Rather than bemoan the loss of the male novelist, as other commentators have done, it might be useful to ask where exactly the male reader of novels has gone – if he even ever existed. Even the male literary titans still clinging on, such as Booker winners Julian Barnes and Yann Martel, have audiences which are 60% female. In truth, despite the historic dominance of men writing literary fiction, the idea of a male reader has been consistently derided throughout history. — Ash Sarkar
I am going to assume that Ash Sarkar — the self-styled British communist who is most famous for having called Piers Morgan an idiot live on British television — has either never heard of, or perhaps just completely forgot about, Ernest Hemingway.
Grandpa Ernest. The godfather of manly literary fiction. Who went to both WW1 and the Spanish Civil War, and even set foot in Germany at the height of WW2. Whose style and adventurous, rugged, dare I say roguish image, influenced countless readers and writers — all genres, all varieties — throughout the second half of the 20th century. And beyond.
Now that minorities and the historically marginalised have a voice in publishing, no one really needs Jonathan Franzen or Martin Amis to speak on behalf of humanity. Who are men when they don’t get to simply claim the status of godlike narrator? Aside from some notable exceptions – Sean Thor Conroe’s Fuccboi being one – male writers who aren’t otherwise talking from a marginalised perspective have largely abandoned the novel as a means to make sense of cultural change. Faced with the challenge of articulating themselves as themselves, it’s like straight white men have given up on the subtleties of literary fiction and said: “Fuck it – I’m doing stand up about cancel culture instead.” — Ash Sarkar
I am also going to assume that Martin Amis earns Ash Sarkar’s ire because Martin Amis had the nerve to write Koba The Dread: Laughter and the 20 Million, which chronicles Stalin’s reign in the Soviet Union. Particularly, Amis discussed his parents (who were Fabians) and how it was chic in their time to fawn over the Soviets — the British intelligentsia of the period being wholly unaware (until much later) of Stalin’s and the NKVD’s depredations against the Soviet people.
So, Ash’s assertion that reading was a “wussy” passtime, and that men have (and continue to have) an aversion to both literature and writing, is absurd. There’s no fact in her claim at all.
Also, she’s got a stunning degree of ignorance concerning the twin genres of Science Fiction and Fantasy.
I mean, Grandpa Tolkien? Hello? The sire of modern quest fantasy and swords-n-sorcery stories? Veteran of the Somme? Or Robert A. Heinlein, United States Naval Academy graduate and officer, whose work is on the U.S. Marine Corps Commandant’s list? Surely these names ring a bell with Ms. Sarkar, even if she has not personally read the work of either man. Their footprints in literature are both broad and deep. Almost every work of sword-swinging fantasy since The Hobbit tips its hat to Tolkien, and Heinlein is considered a near deity among three sets of literature consumers: libertarians, military fans, and those who like some rigorous science exploration in their sci-fi.
Where in any of Ms. Sarkar’s analysis does the work of either man register?
She is wholly misdiagnosing the problem. Modern literature did not outclass male writers on style or technique, modern lit essentially turned its back on generations of male readers who were slowly but inevitably put off by the New York and British lit culture’s increasing fascination with subjects and styles which are of little or no interest to men who work for a living. After all, New York lit is, in 2022, a scene almost entirely dominated by females. Brit lit being no different. Most of the editors and writers of “literary fiction” on either side of the Atlantic are female, and those who aren’t female are often gay, or some combination of sexy victim demographic which lit finds chic; in the same way Martin Amis’s parents found communism chic.
Male writers and readers in 2022 have simply abandoned lit for other, less derpy shores. It’s why un-woke genre writers such as my friend Larry Correia rake in wheelbarrows of money, and the Amazon indie cloud is healthily seeded with authors who’ve recognized that giving a majority of their profits to a publishing establishment which sneers at and hates them for both their politics and their demographics, is a losing proposition. So the male indie author chops New York out of the equation and enjoys robust sales among a male audience which only seems to be growing by the decade, not shrinking.
So, it’s most probable that Ms. Sarkar is simply a victim of her own urban provincialism. She doesn’t know what she doesn’t know, and her deductions — from across the pond — sound absolutely farcical to those of us who do know what’s going on. And because she is a stereotypical child of her British urban demesne, Ash thinks she’s got all the answers (like a good millennial communist should!) and is happy to lecture the unwashed from the digital pages of a magazine which hasn’t catered to straight men in this century.
Though, really, if her boyfriend is reading Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy, Ash should choke down her pride and give that trio of books a try. Kim Stanley Robinson is on her side of the political tracks — so that shouldn’t throw her off — and the Mars trilogy is excellent both as rigorous Hard Science Fiction, and as sweeping literary saga. Once you get past the fact that the U.S. shuttle program was retired before its external tanks could ever be used to create a colony ship to Mars, everything else about the Mars trilogy is superb according to Ash’s own stated literary standards.
If only she’d deign to notice?
Sarkar’s article isn’t really about whether or not men read, nor what they read.
It’s dissing men as unwoke illiterates who need her help to select better reading matter.
I often thought that as a writer, I pretty much played it straight down the center, in dealing with female and male concerns, and interests in story-telling, but most amazingly, about two thirds of my most dedicated fans are guys. I suppose it might be because I work in historical fiction, with a strong element of adventure and daring-do … but still. I would agree that male readers are out there, just not being served – and indeed, actively scorned — by the NY-Based Literary Industrial Complex.
Gee I wonder why these thousands of books are sitting in my library?
I’m always a little puzzled as to what these people think books are for. They are always talking about them as comments on societal change and marginalization and blah blah blah, i.e. they sound like people who don’t know how to enjoy anything. It is possible to write something that is meant just for enjoyment or for other purposes like appealing to universal human struggles and values, and not whatever the struggle du jour is. They just sound like they’re speaking a different language, possibly from another planet.
Louis L’Amour also comes to mind. Books of conquest, adventure and exploration seem to be rarer these days. And the ones pushed by places like rainforest are usually due to politics or identity, not because it matches what you have read in the past.
Well, I read for entertainment pleasure primarily. After that I try to learn something interesting or to apply in my life. If I want to be preached at on how to live my life, there’s this really, really popular book called The Holy Bible that I turn to.
Irritating to see the 60-40 split recast as 100-0. With “insights” like this Ash is just a big heap of one.
Another 60-40 split College educated voter towards Dems becoming “Repubs are illiterate”. Though in smaller cities that ratio tends to invert.
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