Adventures in Reading


Reader demographics
August 3, 2008, 9:27 am
Filed under: thoughtful | Tags: , , , , ,

Though I have no statistics on hand, recently Publisher’s Weekly had an article that referred to men’s reading preferences versus women’s. More or less, adult males often seem to prefer nonfiction to women’s preference for fiction. I admit that for years I have fit more or less into this demographic as I voraciously down one fictional book after another. Granted, recently I have been broadening my horizons with such nonfiction works as Isabel Allende’s The Sum of Our Days, Children’s Literature by Seth Lerer, Revolution! by Nikolas Kozloff, and First Step in the New World by David Lida. Additionally, my reading stack definitely is leaning towards the nonfiction side of things.

But I am curious, why is this? Why do women prefer fiction to men’s preference for nonfiction? Women are plenty intelligent to read nonfiction and in my own experience I confess that many a fiction work has been far more demanding and complex than any nonfiction work I’ve come across. First I stumbled onto the idea of escapism, which is one glaring difference between fiction and nonfiction. But that also seems fairly depressing because I can only infer from this idea that women then feel or have a greater need to escape.

My partner just asked me why I tend to prefer fiction to nonfiction. (I assume he’s hoping it’s not to escape from him!) And I suppose for me it’s because I don’t always see such a clear distance, and sometimes no distance at all, between fiction and nonfiction. Nonfiction is never not subjective. Fiction, even the wildest fantasy, always contains pearls of nonfiction. Part of my attraction to literature and my degree in English has to do with cultural study and interpretation. More or less, I love literature for the cultural fragments found within the novel, etc. Like an archaeologist digging for pottery shards, I pick through the lines of literature for cultural relevance.

Not to mention the sheer enjoyment of reading is an added benefit.

Nonfiction though is definitely growing on me, which results from a mix of reading nonfiction applying to things I already have an interest in (e.g. Jane Austen or Latin America) and moving away from stuffy nonfiction texts to more inspired and interesting works (e.g. David Lida).

So demographically why do women have a tendency to prefer fiction while men prefer nonfiction? It’s no easy answer.