Women’s fiction?

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?

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Women’s fiction?

  1. Hugo Peabody

    Last night I was subjected to a dramatic reading of Twelfth Night. “Dramatic” apparently being defined as a dozen 40 somethings dressed in mismatched blacks and navy blues and the text being militantly unabridged.

    I don’t read female authors. The last book I read by a women was Joan Didion’s A Year of Magical Thinking. That was two years ago. And in all honesty I had meant to buy Magical Thinking by Augusten Burroughs. Which is not to say that I didn’t enjoy Didion…in many ways I was with her there- at the dining room table watching Dominic Dunne kick the bucket and I too have spent years getting over it.

    There are many differences between the way a “woman” writes and the way a “man” writes.

    Which really has nothing to do with gender..

    Yann Martel writes as a woman. JK Rowling and Harper Lee write like men.

    Michael Chabon is perhaps the most exuberant of male authors today. His audience is apparently men ranging from pubescent to patrician. He writes with the hard-on of a college freshman and the pacing of a Stan Lee.
    His recent non-fiction title Manhood for Armatures is exhibit A.

    Time-out.

    Women are great authors….probably. Aside from Harper Lee- I dont think Ive read any of them.

    I know ALL women don’t write books about sisterhoods, and beaches, breakups, divorces, lessons learned from mom, lessons learned from grandma, lessons learned from motherhood. Im sure that there are a large amount of women who aren’t learning life lessons through a dessert or by dedicating a year of their lives to bourgeois field trip in order to figure out how to devour, meditate, and then devour another. There are probably entire convents of women out there who would be able to write a story with a macro -plot…I just haven’t read any of them.

    In my ignorant, chauvinistic opinion women write like impressionists paint and men write like Norman Rockwell paints. I need the tree to look like a tree. If there is a color where there ought to be an emotion or a whimsy where there should be exposition- I’m lost. My cro-magnon brain cannot handle it.

    Ive just re-read what Ive written. And it reads like a dissenting opinion in a landmark progressive supreme court case.

    Alas and alack.

    DV

  2. I think that’s one of my issues though–that these are books ABOUT women, not books BY women. Can women write convincing men? Can men write convincing women? And does it really matter? Do you think if you read an excerpt from Chabon you’d be able to tell he’s a man? I think with Chabon, maybe, but why? What are the hallmarks of gendered writing? Not that you (or I) need to have the answers to those questions.

  3. Norman Rockwell

    I hate to be picky about another’s post, but the Chabon book to which Mr. Peabody refers is actually “Manhood for Amateurs” not “Armatures” An armature is a framework around which a sculpture is built…which might also make for an interesting book I suppose.

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