By February 27, 2008 0 Comments Read More →

The Reader of Today Is a Woman

How many men do you know who end their day snuggling up in their favorite armchair with a good novel?

I thought so.

A couple of centuries ago, authors directly addressed the male reader. Friendly man-to-man asides throughout the narrative assumed the reader to be of the same sex. Women readers were, of course, allowed to peek over the man’s shoulder, so to speak, or glance at the volume in the home library while the man was out doing manly things, but women readers were considered incidental.

Those days are history. Today statistics show that the average reader is an educated woman in her thirties. Men who read at all tend to prefer sci-fi and thrillers. And anyone who’s ever been in a reading group knows that getting a male reader to join is cause for rejoicing.

Which is just one of the reasons we were all so happy last night to see Lowen walk through the restaurant door for our book club meeting. Lowen Clausen is a Seattle author who’s written three police procedurals with local settings and has just published his first non-genre novel, River. Lowen loves books. I first met Lowen back in the seventies, when he was a Nebraska farmboy with an incurable fascination for reading. Lowen isn’t gabby and you’d never say he drove the conversation. But when he speaks he always chooses his words carefully.

Last night, the first two women to speak (we sit at a round table, and start a meeting by going around establishing our positions on the book) didn’t care much for the novel. Maybe that made Lowen extra eloquent. With about three times more than usual to say, he gave a quiet, dignified rhapsody of praise for the way Pat Barker showed her characters changing in the face of war. His low-key Danish passion got everyone to sit up a little straighter.

Our other reasonably-regular male member, Jeff, was home sick with the flu. Jeff compares everything to the classics, so he’s never satisfied. He likes to take on biggies. He’s just finished the 700-page, seven-novel Colombian classic, The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll, and is midway through the new translation of War and Peace, while expressing an interest in joining the new Proust book club. He often manages to make time for our club book, too.

We used to have a third male member, Robert, but we’ve pretty much lost him. Robert reads so much following his own drummer that he’s hard-pressed to squeeze in our monthly selection. He’s currently fascinated by deaf culture, and reading every book he can find on it.

And then there’s me. My love for books long ago took over my life. For over thirty years I’ve been the bookman in a little bookstore. When I’m not reading a good book, I’m slightly edgy and not myself. Carrying a book around with me all day is my security blanket. I’m never standing in line or riding on a bus without one. Obsessive reading seems to be my way of responding to all the suffering and darkness in the world. Entering into the minds of smart writers and watching how they interpret human interaction never ceases to fascinate me.

But Lowen and Jeff and Robert and I are anomalies. We’re the exceptions in the thundering herd of modern males who prefer their kick-back entertainment to be electronic. Most men I know, even smart and reasonably literate ones, would only read a novel if there were absolutely no other entertainment form available.

Having said that, if I’m wrong, and there are plenty of men out there who love reading and discussing novels, well, then, um, guys, I was wondering, can I interest you in a book club?

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About the Author:

Nick DiMartino is a university bookseller in Seattle, WA. He was a Booklist contributor from 2007 to 2009 and is the author of Seattle Ghost Story (1998) as well as numerous plays.

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