Today I was perusing barnesandnoble.com, looking for novels about political dystopias to give my students for their literature circles. While there, I saw this interesting subcategory under “Fiction and Literature”: Women’s Fiction. Most the books on the first two pages of “Women’s Fiction” I would not touch with a ten-foot pole. Which could be a matter of personal taste, of course. But it made me wonder: What is “Women’s Fiction”?
It appears that “Women’s Fiction” involves a female narrator or protagonist. That’s about it. There are subcategories of “Women’s Fiction,” of course. Books about families, books about love. But it appears that in order for a book to be characterized as a “woman’s book” it’s got to have a woman as its lead.
I am a woman. And I like to to read books with female narrators and protagonists. Some of my all-time favorite books have female leads (The Blind Assasin, Mrs. Mike, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn). But they don’t all. While it’s, of course, nice to read a book when you can relate to the protagonist, I think there’s also a lot of value in NOT relating to a narrator. Most of the books on my all-time faves list are, in fact, headed by men. Gatsby? Sure not a lot to love about Daisy. One Hundred Years of Solitude? Sure, there are women, but that is a book about a family of men. Anything by Hemingway? I love him, but feminist he ain’t.
So is the category of “Women’s Fiction” a relevant one? Am I completely misreading it? Does it really just mean fiction about women? Somehow I doubt that. And if it does, that’s a whole other question. (Why no “Men’s Fiction?” is, of course, that question). But I’m curious: do MOST women like books about women? I think women are likely to read a book about a man, but are men likely to read a book about a woman?