Monday, December 03, 2012

The Male Book Count, or You Don't Understand Me

I must get my "male book count" up, I announced. I don't mean sperm count:  unlike Jennifer Aniston in The Switch, I will not be injecting sperm in a turkey baster.  It wouldn't work at my age unless I joined the fecund women of the tribe in Ann Patchett's novel, State of Wonder.   No, on New Year's Eve I calculate my book stats, and since I read mostly books by women, the gender percentages are wildly divergent. 

Astonishingly, I've read a few more books by men than I anticipated. So far I've read 45 books by men. That's 31 percent!  the highest it's ever been.  

Book Stat Count More or Less

 I have recently read some short good books by Nick Hornby, the novelist and film writer, and Terry Pratchett, the award-winning author of the Discworld fantasies.   

I even finished Le Fanu's Guy Deverell, an enjoyable Gothic novel.

Earlier I read novels by male writers who became FOBs (Friends of the Blog)  when they left comments here.  (I also have female writer FOBs-- a slightly higher percentage.)  

I also read some books by the male dead:  Dickens and H. G. Wells.

But here's the thing.  Do I understand men's literature?

I think I do. 

But I probably don't.

I recently talked to a male friend about Doris Lessing.  And he didn't understand a thing.  

In The Summer Before the Dark, which I persuaded him to read because it's short, the forty-five-year-old heroine, Kate Brown, is alone for the summer.  Her husband is away and she is sure he is having an affair with a younger woman.  She accepts this wryly:  middle-aged women have to put up with infidelity.  She takes a summer job as an interpreter for a food conference, makes friends, and has an affair. But later in the summer, when she moves into a room in a young woman's apartment, she begins to face what aging means.  She lets her hair go, doesn't eat, has a bit of a breakdown, and experiments with her effect on men, walking  back and forth in front of construction workers in different garb to gauge their reactions. Naturally, they ignore her when she makes herself look old.  And yet she's still herself: all she needs is hair dye and expensive clothes to fit in. She is still Kate, regardless of her age.  This is a realistic novel:  she is not thrilled with what she learns, but she comes to terms with it.  This is not a "hen lit" book where the heroine finds a new man in the end.

Well, my friend thought Kate was loony. It was one big breakdown novel, he thought, and he didn't understand that she learned from it.  He doesn't understand that this is the way women live. He doesn't quite get that Kate changes.   It's just an isolated breakdown to him, not related to women's aging.

My reaction to Norman Mailer is probably similar to his reaction to Lessing.  Years ago, for a Women's Image in Literature course (do they still have such things?), I read Mailer's Advertisements for Myself, a collection of his essays.  Good God!  I do believe he said he wrote with his penis rather than a pen!  And he said that women can't write.

Then I tried to read Mailer's The American Dream.  I wasn't too crazy about the part where he strangles his wife.  Apparently Mailer really DID stab his wife.  I didn't finish the book.
 So there's women's sadness and men's violence?

"You don't understand me."

I probably don't.

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