Saturday, April 08, 2006

All Angst and Orwell?

Gender differences in reading habits is a topic that keeps coming back to haunt this blog. Small wonder because these differences in reding habit give a fascinating glimpse into the mindset of the opposite sex.

Researchers Lisa Jardine and Annie Watkins of the University of London interviewed 500 men, all with some professional connection to literature, and asked them about the novel that most changed their life. This piece of research was actually a follow-up to a similar survey carried out last year, asking women for their seminal novel. Both studies were conducted in conjunction with the Orange Prize.

They found that:
The novel that means most to men is about indifference, alienation and lack of emotional responses. That which means most to women is about deeply held feelings, a struggle to overcome circumstances and passion ...
And here's the list of favourites that emerged:
  • The Outsider by Albert Camus
  • Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
  • Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  • The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald
  • Brighton Rock by Graham Greene
  • Catch 22 by Joseph Heller
  • High Fidelity by Nick Hornby
  • Ulysses by James Joyce
  • Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
  • The Book of Laughter and Forgetting by Milan Kundera
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  • One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
  • 1984 by George Orwell
  • The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger
  • The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  • The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien
  • The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  • Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Professor Jardine commented that:
... men do not regard books as a constant companion to their life's journey, as consolers or guides, as women do. They read novels a bit like they read photography manuals. The men's list was all angst and Orwell. Sort of puberty reading.
Men did not come up with anywhere like the range of titles that the women did, and did not regard novels as life companions in the same way that women did.

And shock horror: the study also revealed that men between the ages of 20 and 50 generally do not read fiction. (Actually, I think we more or less knew this already.)

Does the survey actually teach us anything useful? There's lively discussion of the issues raised on the Guardian blog.

Anyway, let's chuck the discussion over to the male readers of this blog - what is the most important novel you've ever read? Is it on the list or something different?

Y'know I've really got to scratch my head to think about the answer to this for myself ... there are so many ...

But 1984 would be pretty high up on my list too ...


Anonymous said...

"the study also revealed that men between the ages of 20 and 50 generally do not read fiction."

See, I _told_ you I was a fictional character :)

__earth said...

1984 is the roxx0r!

Greenbottle said...

I've all these books and read and love them all except six which i've yet to read. Doestoyevski's crime and punishment changed me...(used to have raskolnikovXXX as my hotmail address) catcher in the rye about 3 times or more in my younger days...always imagine i'm jay gatsby when i get pissed off with some bitches...marquez's 100 years make me start reading books for the way they are written...i love huck finn more than most fiction characters i've come across..and kurt vonnegut...what can i say...i worship him...the only one missing in the list that changed my life is 'the tin drum' by gunther grass...and yes another one... mario vargas llosa's 'aunt julia and the scriptwriter'...and i don't care if men don't read...

Jordan said...

I think two novles are important to me:

1. O Alquimista (The Alchemist) by Paulo Coelho: I had never heard of it until a Portuguese friend of mine gave me a copy (in the original Portuguese, which I think made the whole experience more interesting). That book really spoke to me.

2. No Great Mischief by Alistair MacLeod: a beautiful novel about people from my home, the island of Cape Breton. The author is a distant cousin of mine. He writes about people and places that are in my blood.

MacLeod writes about things from the mists of my ancestral past, whereas The Alcehmist spoke to me about the mysteries of the future. I'm quite fond of both books because they brought that past and that future into my present and made them both more real for me.

Anonymous said...

As Des von Bladet has pointed out, "500 men with some professional connection to publishing" does not by any sensible methodological standard neccessarily mean "most men".

dreamer idiot said...

I really enjoy half the books on the list (I have only read half of them). My favourite on the list has to be Crime and Punishemnt ... Dostovesky is a master, and speaks so deeply about the human condition. Another so called 'angsty' novel I enjoy, but not on the list, would be The Sun Also Rises...

Far from being emotionally UNdeveloped, I think guys enjoy these supposedly 'angsty', because of their emotional depth (not the lack of it) ...and for the deep metaphysical and existential anxieties (political for some of these books) that haunt us. Perhaps, we guys might not be altogether completely different, just that our sense of self and heartfelt need for significance find their expressions differently...and not that we are in anyway emotionally crippled or deficient, so to speak :)

Anyway, my other favourites (by women) that rank very highly is Beloved (Was a class reading list, and I cried reading it) and Wuthering Heights (Catherine and Heathcliff)... Yes, Jane Austen's Emma and Pride&Prejudice also stand quite highly with me...but, that doesn't mean I am one of those SNAGs -sentisive new age guy... just a regular bloke who equally loves his football :)

dreamer idiot said...

Oh yeah...I wonder whether these researchers work on the assumptions of those French feminist theories that argue for the difference between masculine and feminine writings.

lil ms d said...

me -

the house of sleeping beauties - yasunari kawabata
100 years of solitude - g.g. marcia
delta of venus - anais nin
tess of the d'urbevilles - thomas hardy

there are a lot more...

BawangMerah said...

Paolo Coelho's The Alchemist. This book changed the way I looked at life. Though I've yet to get it back from a friend I lent it too hmph.

Sufian said...

Pamuk's My Name is Red, Marquez's Autumn of the Patriarch, Palahniuk's Fight Club. Musil's Young Torless. Cortazar's Hopscotch. Tanizaki's The Key. Dee's Supernova. Rahmat Harun's Terang Bulan.

madcap machinist said...

A couple of years ago I started Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist and I finished it feeling inexplicably lighter. I still skim through it from time to time, as I do his other books, for 'light reading', as it were.

As a student, I'd say Nietzsche's Thus Spake Zarathustra and Human, All Too Human (though that's not a novel) made a very big impact. Some might say that Nietzsche emancipated me.

And as for the first book that I thought of when I read this post, it would have to be The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which is the first novel I ever read after Enid Blyton. I ran away from home one night and woke up in my own bed; I never looked back since.

I'd say that most of the books from the list held some importance to me at one point or another. After reading Ulysses, for example, I had wanted to see, and nearly moved to Dublin to live it. It is as Henry David Thoreau said, "how many a man has dated a new era of his life from reading a book?"

madcap machinist said...

I felt compelled to mention a woman author. Sometimes, to elucidate a fleeting thought, I would turn to Emily Dickinson.

Anonymous said...

I don't know. Fiction books are entertainment, they haven't changed my life much. Or have they ?

Walker said...

The most important novel I've ever read? Er...can't answer that question. Can I? "Important" is a huge umbrella in this context.

Gay literature (plays of Joe Orton, novels of Armistead Maupin) and literature by gays (Oscar Wilde) probably accelerated my social development as a gay youth -- giving some sense of historic and present proportion to what "being gay" was all about; providing the confidence required to be "openly gay" (not shouting it from the rooftops, but just not denying it to myself or others) without having a mental breakdown.

A Clockwork Orange was fairly instrumental in transforming me into a lover of literature. I found its code intriguing, its audacity liberating, and thinking back, the extremes of individual and society expressed within opened my eyes to engineered social and political realities (of present and past) I'd thus far been oblivious to.

amir said...

Neil Gaiman's Sandman graphic novels.

It's like a religious thing for me.

bibliobibuli said...

am as always intrigued and humbled by your responses

anon - yes, this clinches it

_earth - for sure

greenbottle - spoken with passion!

the tin drum is a very powerful book, lives in full technicolour in my imagination ... and i wonder if rushdie could have written midnight's children if not for that ...

jordan - the mcleod sounds very interesting - i'd love to learn more about cape breton island - i have an album of fiddle music from there but haven't actually read about it ...

jordan & bawangmerah & machinist - wish i could say i liked the alchemist ... i'm the only person in the universe who found it unreadable perhaps?? (don't kill me)

anon - point taken

dreamer idiot i've never really warmed to hemingway though, do you think he's more of a men's writer? i think you're right about emotional depth

ms d - tess of the d'urbaville's was an important book for me - jude the obscure even more - and so much for 100 years of solitude being a guy's book (it went down v. well in our largely female reading group too)

sufian - you humble me and provide me with a list of books to look out for

machinist - i never got on with Nietzsche either ... i think it's because he does not like women and i felt excluded from his book

walker - clockwork orange is one of my favourite books too ... can well understand why gay literature was so important to you ...

amir - i saw them in a comic shop but hesitated. must borrow 'em from you ...

mohdnarcissus said...

secret history by donna tartt did it to me. and yes she is a women writer

__earth said...

I saw this. He suggests that Jardine made a sexist remark and got away with it. In a way, it's alright for a female to be sexist not it a grave sin for male to do the same.

Kinda true.

madcap machinist said...

sharon: I have to agree with you, Nietszche seems to have a very harsh opinion of women. But, for his rhetorics, I find him hugely entertaining and, for the most part, fascinating.