Thursday, 22 November 2012

Classics for women?

Jean-Honore Fragonard ~  The Reader

When it comes to Christmas presents ideas, a book is always a good option, if you know what to buy.
Recently, an acquaintance looking for a gift for his wife asked me for advice on "books for women", particularly classics like (and I quote) "Tess of the d'Uberville and Jane Eyre". 
Off the top of my head, I went through the usual list of Jane Austen and the Bronte Sisters and made a couple of suggestions on Russian literature (“Dr Zhivago”, “Anna Karenina”…), but was left a bit confused on what was meant, exactly.
 "Classics for women"? Classics are classics. 
Wouldn't a man enjoy reading "Pride and Prejudice"? Can't more modern classics like Virginia Woolf and Hemingway be loved by both sexes?
Perhaps it could be said that women tend to enjoy reading about people and relationships more than men, while men tend to enjoy books that are more factual, but they are  very broad generalizations.
Taste ultimately is individual. Women love a good thriller;  successful romantic books like "Love Story" and "One Day" were written by men and enjoyed by male and female readers alike. Terms like "women's fiction", "chic-lit" and "lad-lit" often include very similar types of books and genres are very blurred.
And yet, perceptions seem difficult to change.

As writers, we are told that putting our work in a clear genre is essential to help publishers with marketing our book. I placed my novel Playing On Cotton Clouds under the umbrella of "women's fiction" (though I also used the more general "contemporary fiction" tag) a term I’m not completely comfortable with. My book is for everyone, has both male and female characters as protagonists and has been enjoyed by both sexes. It has been compared to “One Day”, which, having been written by a man, was never categorized as “women’s fiction” despite including  very similar themes, so these kinds of distinctions seem a bit misleading.
Can we really think in terms of books "for men" and "for women"?

1 comment:

  1. Really interesting.
    Personally, I don't think any book falls 100% into one category.
    Most would think a novel such as 50 Shades... is for women. However, I know plenty of men who read it to get tips (and for other unsavoury reasons!)