing. It just is what it is...and as long as people are reading, I'm happy.

  2. Most of the people I work with are in book groups. The only man I know among them is in a group that reads about 3/4 nonfiction; none of the women's groups do. One woman in my group refuses to read any kind of nonfiction at all, on principle.

    My boyfriend reads about a book a month, while I go through about ten a week. We both read slightly more than half nonfiction. He has very rarely heard of anything I'm reading, at least until I tell him about it! When he reads fiction, I've always heard of it, from Patrick O'Brien to Jules Verne to Tom Clancy.

    I don't understand where this gap comes from, either, though my boyfriend chooses to spend time watching hockey games on TV at times that I choose to read.

  3. I don't have a clue how this Mars/Venus thing started, but I see it all the time. I belong to a book club that has several couples, and our choices tend to break down this way: men=non-fiction, women=fiction. Memoirs have been a middle ground.

  4. It may not, in fact, be what it is (or rather, what it appears). These were not remotely random samples, and even if they were, they're extremely small. It's the most anecdotal of anecdotal evidence. If you had split up by age group rather than sex, or by some other characteristic, you probably would have found what appeared to be patterns among those groups as well.

    /pretentious Stat rambling

  5. it's really hard to draw conclusions from such a small group. like zeke said, you could probably break the group down all kinds of different ways and get different results.

  6. Zeke and Marie: I agree with you both 100% that this specific incident isn't enough to reach any conclusive conclusions. I was just surprised by how both groups seemed not to recognize the other's books at all.

    Dave, V1rago, and Book Lady: Your interesting takes have made me wonder if perhaps this isn't something that really needs to be looked into.

  7. My impression is that men often seek out books on facts, so there you are on the non-fiction. Most of my male colleagues bury their noses in history, sports and finance books. Women tend to escape reality with works of fiction. Women are probably more imaginative and so they can relate to the characters more.


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