What’s the point of reading novels?

Why are men, on the whole, much less likely to read fiction than non-fiction? This is something I’ve been pondering recently, after a quick non-scientific poll of friends and colleagues confirmed what a bit of web-grazing also shows: men account for only around a fifth or a quarter (depending on who you believe) of fiction readers (see for example here, here or here).

Actually, that’s a bit disingenuous: what I’ve really been wondering is why I read a hell of a lot more fiction than non-fiction. Am I fundamentally effete; is my masculinity open to question; have I grown a beard simply to hide the fact that deep down I’m a great big girly-man? The only other chap I know with as high a fiction:non-fiction ratio as me has the attention span of a gnat and only reads gnarly, bleak, ultra-macho books by American authors who write solely about wanting to sleep with women half their age, so there’s not much comfort to be gained there.

I can’t pretend to have solved this conundrum – a pressing one, I’m sure you’ll agree – but I’d love to hear from you if you too are a man with an addiction to fiction (or, conversely, a woman who never touches the stuff). In the meantime I leave you with this, from Iris Murdoch, which makes me feel all warm and smug about my love for the novel:

[The novelist] has always implicitly understood, what the philosopher has grasped less clearly, that human reason is not a single unitary gadget the nature of which could be discovered once for all. The novelist has his eye fixed on what we do, and not on what we ought to do or must be presumed to do. He has as a natural gift that blessed freedom from rationalism which the academic thinker achieves, if at all, by a precarious discipline. He has always been, what the very latest philosophers claim to be, a describer rather than an explainer; and in consequence he has often anticipated the philosopher’s discoveries.

Help me emerge from my splendid isolation on Twitter @philblogs.


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Man of letters & numbers; also occasionally of action. Husband to NTW. Dad of three. Friendly geek.

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