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A Modest Proposal: Stop Reading Books by Men

OK, here’s my pitch: Stop reading books by men. 

An FAQ:

Q: You already said that in the title!

Yeah, but I had to start somewhere.

Q: Not all men!

Obviously not. Come on. Chase your bliss. Make exceptions for trans men and family members and authors you love and topics that fascinate you. Just please, never again, pick up a prestige novel by a dude and have a mediocre time reading it. We’ve all spent enough time doing that.

Q: Why?

Do you really think men are doing a good job writing about the fullness of human existence? Do you hold feelings in your heart that you don’t think anyone else shares or understands? Read more books by women and you’ll see more of yourself reflected, regardless of your gender.

Free yourself from the distortions of men’s writing. Shift your focus elsewhere. When you return to writing by men, you’ll be astonished at the nuance it lacks, at how little detail it sometimes pays to the things you care about.

An alternate case: this entire Twitter account.

Q: Isn’t it enough to just read some books that aren’t by men?

Look at the last 10 or 20 books you read. What are the percentages of the authors? What did you think about while you were reading those books? With whom did they teach you to empathize? How have they stayed with you since?

By the way – you should also pay attention to the racial and ethnic backgrounds of the authors you read. Can you say that you’ve read a book by an author from every continent? (OK, let’s skip Antarctica.) When’s the last time you read a book with an Asian narrator? When’s the last time you read a book about Black people that wasn’t about slavery or civil rights?

The point isn’t to feel guilty. You don’t have to publicize your answers to these questions. (I’m certainly still working on the diversity of my own reading list.) The point is just to notice where you have gaps, and what perspectives you’re missing.

Q: Got any recommendations?

Do I!

  • For when you want to cry about the power of female friendship: Girls Burn Brighter, by Shobha Rao.
  • For when you want to think about gender relations and violence on a structural scale while tearing through a gripping work of fiction: The Power, by Naomi Alderman.
  • For a deeelicious mystery: Just about anything by Ruth Ware, but if you’re making me pick one, The Woman in Cabin 10.
  • For romance that centers the joy of Black women: Anything by Jasmine Guillory. Her debut, The Wedding Date, is incredibly charming.
  • For the very best fanfic tropes all packed into one novel: Red, White & Royal Blue, by Casey McQuiston.
  • For an excellent (but extremely upsetting) exploration of grooming, child abuse, and the ongoing ramifications of sexual assault: My Dark Vanessa, by Kate Elizabeth Russell. (Again, heed the content warnings on this one.)
  • For a gripping psychological horror story: Come Closer, by Sara Gran.
  • For breathtakingly original surrealist short fiction: In the Dream House, by Carmen Maria Machado.
  • For a nonfiction guide that will improve how you think about friendships and events: The Art of Gathering, by Priya Parker.
  • If you’re grieving that J.K. Rowling is a TERF: Fangirl, Carry On, and Wayward Son by Rainbow Rowell, in that order.
  • For a surrealist exploration of love addiction: The Pisces, by Melissa Broder.
  • For adorable queer YA romance: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, immediately followed by Leah on the Offbeat, both by Becky Albertalli.
  • For a pure popcorn roman à clef about a fictionalized version of the Tom Cruise/Katie Holmes marriage: Movie Star by Lizzie Pepper, by Hilary Liftin.
  • For a story from American history that is way more entertaining than you could possibly expect: Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard, about the assassination of President Garfield. 
  • For a fun novel about the tech industry: Startup, by Doree Shafrir.
  • For a beautiful, aching memoir: Hunger, by Roxane Gay.

But I’m just one person. I encourage you to curate recommendations from all over the place, and from all kinds of people. Chase your whims. Try out books based on the covers, titles, and bylines alone. Read things you have no logical reason to read. See life from all perspectives.

Featured photo by Susan Yin on Unsplash.

Published inCulture

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© Mary Gaulke, 2020.