Not only do men and women differ widely in what they read but they prefer to read books written by their own gender. The first part of that statement is pretty well known but the second is something I had only suspected.
According to a poll of British readers
* Of the Top 20 life-changing novels chosen by men, only one was written by a woman.
* Of the Top 20 novels chosen by women, only six were penned by men.
Only four novels were common to both lists. They were Catch -22 ( Joseph Heller), To Kill a Mockingbird ( Harper Lee), Heart of Darkness ( Joseph Conrad) and One Hundred Years of Solitude ( Gabriel Garcia Marquez). In general, men preferred protagonist-centered stories of isolation, redemption and overcoming ( think The Stranger, 1984 and Metamorphosis) while women liked more emotionally rich, relationship oriented works.( Wuthering Heights, Pride and Prejudice, The Handmaid’s Tale).The poll also found that women read novels throughout their lives ; men , on the other hand , read novels during their formative years but later switch to non-fiction.
My own experience bears out these findings. Some time ago, I had thought of joining a book reading club at the library but when I checked , I found that the membership was almost exclusively female and the books they discussed were not the type that I would want to read. Women , it seems , read books to connect with the characters, to guess what a character is thinking or feeling. That explains why romances constitute 40 % of popular fiction sales. Men, if at all they read fiction, want a good yarn above all else.
With such widely differing agendas it is no surprise that men and women both prefer books written by their own gender. ( This , of course, applies only to fiction. When it comes to non-fiction there is no gender bias since it is the the subject matter that is of paramount interest and importance ).My preferred reading is mysteries and thrillers and I almost always prefer those written by men. There is a palpable difference in the writing and , if I did not know the gender of the writer, I could tell it from the style. Mysteries written by men are more hard bitten, action packed and focus on plot rather than feelings. Mysteries written by women are somehow softer and not as believable, espescially when they have a female protagonist. At one time , female writers used to find it difficult to get their work read and took to hiding their gender e.g S.B. Cooper rather than Susan Cooper. That’s all changed in the past half-dozen years and today, more than half the mysteries are written by women. Could it be that the mystery readership today is also heavily feminine ?