Sunday, February 27, 2011

Why Men Don't Read Romance

If you're a Christian man who reads Christian fiction, well, you're a dying breed. Call it payback for centuries of misogynist tyranny, but finally karma has caught up. Don't believe me? A stroll down the Religious Fiction aisle will cool your jets, bubba.

When it comes to Christian fiction, men are in the minority.

Many have undertaken to analyze the publishing industry's tilt toward women. One of the most common explanations is simply the masculine constitution. Men aren't wired to read. Compounding this genetic drag is th
e startling fact that 80% of the novels out there are romance and/or women's fiction. EIGHTY PERCENT! So not only must men struggle against their Neanderthal nature, we must do so in an industry that doesn't care much about us.

A while back, blogger Becky Miller revisited this complicated and controversial issue in a post entitled Women in Fiction. She wrote:

I heard a startling figure this last weekend—fully eighty percent of all books (not just Christian books) sold in the US are romances. Accurate or not, I think the perception is telling—we are a culture seeking relational bliss, women with men.

Yes, there are coming of age stories featuring guys. Hatchet comes to mind as does Peace Like a River. And there are some action-adventure stories mostly about guys. Alton Gansky has written at least one such book. So has Ted Dekker.

But for the most part, women show up in fiction, if not in the protagonist’s role, then in a role demanding her own subplot.

So I wonder. Is this why men notoriously don’t read fiction? Do guys really not want to read the romance, just as they do not want to go to movies identified as romantic comedies?

Do they not read because they don’t want to know what Jo and Meg and Beth and Amy were whispering about in their attic? Do they not read because they don’t care how Ann Shirley felt as a little orphan girl arriving in a home that expected a boy.

Do men not read because books are too cerebral and not visceral enough? Or manly enough?

And if women protagonists become tougher, more clever, stronger, and independent, will men want to read about those women more? (emphasis mine)

The connection between men not reading fiction and the market's glut of romance is, I think, perceptive. Could it be that men simply don't read more fiction because most of the fiction out there is romance?

Personally, I have no problem following a female protagonist. None. And to answer Becky's question, I don't require fictional females to "become tougher, more clever, stronger, and independent." In other words, a more "manly woman" is not attractive and definitely would not coax me into reading a straight romance novel. In fact, I'd suggest it's women who want "manly women" (confident, strong-willed, independent, professional females) in their tales, not men.

As regards romance, "getting the girl" is the stuff of men (and boys!). Heck, that's practically all the guys at my work talk about. (Of course, what that means for them is a whole other story.) Still, men want to be with women... it's just that that means two different things for perspective parties. Which could be part of the literary divide.

Why women's fiction dominates the Christian fiction industry and how its presentation of romance aligns with a biblical model are questions that female Christian writers and readers should undertake. But having got my hand slapped last time I undertook to do so, allow me to offer three reasons why male readers do not read romance:

  • Men fear complicated emotions -- Deal with it. We don't process feelings, nor express them, very well. It's the downside of our left-brainedness. So entire novels based on processing emotions scare the crap out of us!
  • Men define romance differently than women -- Sorry. You're dealing with genetics here. Candlelit dinners and fireside snuggling must lead to the bedroom... which puts Christian romance at an even greater disadvantage. Furthermore, reading about romance / sex is not satisfying to a species preoccupied with the physical, as opposed to the emotional, side of the dance.
  • Men view romance as only part of their story -- Males -- especially males who read -- are driven by things other than just romance. Career, competition, adventure, technology, food (okay, maybe food is just my drive), are bound up in the male psyche. Romance is just a compartment in your man, not his whole world.

So in answer to Becky's question, I agree that men don't read fiction because most fiction is geared toward romance. I would also add that it's not female protagonists, strong or weak, that keep men from reading romance, but a view of romance that is lop-sided and defined primarily by female novelists and their fans.

But this is just one Neanderthal's opinion.

Mike is a monthly contributor to Novel Journey. He is represented by the rockin' Rachelle Gardner of WordServe Literary. Mike's debut novel, "The Resurrection," is available in stores and online now. You can visit his website at


Short Thoughts said...

Interesting post. The 80% figure is pretty astounding, though not hard to believe. I might offer another reason to consider why men don't read fiction.

I read around thirty to forty books a year. The majority of that is non-fiction. I read theology, biography, a little history, a little philosophy, and various business related books, e.g. leadership, marketing, etc. I do read some fiction.

My own observation is that men have a number of areas they read in and don't have much time left in the reading budget to give to fiction. Contrast that with the fact that most of the women I know who are readers read fiction almost exclusively.

I would also add that a man's idea of a romantic comedy is more along the lines of P. G. Wodehouse.

Dina Sleiman said...

Here are my thoughts based on raising and teaching children. 1) Many boys, at least during their formative years, are too active to develop the habit of reading novels. 2) A higher percentage of males are left-brained and prefer the linear, no nonsense approach of nonfiction.

Thankfully, my youngest son is right-brained. He's still too active to read for long periods of time unless he's getting sleepy, but he loves to write. Should continue to give me a glimpse into the male perspective on fiction for many years to come.

Steve Rzasa said...

Very interesting! While I would not say "entire novels based on processing emotions scare the crap out of us," I would say that personally I find them boring. Speaking as a guy and a writer, I need action in a story. Complicated emotions are not a problem -- you will find them in all good books. But I like to read about the interaction between men, and the struggle between good and evil. That, and a good car chase or space ship fight! For me, fiction is a place to escape reality. If I wanted more reality, I'd got to my favorite news websites.

Mike Duran said...

Dina, my wife and I have raised four kids (2 girls, 2 boys). We raised them as readers -- read a lot to them, told stories, and did lots of right brained, "artsy" activities. Now, as adults, they carry on that tradition: reading, writing, drawing, crafting, photography, etc. So while I agree that a "higher percentage of males are left-brained," I have a hard time conceding that men are victims of their own DNA. Perhaps it comes down to the nature / nurture divide. Perhaps we are byproducts of a dumbed-down culture. Or perhaps the book industry (namely the Christian book industry) is just not providing fare that engages male readers. Thanks for your comments!

Dina Sleiman said...

Good point. My middle son is very left-brained and phsyical, interested in military special forces, but we've still managed to teach him to enjoy dance, drama, and music. Just not reading ;) We're a very artsy family, but I definitely see this middle child respond to the arts in a different sort of way than the other two.

BK said...

Mike said:

"•Men view romance as only part of their story -- Males -- especially males who read -- are driven by things other than just romance. Career, competition, adventure, technology, food (okay, maybe food is just my drive), are bound up in the male psyche. Romance is just a compartment in your man, not his whole world."

I would like to point out that it isn't just men who don't want to read romance, or who view it as one small piece of the pie.

I read mostly non-fiction because non-romance is so hard to find. Especially in certain genres.

Martha W. Rogers said...

My husband and I love to read. We taught our boys the joy of reading and had a designated day of the week for the library. I saved thier children's books and they were passed on to the grandchildren. My husband is part of the 20% and now reads a lot of Christian fiction. DiAnn Mills, Brandilyn Collins, Terri Blackstock, Colleen Coble, Ron Mabry, Ted Dekker and Jim Robart are among his favorites. He takes his Kindle with him everywhere. As long as the book has mystery, suspense or lots of action, he doesn't mind the romance. He's even read my historical romance novels. He also reads Baldacci, Ludlum, and Clancy.

Too bad some of the other 80% don't read Christian fiction. They're missing out on a lot.

D. Ann Graham said...

Perhaps publishing has always been a trendy business, because there was a time when it was so male-dominated that women fared better if they published under men's names. However, I think the practice of "dumbing down" you referred to is at the true heart of the matter, and stretches across not only genders but ages. Maybe we were created to enjoy having our brains more engaged than entertained. Since times change, but people don't, I think maybe today's industry might be suffering more from missing the mark rather than just the flagging economy.

I saw a good example of this over the weekend, when our annual Friends of the Library book sale drew many thousands more than previous years (crowds were non-stop for three days). While it felt more like cattle being herded through the chutes than pleasant browsing, I was tickled to discover -- when my foot bumped against something soft -- that there were countless children under there, reading from the extra boxes beneath the tables in the children's area.

Libraries seem to still be packed at all hours, too. So, maybe this new trend of "alternative publishing" will bypass some traditions and open up doors to readers of all ages who have been starving for more variety. If so, what a boon for writers.

For the record, I don't read much romance or women's fiction, either, and much prefer non-fiction, history, and many of the earlier novels that seem to have more depth in their adventures. Absolutely love trolling through!

Michael Ehret said...

I will read anything that engages me. However, I do find that if it is labeled "romance," I am far less inclined to give it a go.

That said, if something that engages me includes romance and/or exploring emotions, it doesn't scare me away. But great action/conflict sure doesn't hurt.

Jim O'Connor said...

Mike Duran and most of the commenters have it right. Men have less time for fiction, and when they do have time, they want action, sex and victory. However, in most action books (and movies), a woman is involved. Maybe without detailed emotions, but we men do like to connect with the opposite sex in ways other than just sex, we're just not good at connecting. I have a novel that takes women readers into the mind of a man--the strong but silent type-- struggling with his feelings for a woman, but unable to say and do what he wants to say and do. I think women will get a better understanding of men's emotional side if my agent finds a publisher for me.

Carrie L. Lewis said...

A very interesting post, Mr. Duran. Very interesting.

I'm a woman and I read a lot, but I stay away from romances for very specific reasons.

1. The romance IS the story. Life is not like that. I like a good, sweet love story as much as any one, but romance for the sake of romance is like a lemon meringue pie with no lemon and no crust.

2. Most of the romances I have read are written to a level of reading that I find one dimensional. That's not bad. It's just not what I want. Give me some lemon and some crust. Better yet, give me some meat and potatoes (on the table as well as in the novel!

My favorite romances have been part of a story of a different type. Frank Peretti is good at that. So was George MacDonald.

Jason said...

I can confess to just finishing a Jenny B. Jones romance, and enjoying it very much. I picked her book to review through following her blog from a recommend from Chip MacGregor. She is a very funny author with a voice I really enjoy.

I'm not opposed to reading women's fiction or romance, but since there's so much out there, something else has to grab my attention: Jenny's humor, Gina Holmes work on NJ, etc. I've wanted to read a Deeanne Gist book for a long time since hanging out at the old faith*in*fiction blog.

Of course, there's also the argument that many romances can be improved with car chases and explosions...