The whole question of how to get boys to read books is of course thoroughly fought-over terrain: see for instance Books for the boys. We all kind of “know” that young boys are less keen to sit quietly and read than their sisters; but so what? (Even if it’s true.) Janssen Bradshaw writing at Brightly (link via Shelf Awareness for Readers) tells of a list of recommended books helpfully compiled by his eleven-year-old daughter. They “were an even split between books with male protagonists and female protagonists. Still, many parents couldn’t fathom that their sons might enjoy these books because a girl recommended them.” With parents with that sort of wisdom, is it any surprise that kids often have difficulty growing up smart?

I’ve been wondering about this tweet from Neglected Books, a website I greatly admire: “I urge all literate men to set aside at least one year to reading only the work of women. I did it in 2015 and found it so mind-opening that I carried on for a second year”. I couldn’t decide whether this tweet raises an interesting question, or is just plain silly. Surely In order to find reading women authors a mind-opening experience, would I not need to have come from a place where I’d been intentionally reading only male authors? Which I don’t think I have. Well, of course I can check. Of the fifty books I managed to read in 2021, thirteen of them were by female authors. (I did finish the year strong with five of the last eight by women.) Am I in need of remedial work? I’ll have to think about this.

But are there any real differences between books written by men and women? What constitutes a man’s book as against a woman’s? I’m not sure I really know what’s different in Middlemarch as against let’s say The Old Wives’ Tale. I don’t mean that I find it hard to remember which one is which: I just find it hard to figure out what it is that might signal to me that one is written by a woman and the other by a man — and why I should care anyway. Not sure I’ve ever had the thought “Maybe I should read a book by a woman now” — or its opposite.

Are there more books by women than men or fewer? The Pudding has an article entitled The Gender Balance of The New York Times Bestseller List which crunches the numbers.

Of course this chart is only a reflection of bestsellerdom — might it be that lower down the sales ranking the picture would look different? The article hints that the gender imbalance goes right back to the publishing house. Or is it that men just churn out more manuscript than women rather than publisher prejudice? In any case it does seem that a bit of a convergence is under way. Even a genre like romance was heavily male-dominated in the fifties, but ratios are now reversed — as you can see in another chart at The Pudding piece.

Just read whatever you want. If it’s good, it’s good; if it’s not, too bad — but it won’t have anything to do with the gender of the author.