Three quick things about books and reading

Random thoughts, because I don’t yet have time to write a full review on any of the last three books I read.

So the other day I was listening to NPR and, in introducing a segment on Ian McEwan’s commencement speech to Dickenson College, he identified McEwan as an author whose book “‘Atonement’ was made into an Oscar-nominated movie.”

I didn’t hear much of what McEwan had to say because I was reeling from that ridiculous introduction. You all know I love me some Ian McEwan. He’s a Man Booker Prize winner among other major, international awards, and was called, by the Times of London to its list of the 50 Greatest British Writers Since 1945. He is an international best-seller, the author of 18 novels and short story collections, most of them well-received, several plays and screenplays. He’s written an oratorio and the libretto for an opera. And all Public Radio could pull out of its hat to credential McEwan for what he told the graduates about the importance of free speech was that Hollywood made “Atonement” into an Oscar-nominated movie? That’s just lazy. Just a guess, but I’m pretty sure NPR’s audience has read a book or two.

I’m waiting for someone to introduce Shakespeare as “a playwright whose work ‘Romeo and Juliet’ was made into a 1996 film starring Leonardo DiCaprio.” That gets all the demographics who might be listening.

* * *

And this load of crap got me going, too.

I thought at first it was a joke, but no, she’s serious. If you don’t have enough books by or about women — or maybe it’s the right books by or about women, the argument is too petty to be clear — you are sexist.


I’m not going to justify what I read; suffice it to say I read lots of books by women and books about women’s issues. I don’t always write about them here, but I don’t write about all the books by men I read, either.

Let me just relate this story to illustrate the facile nature of her argument. More women than men read, by a lot. Men account for only about 20 percent of the fiction market. That means women make up 80 percent. Most of the books on the New York Times bestseller list are by women, feature women protagonists and are read by women.

And does a book by a woman automatically make it not sexist? I don’t think so. Witness the “Fifty Shades” series. They are huge best-sellers by a woman about a woman and are considered to have set the feminist movement back by decades. Don’t know, didn’t read them, not sure I care. But if this is the type of book Ms. Valenti wants us to be reading, she’s lost me.

As you might guess, I often talk to people about books and I often hear middle-age to older women talk about an author having “a woman’s sensibilities.” That’s such crap. Without an author’s name, I could bet they wouldn’t be able to guess the gender of authors. Exhibit 1: Nicholas Sparks, who writes the kind of dreck that should have his man card revoked, but which women eat up with a spoon.  Exhibit 2: Patricia Highsmith, whose psychological crime novels are as masculine as anything written by Dashiell Hammett. I once heard a woman praise Alexander McCall Smith’s ability to “get inside the head of a black woman so convincingly” with his “No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency” series.  I wondered how this middle-aged white woman who likely had never met a black woman from Botswana knew Smith had gotten it, in her words, “just right.”

In my experience, you see what you look for. And if Jessica Valenti wants to find sexism on my bookshelf, let her. She might find some in my underwear drawer, too, as most of my skivvies and socks are designed by men, for men. I guess that makes me a sexist.

* * *

Lastly, I find myself at a rare place. Today I finished two books, one on CD and one I was reading. I’m book-less. As I’m going on a long car trip over the next few days, I have to find one that is easily read between yelling at kids in the backseat and trying not to backseat drive when my wife takes the wheel.

But without any book going, there are too many choices. Most of the time it’s “The book I’m listening to is about X so the next book I read should be about Y” or “I just finished a book that referenced another book, I should read the referenced novel.” Other times there’s “Well, I might as well read the next book in this series while everything is fresh in my mind.” But I’m almost paralyzed, so I’m bound to choose the wrong thing.

I used to think if I didn’t have a book going all the time something bad would happen. God wouldn’t let me die without finishing this book, I’d tell myself. So when I finished a book at night, I started the next one immediately before I went to sleep, as an insurance policy. But tonight I simply can’t choose, there are too many things to do to get ready for the trip.

If I don’t wake up tomorrow, happy reading.


One thought on “Three quick things about books and reading

  1. Pingback: “Push” by Sapphire: A challenge worth taking | Shelf Improvement

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