Let’s Hear It for the Boys
Posted by: Ted Balcom
Let’s face it — most book club members are women. And from what I’ve observed, most book club leaders are also women. Sometimes I wonder if that’s why so many of the books being talked about these days (at least in literary fiction groups) are written by women. Is this apparent preference a feminist stance? Or is it just a sexist delusion on my part?
Right now, I know many book discussion enthusiasts are waiting with bated breath for The Help by Kathryn Stockett to come out in paperback so the chats can begin. But what about new works of literary fiction by men? I’m wondering how many clubs out there are planning to focus on recent books by Philip Roth, Richard Russo, Pat Conroy, Russell Banks, Michael Chabon, Jonathan Lethem, T. C. Boyle, Larry McMurtry or John Irving. (Just to name a few examples.) And will any book leader ever again decide to choose a book by John Updike, Norman Mailer, or David Foster Wallace, now that they’re no longer with us?
One of my book club “rules” is to alternate titles according to the sex of the author — just to get some different points of view. I wonder how many other book club leaders make an effort to do this. I know the cause of male writers is helped when their books are best sellers — many, many book clubs have talked about The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, Atonement by Ian McEwan, and The Life of Pi by Yann Martel, but were they exceptions, merely because they were well reviewed and widely publicized by their publishers?
I realize that book groups that typically read and talk about mysteries and science fiction do zero in on works by men more frequently, which makes me happy. I just wish there were more leaders trying to get their clubs interested in some of the great American novels written by guys. Or is this all in my head? Let’s hear some statements to the contrary, and maybe I’ll start feeling better.