Monday, November 11, 2019

On men who only read nonfiction


One of the more dismaying parts of my twenties has been seeing so many of my male friends stop reading any kind of projective literature altogether—fiction, poems, essays, memoirs, plays, graphic literature. They stop after high school, or after college, or the rush of professional school kills off the habit—but once dead, they rarely return. Instead, they convert: they turn to reading, almost exclusively, general-audience social science books, or long thick works of history, or very very occasionally books on science or philosophy. Such books are wonderful, but it feels like watching a friend fall into one of those diets which bans entirely All Carbohydrates or All Fats or compels you to eat Only Meat. It may be suited to their constitution, but it feels like a half-full life.

It is a very male phenomenon. Women make up 80% of the market for novels, in addition to being far more avid readers in general. I'm not sure why the ratio bothers me so much. One reason is that it suggests Anglophone culture's formulation of masculinity somehow builds in a disinterest in or distaste for projective imagination of others' experiences via the medium of words. One can always argue that men watch plenty of film media. But wonderful though those are, you are (with rare exceptions) always interpreting minds from the outside of bodies, as one does in real life. You are not processing a report on experience through the thought words of another.