Book Club

Man Walks Into a Bookstore


Not Seth from Kansas. iStockphoto hide caption

toggle caption iStockphoto



  • Playlist
  • Download
  • Embed
    <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Seth Bate talks about a buying a book.

When BPP listener and book club member Seth Bate went to his local bookstore to buy our latest selection, Aryn Kyle's The God of Animals, he got a strange reaction from the woman who helped him. She said she had enjoyed the book herself, but was surprised that a man would want to read it. Give a listen to him telling the story, above.

We thought Seth's encounter with the bookseller raised some interesting questions and wanted to throw it open to you. Is there such a thing as a "woman's book?" And if you think there is, do you also think there's such a thing as a "man's book?" What defines those categories? And are you willing to cross gender lines?


Women Read More Than Men

Sign up for BPP Book Club alerts.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

I think that there are both men's and women's books on the wings of a continuum or Bell Curve.

There is also a continuum of men and women who cam also extend themselves out to the other polarity.

So most women would not read David Weber's Science Fiction of Stephen Pressfield's Historical Novels. Most women would not read technical books or war history but a few do.

Most men would not read books that are largely about feelings or recovery from abuse but some men do.

I am not attracted to books that are primarily about feelings and I am repelled by books about abuse. It's not that I am not "sensitive" but having been in that world, don't want to go back and wallow in it.

So now even less sure that gender is all that there is going on here.

Sent by Robert Paterson | 9:53 AM | 4-18-2008

I believe there are books that appeal preferentially to specific genders, but trying to define them would be like trying to define pornography and about as tedious. My wife and I share about 1/2 our books with each other. I know not to suggest hard SF to her and she knows not to suggest books to me with lots of crying and hugging and no plot to speak of. Curiously she likes Robert Crais who I would have put solidly in the "men's book" camp.

One of the reasons I am making it a mission to read all the BPP book club books is to take me out of my comfort zone and take in some literature that I usually wouldn't make it past the dust jacket on. Is _God of Animals_ a "woman's book"? Probably in that the most interesting and likable characters are women. I think it would play almost as well, however, if the lead character with a boy. You'd just have to leave out... I'll save this for later. We should probably keep this spoiler-free.

Sent by Dave Wiley | 9:53 AM | 4-18-2008

There's no such thing as a "man's book". Generally, if a man writes a book, it's literature. If a woman writes a book, it's either "chick lit" or "woman's lit". It's frustrating. Authors like Jennifer Weiner have been complaining about this for years.

Still - it is unusual that the cashier commented on Seth buying a "woman's book."

Sent by eliz.s. (@elizs) | 10:00 AM | 4-18-2008

There are some books that are targeted at women - they contain topics that only pertain to women. One book that interests me ( Carved in Sand: When Attention Fails and Memory Fades in Midlife) has a chapter that pertains to what happens with menopause that doesn't apply to men.

Sent by Richard Whalen | 10:08 AM | 4-18-2008

I should clarify in my comment that I meant men's work tends to be classified as "literature" while publishing companies tend to classify women's work as "chick lit" or "women's lit". And then they stick hot pink covers on them, with limited input from the female authors.

Sent by eliz.s. (@elizs) | 10:17 AM | 4-18-2008


I was recently at a writers' conference where a panel of women writers were lamenting exactly what you are talking about. One told the story of how her publisher at the last minute put hot pink flowers all over the jacket of the book they had assured her they wanted to market as "literary fiction."

Sent by Sarah Goodyear | 10:24 AM | 4-18-2008

And on the other end of the spectrum of literary regard, when was the last time you saw a guy reading a Harlequin?

Like many similar issues, women have more permission to do "guy stuff" (read Westerns, say) than men have to do "girl stuff."

Sent by Naomi | 10:30 AM | 4-18-2008

@Sarah Goodyear:

Yeah, I'm an avid reader and it annoys me that some amazing books by female authors will never be read by the general public because the jacket art makes it look like something it's not. Some female authors have broke through this ridiculousness in the publishing world, but I think it is an issue that new female authors are more likely than male authors to contend with.

Sent by eliz.s. (@elizs) | 10:36 AM | 4-18-2008

I am a man with a female friend who is a NYT best-selling author. Before reaching that level, though, she wrote several romance novels -- seven or eight were published before her first mainstream book. To support her, I bought the first three, and admit to feeling quite embarrassed as I handed this "female book" to the sales clerk. In fact, that is why I only bought the first three...

She writes suspense novels now, under the name Lisa Gardner. I'm certainly happy to buy these, and I don't think anyone has ever suggested that her novels are "women's lit" just because a woman wrote it.

Sent by Chris F. | 10:39 AM | 4-18-2008

A related issue - how is it that some women can really get into a man's psyche and vice versa?

The late and wonderful Rosemary Sutcliff, who wrote historical fiction set in Roman and Saxon times, was not only a woman, haha, but confined all her life to a wheel chair. Her male characters are so male as is her POV and her description of the physical world and action is of the highest level of insight.

I am sure that there are some men who can also inhabit the woman's POV and perspective too.

Any examples?

Sent by Robert Paterson | 10:40 AM | 4-18-2008

@Robert Paterson- "She's Come Undone" by Wally Lamb is on of the bets portrayl's of a woman going through teenage years ot young adult life while being unhappy with her body image. I felt he knew how to express an woman's emotions better than I can sometimes express my own.

Sent by Janene | 11:48 AM | 4-18-2008

Did you tell her about the BPP Book Club?

Sent by Lisa | 11:52 AM | 4-18-2008

I'm struck by the comment of the bookstore's cashier and its apparent condescending tone. Did she want to sell the book or not? All that was missing was a little pat on the head and offer of a lollipop for the cute little boy.

This reminds me of old men chatting up women who go to baseball games by asking if "the little lady knows how to play the game." Or, when I was dating an African-American girlfriend, how her mother would ask me if I "know what collard greens are."

See what happens when you assume?

Sent by Matthew Scallon | 12:11 PM | 4-18-2008

I digress, but the BPP book club has to have some kind of hold on Omaha. Either that or The God of Animals is on someone else's book club list. There are eight libraries in Omaha that have the book and they are all either checked out or held for someone. Seriously... what the deal? At this rate I'll have to pull the good ol' "read it Barnes and Noble without buying it" move.

Sent by Sarah Lee | 12:46 PM | 4-18-2008

I sometimes buy pink books. Sometimes they are exactly what I want, like a copy of "People" magazine with Angelina Jolie on the cover. So I'm probably to blame. Sorry.

Sent by Tricia, NPR | 12:47 PM | 4-18-2008

@Sarah Lee: Either that or The God of Animals is on someone else's book club list.

This book is on a number of book club lists. I've seen it pop up in a number of places. The back of the book even has questions for book club discussion.

As to where to find it cheaply: sells new and used books. I think I got my copy for $11 - shipping included from a reseller. Older books can usually be had for about $4 this way. Isn't your good ol' Barnes and Noble move a form of theft?

Sent by Dave Wiley | 1:11 PM | 4-18-2008

@Tricia, NPR - I buy the pink books, too. I just hate reading them in public. =)

Sent by eliz.s. (@elizs) | 1:38 PM | 4-18-2008

@Dave Wiley: I really don't want to buy any more books; ours are stacked two deep on three bookshelves.

The way I look at Barnes and Noble and Boarders is if they didn't want you just sitting around and reading books, they'd have someone walking around and asking you not to do so. Like they have at comic book stores. And I'm sure we're not the only place with comfy couches and chairs in our big-name book stores, both of which encourage reading in them.

Sent by Sarah Lee | 2:24 PM | 4-18-2008

I don't think that it is much of a stretch to have gender specific books.

However, that doesn't mean that it can't be interesting across gender lines.

Sent by Zach | 2:38 PM | 4-18-2008

@Sarah Lee: I really don't want to buy any more books; ours are stacked two deep on three bookshelves.

I hear that :-). Since we volunteer at the library book sales access to vast quantities of cheap books is a real problem. For a while I just built new bookshelves... until our upstairs threatened the merge with our downstairs. My wife and I made a rule that inflow must equal outflow.

I can't wait for the day when electronic books are as comfortable to read as printed books. Devices like the Kindle give me hope.

Sent by Dave Wiley | 3:03 PM | 4-18-2008

@Lisa I did tell her it was for the BPP Book Club and explained that briefly, which resulted in the comment about men who read varied fiction being sensitive.

On its face, "The God of Animals" is maybe a women???s book -- if there is such a thing. But there is an element of suspense and tension in the way the relationship between Alice and Mr. Delmar grows a little bit in each chapter that certainly has hooked me. Is that a "male" element?

Sent by Seth in Kansas | 3:09 PM | 4-18-2008

Haha... I need to admit that I didn't pick up the book becuase...

It came off as a chick book.

I know it sounds bad to judge, especially for a gay dude, but yeah... its about a girl and has horses... and the first thing that entered my mind was: "Nah, I'll pass."

Now, I do enjoy female comic book authors and equally like female comic artists, and I read about female comic book characters.

But when it comes to books (literature), for the most part I do have all dude authors, except for a few non-fiction books. When it comes to reading a tale of fiction, I look for books written by guys, featuring guy characters dudeing it up somehow.

As a side note, Gay fiction can be kind of goofy too. Walk into a bookstore and you see stuff that looks campy and trite. Problems along the same lines that a lot of the "pop neon chick-lit" section has.

Seriously, I'm supposed to read this?:

Nah, I'll pass on that too.

Sent by Brian | 3:24 PM | 4-18-2008

fascinating... i guess as a little girl i always thought of dad's WWII books as men's books, but then i think about how it never occurred to me that his louis lamour titles could also have been "men's books". i suppose anne of greene gables is doomed to be forever a "female novel", and i think generally that novels about families in trouble and drama seem to be feminine in their readership. but as a woman, i have always enjoyed such traditionally male writers as hemingway, stephenson, gibson, mailer, and tolstoy, and been completely bored by titles like "little women" and "gone with the wind". i think that we stereotype novels like we do people - so "women's books" are supposed to be introspective and emotional, while "men's books" are filled with action and adventure. of course "the old man and the sea" is very introspective and emotional, and "gone with the wind" has its share of adventure. so i suppose the gender specificity of a book (and the definition of said gender bias) would be a more of a litmus test of the person classifying it than of the book, the author, or the general readership. is that non-committal enough?!

Sent by Cat | 4:10 PM | 4-18-2008

@ eliz.s. and the pink cover forum:

While attending a book presentation at a big bookstore in downtown BCN, I was sauntering alongside the shelves of contemporary literature, when I was halted by the newly added (in English) Chick Lit header. This was not in the foreign language section, mind you, but the authors seemed at quick glance to be American. Cultural difference? Of course, but the difference is more in the marketing strategy. Chick Lit is being sold as NEW and IN FASHION, and I'll have to ask the store's personnel if they even know what chick lit means...
There isn't much (if any) gender marketing of books here, which leads me to believe the problem does, in fact, lie with the publishing industry or, more specifically, the publicity industry.

Probably THE best-selling romance novelist in Spain, who is read by men and women equally, happens to be gay. His hot scenes rival any Harlequin author's. Yet whether people like his books or not, they'll inevitably buy them in droves because he is so solidly backed by the publishing company.

Sent by Kymm (Barcelona, Spain) | 5:01 PM | 4-18-2008

Ah Chick Lit, possibly the worst thing to happen to the Women???s Movement in years. Okay, over statement that this might be it is still a bad thing to try and compartmentalize women with what is usually really bad, repetitive story telling full of more stereotypes then _Uncle Tom???s Cabin_ but so be it. I never read women authors when I was young, I actually liked male authors because I had fallen into the trap that real literature was written by men and that women wrote, well, _Pride and Prejudice_ and other ???love, marriage and shoes??? kinds of books. It took me going to graduate school in History to figure out that view points are based upon more then just gender itself and more upon where gender places us within society. As a woman I have read more than a few books that are SO male they are intolerable and I have to put them down, I have also had the same occur with books written by women. Then there are authors who have a strong male vibe, like Bernard Cornwell, who I love and Laurie R. King who writes about women but has a talent for not overdoing the female aspects of her characters. But then again Janet Evonovich???s Stephanie Plum series is more fun to read then just about anything in the world and I was myself shocked to be helped by a male cashier at a book store who told me that he loves the books too. I did something similar to him that was done to Seth, basically a double take. But not the ???sensitive??? statement because that???s just silly. I was simply presently surprise but he was offended, which made me feel bad but to be honest, I have yet to meet another man who has read those book. So, long winded as this is, yes I think there is a divide of some kind but it is fuzzy at best and always moving. Just like the porn analogy, it is what you personally see it as being.

Sent by A.M. Smith | 5:52 PM | 4-18-2008

1) Hey does anyone think Seth sounds a little like John Hodgeman Daily Show expert and the PC?

2) @ A.M. Smith - the worst thing to happen to the women's movement in years has been all those (both those) Women's TV networks. Like Women = Meredith Baxter Birney, wronged spouse. I think that's what her business cards say these days.

3) I don???t like the convention of @-- @ this guy, @ that girl. Its so in your face, you want to talk TO someone not @ them. I propose we bring back "dear". So please amend statement number 2 to read ???Dear A.M. Smith???.

Sent by mike pesca | 7:39 PM | 4-18-2008

It's all my fault. I'm Seth's mom & I never taught him that there were supposed to be toys, activities or books reserved for one gender or the other. Obviously, I warped his view of the world. However, I am perversely proud of myself for doing so!

Sent by Jan | 9:20 PM | 4-18-2008

@Dear Mike Pesca,

John Hodgeman is a rock star in my house, so thanks. Actually, I was talking to someone this morning about how hard it was to relax and try to speak in my normal voice. With a little-used theatre degree and a tiny bit of radio work in my background, I could well have ended up sounding like Sideshow Bob.

Not contributing anything to the conversation, but just because I gotta say it: I had a mad college crush on Alison Stewart, and all these years later I can now say she knows who I am. Oh, how I love books.

Sent by Seth in Kansas | 10:23 PM | 4-18-2008

I find this discussion fasinating. While I myself tend to read the masculine type books I am intregerged and curious about some of the so called Pink books they just look interesting. The problem with me anyway I'd feel too embarassed to buy them. I know that sounds sad, what does it matter, who reads what. What does that say about our society?

Sent by Bruce C | 11:11 PM | 4-18-2008

dude,,your lucky you got any out put from your purchase,when i go buy a book i deal with a young girl whom i don`t know but deal with,and i`m not really sure she really knows how to read at all.i`ve seen her text mess,and that`s a whole different world.why read? you have text

Sent by eduardo l | 11:14 PM | 4-18-2008

I find it unfortunate that such a ridiculous proposal can engender so much debate from a, (presumably), enlightened audience. Must everything be categorized into neat little boxes? For the record, I am an avid fan of both David Weber and Jane Austen. I find pink book covers a huge turn-off. And my brother loves Anne of Green Gables. Categorize that, if you can.

Sent by Stephanie | 4:16 PM | 4-19-2008

One more comment for clarity. *I* was in college. Alison S. was on MTV.

Sent by Seth in Kansas | 5:08 PM | 4-19-2008

@Dear Bruce,
In an attempt to equalize my book inflow/outflow I would be more than happy to send you a few chick lit books. I find them all not worthy of shelf space, and need room for my new BPP inventory. On offer: Marian Keyes, Sushi for Beginners, India Knight: Don't You Want Me, Terry McMillan: How Stella Got Her Groove Back and Neil Gaiman: Stardust. The Thin Pink Line (with a pink bookcover) and The Devil Wears Prada are already spoken for. I, for one, don't need anymore chick lit in my life.

Sent by Rebecca in Germany | 6:19 AM | 4-20-2008

Aryn Kyle's book (in hardcover) was one of my favorites of 2007. My biggest obstacle in handselling it was the giant horse on the cover, either to men or to woman, but I sold it with a money-back gaurantee and never had any takers.

As far as "chick lit" goes, while it may be condescending to relegate female authors to that category when there's no corresponding "dick lit" section, commercial fiction outsells literary fiction. I'd count myself lucky to be shrewdly marketed if it got my book on the NYT's list, pink daisy's and all.
-Aaron in Miami

Sent by Aaron Curtis | 11:56 AM | 4-21-2008

There are definitely books that appeal more to one gender than another. However, I strongly encourage people to read books that appeal to both (or more?) genders, regardless. Cross those socially constructed lines and some good may come of it. You never know! Once, I was one of two guys in a women???s art history course at Lehigh. I felt out of place at first, but after giving a presentation on a practicing artist of choice, they realized I had a legitimate interest in the course and they seemed to welcome me more. Relaxed, knowing they didn't have a perv on their hands. haha. Many of these one-way-or-another books often surface on campuses as required texts for gender studies courses. So, check 'em out!

Sent by bob alunni | 4:17 PM | 4-21-2008

I used to lead a library book discussion group and I found that women were willing to read books by male authors and with all male main characters. However, the male participants would often fail to attend when we discussed books by female authors or with all female main characters. For some reason, women seem more willing to bridge the gap and try to understand the male perspective in literature. Most men are less willing - male literature is considered the norm, while female literature is "women's reading".

Sent by Vicki | 6:10 PM | 4-21-2008

I am a book junkie who reads mostly non-fiction, but I have grown to love many novels. I didn't realize I may be missing out on good books due to marketing (until I read your readers comments)as I NEVER read the pink chick-lit type books, even when people give them to me because I assume they are vapid tales of fashion, sex, and dieting. And I'm the kind of person who can't help reading the back of toothpaste tubes I'm such an addictive reader. Now I'm going to have to check these books out because I'd hate it if I wrote something decent and someone slaped a picture of a lipstick kiss and high heels all across it's cover.

Sent by Tabby | 9:25 PM | 4-21-2008

Back to the original topic: I have finished reading The God of Animals! Now I think I would categorize it as Kid Lit. I made the big mistake of bringing it to work (the newsroom) and watching eyebrows raise as they realized I was reading a book about a 12-year-old girl and horses. It made me feel very blond and no one wanted to borrow the book after I'd finished. Could our next BPP selection please be something that is less embarrassing in public?

Sent by Rebecca | 5:45 AM | 4-22-2008


I'm sorry your co-workers are so judgmental! But you provide a very good illustration of the point this thread has been exploring.

If you had been reading a book by a man with a horse on the cover -- say, All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy -- I'm assuming you wouldn't have been embarrassed because that's about a boy (not all that much older than this girl) and horses?

Sent by Sarah Goodyear | 7:14 AM | 4-22-2008

Yes, "All the Pretty Horses" would have impressed the colleagues more because a) the cover is more masculine and has the golden 1992 National Book Award clearly visible and b) McCarthy wrote "No Country for Old Men". I would lay bets that someone would have wanted to borrow that book after I was through. Sad, but true.

Sent by Rebecca in Germany | 6:46 PM | 4-22-2008

NPR thanks our sponsors

Become an NPR sponsor

Support comes from