I'm tired of people saying Men Don't Read. Men LOVE to read. I've been a reader my whole life. My father is a reader. Most of my male friends are readers. But the more publishing repeats the empty mantra that Men Don't Read the less they're going to try to appeal to men, which is where this vicious cycle begins.So men do read, apparently, but the publishing industry somehow doesn't get that men want to read. I guess. My point here is that Pinter, like many who fret about the state of reading, gets lost in a chicken-and-egg casuality maze. Not only does he refute the premise that men don't like reading as much as women, he blames he publishing industry for it, if it were true. Hmmm.
But here's the reality of the situation: women read more books than men. Let's get this out of the way:
1. According to an Associated Press poll conducted in 2002, American women read an average of nine books a year; men read 5.What Pinter wants to do is hold the publishing industry accountable for these gender disparities, using a rather simplistic supply-side argument and unhelpful anecdotal evidence. If you want to get to the bottom of why men don't read as much as women do, you're going to delve deeper (and this seems like a good place to start).
2. The National Endowment for the Arts reports that 55% of American women read a play, novel, or short story in 2004, compared to 38% of men.
3. Perhaps most tellingly, The New York Fed's study on college major choice found that 62.5% of students who graduated from college with a degree in the humanities were women and that 76.9% of education majors were women.
Pinter also imagines some bizarro past, in which men roamed, conquered, and read with gusto:
[Men have] been alienated for a long time and might need to be roused from their slumber. But as I've always said the biggest problems facing the publishing industry are not ebooks, or returns, but the number of people reading. This is a way to bring back a lot of readers who have essentially been forgotten about.I suppose if you want to argue that sometime in the 19th Century (when bound-book reading took off, thanks largely to the interest of the fair sex), the publishing industries of the West made some kind of egregious and persistant error about what men want to read, then championing more "male" texts would be reasonable, but wrong-headed.
But the question Pinter doesn't address, and to which the Ape has no answer, is why should we care? We seem to want reading habits to be the same for men and women, but why exactly?
We agree with Pinter that "number of people reading" is something to care about, but what is less clear is why the gender breakdown is of such concern. Is it really so bad that women like to read more than men? Perhaps this is one of those questions of contemporary culture that is troubling because it seems to suggest some basic gender "inequality," and such things undermine our hard-own and justly-guarded progress toward civil equality.
The Ape is willing to be convinced that we should be banging out more sports novels or wrestling biographies or whatever, but pinning such a wide-ranging cultural phenomenon on publishers and editors is as reductive as it is short-sighted. The issue here isn't about reading; it's about our fear that we aren't teaching our children well. This is both understandable and good, but let's not romanticize the way men used to read.