Reading Sex 28

Reading in Bedphoto credit: Artotem

Some of my favorite female writers were chatting it up on twitter, asking some good questions about sex and writing. Lisa was looking for women who write specifically about leadership, and noticed a paucity of female inclusion on male-owned blogs. Andi wanted to know why often, male bloggers don’t include many, if any, women in their blog rolls.

I told them I have a certain set of standards when I’m selecting a book to read. Truly and honestly the first criteria is that I go both ways. If I have just finished a novel by a woman, the next book I choose will be written by a man. Here’s why.

I want to make sure to read a variety of work. I don’t want to get stuck in a rut of loyalty that is both misguided and ridiculous. I make a serious effort to include diverse ideas and voices in my reading material.

I want to be the kind of reader that I want as a writer: thoughtful, careful, intentional. I want the author’s sex to fall away as I climb into the story, as I crawl through the words. And largely, I’d say this is possible when reading quality fiction. (There’s an awful lot of crap out there. But there are too many good choices to read bad stuff.)

I want to be the kind of reader who can acknowledge the sex of an author, as well as other social, religious, or ethnicity markers and then overlook them as the story unfolds.

There is a school of thought that says that the author’s life experiences must come into play in a novel. That some portion of a writer’s life leaks into fiction. I might buy this, but I don’t think it means a reader can identify if a book is written by a man or woman. I think it’s much more broad; that a scene may bear a strong resemblance to an actual event, that the way an emotion is described is exactly how the author experiences it, that the next door neighbor might just be that guy in the Witness Protection Program.

I don’t think it necessarily means that chick books are all touch feeling, and dude books simmer with testosterone. In fact, to suggest so is to reduce both men and women. And also just kind of dumb.

I’ve heard some guys say that they avoid books written by women because they’re feminine. Poppycock. They say the won’t read books with a feminine cover, and all I can think of is the feminine hygiene aisle at Wal-Mart; I wouldn’t want to read that either. They say that women write for women, and I point them to S.E. Hinton, who writes gruff, grim and tough males in The Outsiders and Rumble Fish. I would point them to JK Rowling, who made up Harry Potter and the fantastic Hermione. There’s nothing “feminine” about them, as writers.

But the biggest reason I alternate between men and women authors is that words are not the property of any gender, and life experience, and story cannot be located in the male world or the female world (whatever those are). Words transcend gender in a way that we humans are not always capable of doing. Story takes us past our small world and allows us to crawl into the skin of a man, or an obese person, or a circus clown or an astronaut.

I like to think I’m not reading sex but humanity.

How about you? Is there such a thing as feminine writing? How do you choose your books?