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Come Saturday Morning: Hmmmm

hp.jpgHard on the heels of the “Liberals are smarter” study, I ran across this NPR article stating that women are more literate (especially with fiction) than men:

Surveys consistently find that women read more books than men, especially fiction. Explanations abound, from the biological differences between the male and female brains, to the way that boys and girls are introduced to reading at a young age.

One thing is certain: Americans—of either gender—are reading fewer books today than in the past. A poll released last month by The Associated Press and Ipsos, a market-research firm, found that the typical American read only four books last year, and one in four adults read no books at all.

A National Endowment for the Arts report found that only 57 percent of Americans had read a book in 2002 a four percentage-point drop in a decade. Book sales have been flat in recent years and are expected to stay that way for the foreseeable future.

Among avid readers surveyed by the AP, the typical woman read nine books in a year, compared with only five for men. Women read more than men in all categories except for history and biography.

(I’m the weirdo in the group, as I preferred reference books as a child and still like using them to this day. But I digress.)

Some people find this all highly ironic:

By this measure, “chick-lit” would have to include Hemingway and nearly every other novel, observes Lakshmi Chaudhry in the magazine In These Times. “Unlike the gods of the literary establishment who remain predominately male—both as writers and critics—their humble readers are overwhelmingly female.”

A-yup. This has been the case for decades. Just look at the fan fiction community: It’s overwhelmingly female, and has been ever since the 1960s when Star Trek fanfics were being mimeographed and circulated among the hardcore fans. Even the Sherlock Holmes fandom, which has been the home of fan fiction (or “pastiche”) writers for over a century, started out with a high percentage of women members.

And what’s been the default response of the established (and male-dominated) publishing community? To treat them, even those fanfic authors whose works outshine the originals, with utter contempt. Note that in the older, more male-populated Sherlock Holmes fandom — a fandom populated through the decades by prominent male editors and VIPs such as FDR — “pastiche writing” is a respected and honored pastime, whereas the newer and female-dominated fandoms and their fan fictions are considered on a much lower level. (But I digress again.)

However, there is hope for us as a society that reads for pleasure, and it comes from a young boy who wears glasses:

There are exceptions to the fiction gap. More boys than girls have read The Harry Potter series, according to its U.S. publisher, Scholastic. What’s more, Harry Potter made more of an impact on boys’ reading habits. Sixty-one percent agreed with the statement “I didn’t read books for fun before reading Harry Potter,” compared with 41 percent of girls.

For publishers and booksellers, that offers a ray of hope—not only that the fiction gap might not be so insurmountable after all, but also that another, more worrisome gap might also be closing: the age gap. Young people, in general, read less than older people, and that does not bode well for books and the people who love them.

I’m not so sure that people have stopped reading fiction, or literature in general. To judge from the fan fictioneers, many of them are reading it online, not between the covers of a physical book. But there are those of us who still prefer the printed and bound sheaf of paper to the letters glowing on the screen.

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