It is estimated that men account for only 20% of the fiction-reading market. In other words, women almost completely dominate the fiction-reading market. They buy and read the most books by a large majority. If it were a presidential election, it would be called a landslide.
In the article linked above, the British author Ian McEwan conducted an experiment where he opted to give away free books to lunchtime crowds in a London park. He gave away thirty books, the vast majority of which were claimed by women. The men reacted to his offer negatively, often frowning, “in suspicion, or distaste.”
Look at this list of Barnes and Noble 2014 Best Sellers. On the first page, 16 of the 20 top books, judging simply by cover design, appear to be targeting a female audience. The books that are clearly targeting males? Game of Thrones and the new Stephen King book; both of which have such a popularity as to attract both male and female attention equally. Setting those two aside, men are given a book about the New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera and a Rush Limbaugh book about Paul Revere. That is, two non-fiction books.
Dare to venture to page two of the list and you will find a third non-fiction book geared toward men called Capital. I haven’t read it, but the description makes it sounds like a work of Marxist apologia. These are a man’s choices: he can read a history book written by a conservative radio entertainer, a treatise on neo-Marxist philosophy, or a book about a baseball pitcher. Or, he can check out some old classics of fiction that were “red pill” before “red pill” needed to exist.
The last time I saw fiction discussed on ROK, one of the highest-rated comments was disparaging toward the prospect of men reading fiction. The comment claimed, essentially, that it is not worth a man’s time to read fake stories while he is being lied to daily by the media. The funny thing about fiction, though, is that it is often more reflective of reality and more revealing than the modernist re-workings of so-called non-fiction that men seem to find more valuable.
Here are three books I’ve read within the last year that could not be published today—or at least not without considerable backlash and cries of misogyny and so forth:
1. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway (1926)
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway is a story about an American expat living and writing in Paris. He spends his days roving through its restaurants and cafes, meeting up with his circle of male friends, and entertaining a flaky but attractive divorcée named Brett Ashley who inevitably becomes the center of male attention. To varying degrees of desperation, the men try to seduce Brett Ashley. They take her on trips into the mountains. They flatter her with wine and trip over each other catering to her wishes. For a while we are convinced that these men are not jealous of each other’s aspirations with Brett Ashley because they hide it so well.
By the end of the novel, after friendships are destroyed and blood has been spilled over her, we come to grips with an immutable reality; a woman can sow seeds jealousy and anger among the men who have fallen into her orbit, and the man who finally wins Brett Ashley’s admiration was a man full of quiet ambition, who was focused on himself and his own aspirations, and who never paid much attention to the woman’s whims.
Dancing, I looked over Brett’s shoulder and saw Cohn, standing at the bar, still watching her.
“You’ve made a new one there,” I said to her.
“Don’t talk about it. Poor chap. I never knew it till just now.”
“Oh, well,” I said. “I suppose you like to add them up.”
“Don’t talk like a fool.”
2. The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler (1939)
The Big Sleep is the 1939 debut mystery novel by Raymond Chandler, who would come to be hailed as the father of American noir fiction. The story follows Philip Marlowe, a private investigator who has been hired by an old and dying oil tycoon to keep an eye on his two wild and alluring daughters. Marlowe works long hours, gets little sleep, and runs afoul of some shady characters.
The mystery story is not perfectly contrived, but Philip Marlowe is; he is an ideal. His attitude, demeanor, sense of honor, and self-control allow him to manipulate just about every situation in which he finds himself. What would the average man do if he found the beautiful daughter of his client in his bed, naked, uninvited?
“I bet you can’t even guess how I got in.”
I dug a cigarette out and looked at her with bleak eyes. “I bet I can. You came through the keyhole, just like Peter Pan.”
“Oh, a fellow I used to know around the poolroom.”
She giggled. “You’re cute, aren’t you?” she said.
I looked at her again. She lay still now, her face pale against the pillow, her eyes large and dark and empty as rain barrels in drought. One of her small five-fingered thumbless hands picked at the cover restlessly. There was a vague glimmer of doubt starting to get born in her somewhere. She didn’t know about it yet. It’s so hard for women – even nice women – to realize that their bodies are not irresistible.
3. Ham on Rye by Charles Bukowski (1982)
Ham on Rye by Charles Bukowski tells the story of a boy coming of age in depression-era Los Angeles. The book was one of Bukowski’s later novels, but chronologically comes first in his “Henry Chinaski” series, and is followed by Factotum, Post Office, Women, and Hollywood. Chinaski, the main character and narrator, tells a story that couldn’t be told in hyper-sensitive company today. He talks about the girls he wanted to sleep with (all of them), the fist fights he won (a couple), the fights he lost (many more), the jobs he tried to hold, the friends he tried to lose, the aimlessness and the lack of purpose in his life.
He talks about race. He talks about the arrogance of literature. He sympathizes with Nazis because his teachers are all communists. All of it is performed in the simple and hilarious tone of a shiftless misanthrope:
My father liked the slogan, “Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.”
But it hadn’t done any of that for him. I decided that I might try to reverse the process.
I couldn’t sleep.
Maybe if I masturbated to Miss Meadows?
I wallowed there in the dark, waiting for something.
With the general acquiescence of men in most spheres of influence, the fiction market has been conquered by women to such an extent that it, in the minds of men, is synonymous with “feminist-friendly-fantasy-story.” All the ass-kicking heroes are women (Katniss, Tris, Clary). They have men by their sides as accessories, but little more.All the empathy is reserved for female characters (Hazel, Hetty and Sarah). Men are there to either oppress them, or at best marginally assist them the way a booster chair helps a baby eat, but never to outshine or outstrip them in any way.
Men, if they wanted to read fiction today, would be relegated to the Science Fiction aisle, but even that is increasingly shoddy and subject to confused modernist thought. So we stick to simple books about retired baseball pitchers.
Who is to blame? We are. Not only did our male ancestors read more fiction, but they wrote more fiction, too. Take a look at Modern Library’s top 100 novels and tell me what you notice about the top 14 authors on that list.
Fiction has the power to illuminate truths in ways that even non-fiction cannot. We identify fiction as great when we recognize that it is in alignment with human nature. When characters in stories do not behave the way we would expect them to behave in real life, we (men) become suspicious. The book may still sell, and it may even entertain us in some superficial ways, but it won’t be a classic. It won’t make you nod along the way you do when someone else identifies something you thought was your own exclusive truth. It won’t leave you remembering it and looking forward to re-reading it.
It is time for men to start appreciating fiction. Once men can appreciate great fiction, they can again begin to produce it. It is up to us to remove the toilet paper that is stocked on most Barnes and Noble shelves and replace one more jewel in the broken and tarnished crown that is modern masculinity.
Read More: On The Importance Of Fiction Writing