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A Story of Manfiction

Stephen King has an article in Entertainment Weekly called “Who Days Real Men Don’t Read?” where he talks about the publishing industries perception that men don’t read.  Even though most current bestsellers are written by women, King says the idea that men who read are disappearing is false.

King also has some gender ideas about reading.  Women have “chick lit” and men have “manfiction,” and both are genres that provide what people want when they read — escape and entertainment.   What kinds of things does King think men and women like while reading?

Women like stories in which a gal meets a handsome (and possibly dangerous) hunk on a tropic isle; men like to imagine going to war against an army of bad guys with a Beretta, a blowtorch, and a submachine gun (grenades hung on the belt optional).

I’m not even sure where to start with that.  I don’t read much chick lit or romance because it ultimately annoys me; I know plenty of men that wouldn’t touch “manfiction” with a ten-foot pole.  I know that King has to simplify what is an interesting phenomenon about the reading habits of different genders in order to make it fit into his column space… but seriously?  You want to talk about gender and reading and authors and stories and that is what you have to reduce it to?

What do you think of “chick lit” and “manfiction”?  Do real men still read?  What are some more sophisticated suggestions for guys that like to read?

P.S. Thanks to Helen Ginger at Straight from Hel for blogging about this article so I could find it!

Photo by flickr user Gaetan Lee

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • chartroose November 19, 2008, 10:47 am

    I agree with you. I hate chicklit and ronmance and avoid it most of the time. I also avoid manfiction most of the time, although I must say I sometimes enjoy military science fiction and military fantasy. We shouldn’t put people in boxes based on their gender. It’s moronic and asshatterish.

    King let his misogyny show a bit too much, didn’t he?

  • Kim November 19, 2008, 12:35 pm

    chartroose: Yeah, I don’t think there is anything wrong with either genre, it just seems like such an over-simplification. I don’t know if I think King is being misogynistic, just oversimplifying an interesting phenomenon a little bit too much.

  • Joanne November 19, 2008, 3:43 pm

    I don’t even know what to say about this. But the first thing that came to mind was that I know many, many more women who read and enjoy King’s writing than men – could this statement hurt his female fanbase, or is he such an icon that he could say anything now?

  • bkclubcare November 19, 2008, 3:59 pm

    UGH. I don’t know what to say.

  • Kim November 19, 2008, 4:13 pm

    Joanne: Yeah, a lot of people read outside the genre’s he is putting people into. I think the issue about publisher’s not acknowledging men read is a big deal, but I don’t think saying men read this specific kind of literature really solves the problem or answers the question of why people think men don’t read.

    bkclubcare: Make sure you read the whole article, it might explain it more. Taking the quote out of the context of the article might be a little unfair, but not too much. The rest of the story is pretty similar.

  • theexile November 19, 2008, 5:20 pm

    King makes no mention of literary fiction — fiction that’s difficult to classify in any genre, including some of his own fiction. I wonder why he only addresses these particular genres? And the distinctions he makes are pretty simplistic regarding what tastes men and women have. Of course, publishers also seem to have made that distinction. I blame it on marketing.

  • Rebecca Reid November 19, 2008, 6:33 pm

    Joanne said: “is he such an icon that he could say anything now?” I’d say yes, but then I don’t have any respect for Stephen King….

    Personally, I don’t think “chick lit” or “manfiction” is great literature for any gender to read. There’s a place for it, and I like to escape with lighter reading too (although probably not manfiction or chick lit).

    Someone else mentioned “literary fiction” and I’d have to say that’s a bit closer to great literature. But I agree that King is completely off-base to say it’s a gender thing to read “chick lit” or “manfiction.”

  • Kim November 19, 2008, 7:12 pm

    theexile: Yeah, King starts the article with publishers, and I do think the marketing of books is part of the problem. However, with so many books out there, it’s helpful to have some way to classify new books to see if we can fit them into the books we might like to read. So, I understand the impulse to do it, even if it is annoying.

    Rebecca: Yeah, I remember you’re not a fan. I better be careful the Steven King fans don’t come get me 🙂 But I agree, there are lots more interesting escapist literature than these genres, at least for me.

  • fyreflybooks November 19, 2008, 8:17 pm

    I guess that since I read neither chicklit nor manfiction, I therefore belong to some unspecified third gender? I call shenanigans.

  • Teresa November 19, 2008, 8:47 pm

    Oh dear. Stephen King should know better than this. I’m sure he knows how many women love his books, which have bad guys aplenty and nary a tropical island in sight (well, unless it’s an eeeevil island). I’ll admit that I don’t read any of the modern manfiction authors that he mentions, but they have more appeal than Nora Roberts and Danielle Steele–and several of the old-school manfic writers he mentions are on my TBR list.

    Maybe the problem publishers are noticing has less to do with men not reading and more to do with women being willing to read manfic but men not being willing to read chicklit. (Have you ever seen a man reading a Shopaholic book?)

  • Kim November 20, 2008, 8:38 am

    fyreflybooks: Shenanigans called.

    Teresa: Ooo, your point about women “crossing genres” when men won’t is a great point! I never even thought of that.

  • Helen Ginger November 20, 2008, 2:01 pm

    I agree Teresa. Women do seem to cross the genre lines more often than men (not all, though). But I do think it’s good that we’re now discussing crossing genre lines in our reading rather than discussing crossing the sex lines in our writers. It used to be said that men wouldn’t read a woman writer. Both I and my husband will read a book without regard to the sex of the author.

  • alirambles November 20, 2008, 11:12 pm

    I don’t think he was implying that all women like one thing and all men like another. The point of the article is that books geared toward male readers are selling, not that women aren’t supposed to read them.

    As for me, I’m another third-gender person, I guess. 😉

  • Kim November 21, 2008, 1:33 pm

    Helen: Also a good point; at least we’re looking at the books themselves not focusing on who wrote them.

    alirambles: No, I don’t think he meant all people necessarily, and I do think he’s simplifying. I just think he simplified too much and misses some more interesting questions about reading and gender that would be good to talk about.