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Why Women Read Fiction: The Stories of Our Lives

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Ian McEwan once said, 'When women stop reading, the novel will be dead.' This book explains how precious fiction is to contemporary women readers, and how they draw on it to tell the stories of their lives. Female readers are key to the future of fiction and--as parents, teachers, and librarians--the glue for a literate society. Women treasure the chance to read alone, but Ian McEwan once said, 'When women stop reading, the novel will be dead.' This book explains how precious fiction is to contemporary women readers, and how they draw on it to tell the stories of their lives. Female readers are key to the future of fiction and--as parents, teachers, and librarians--the glue for a literate society. Women treasure the chance to read alone, but have also gregariously shared reading experiences and memories with mothers, daughters, grandchildren, and female friends. For so many, reading novels and short stories enables them to escape and to spread their wings intellectually and emotionally. This book, written by an experienced teacher, scholar of women's writing, and literature festival director, draws on over 500 interviews with and questionnaires from women readers and writers. It describes how, where, and when women read fiction, and examines why stories and writers influence the way female readers understand and shape their own life stories. Taylor explores why women are the main buyers and readers of fiction, members of book clubs, attendees at literary festivals, and organisers of days out to fictional sites and writers' homes. The book analyses the special appeal and changing readership of the genres of romance, erotica, and crime. It also illuminates the reasons for women's abiding love of two favourite novels, Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre. Taylor offers a cornucopia of witty and wise women's voices, of both readers themselves and also writers such as Hilary Mantel, Helen Dunmore, Katie Fforde, and Sarah Dunant. The book helps us understand why--in Jackie Kay's words--'our lives are mapped by books.'


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Ian McEwan once said, 'When women stop reading, the novel will be dead.' This book explains how precious fiction is to contemporary women readers, and how they draw on it to tell the stories of their lives. Female readers are key to the future of fiction and--as parents, teachers, and librarians--the glue for a literate society. Women treasure the chance to read alone, but Ian McEwan once said, 'When women stop reading, the novel will be dead.' This book explains how precious fiction is to contemporary women readers, and how they draw on it to tell the stories of their lives. Female readers are key to the future of fiction and--as parents, teachers, and librarians--the glue for a literate society. Women treasure the chance to read alone, but have also gregariously shared reading experiences and memories with mothers, daughters, grandchildren, and female friends. For so many, reading novels and short stories enables them to escape and to spread their wings intellectually and emotionally. This book, written by an experienced teacher, scholar of women's writing, and literature festival director, draws on over 500 interviews with and questionnaires from women readers and writers. It describes how, where, and when women read fiction, and examines why stories and writers influence the way female readers understand and shape their own life stories. Taylor explores why women are the main buyers and readers of fiction, members of book clubs, attendees at literary festivals, and organisers of days out to fictional sites and writers' homes. The book analyses the special appeal and changing readership of the genres of romance, erotica, and crime. It also illuminates the reasons for women's abiding love of two favourite novels, Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre. Taylor offers a cornucopia of witty and wise women's voices, of both readers themselves and also writers such as Hilary Mantel, Helen Dunmore, Katie Fforde, and Sarah Dunant. The book helps us understand why--in Jackie Kay's words--'our lives are mapped by books.'

30 review for Why Women Read Fiction: The Stories of Our Lives

  1. 5 out of 5

    Karina Webster

    Unfortunately this one didn't work for me. I found the lack of diversity frustrating and some of the judgemental views expressed by the author about some types of genre fiction & reading habits infuriating. Instead of a balanced look at the female reading experience or considering statistical evidence about women's reading lives and theorising on them, Taylor uses her sources as a way of backing up her own views. Often these felt like views better kept in the past. If the author had expressed th Unfortunately this one didn't work for me. I found the lack of diversity frustrating and some of the judgemental views expressed by the author about some types of genre fiction & reading habits infuriating. Instead of a balanced look at the female reading experience or considering statistical evidence about women's reading lives and theorising on them, Taylor uses her sources as a way of backing up her own views. Often these felt like views better kept in the past. If the author had expressed this at the start then I would have known earlier on that perhaps this wasn't what I was looking for. Overall, I don't recommend but if you would like to read my extended review about why this didn't work for me you can read my full thoughts on my blog: karinareads.com

  2. 4 out of 5

    Sheenagh

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. This was interesting, but suffered badly from being neither The Book I Would Have Written or quite what I expected from the title. It's much closer to How (the) Women (who answered my questionnaire) Read. (I also never quite over my faint hope it had been written by a friend, for whom this would be a plausible firstname-surname combination, though not her actual name.) I did enjoy the various anecdotes (though many were neither interesting nor funny/odd enough to merit transcribing into the book, This was interesting, but suffered badly from being neither The Book I Would Have Written or quite what I expected from the title. It's much closer to How (the) Women (who answered my questionnaire) Read. (I also never quite over my faint hope it had been written by a friend, for whom this would be a plausible firstname-surname combination, though not her actual name.) I did enjoy the various anecdotes (though many were neither interesting nor funny/odd enough to merit transcribing into the book, IMHO) from readers who had completed Taylor's questionnaire. And the chapters about childhood reading were particularly interesting. One area in which it fell down was the overall lack of analysis. Why is it overwhelmingly women who organise and attend book festivals, when most of the authors/guests are men? Has this always been the case (I'm sure Hay must have been male-dominated at some point??). Taylor doesn't appear particularly interested. This strange lack of analysis also appears in the chapters focussing on particular genres. In the chapter on detective fiction, she alleges that women like detective fiction despite it's (apparent) male dominance and focus on violence against women because it pushes boundaries, provides a 'safe' way to explore uncomfortable ideas, etc. etc. And yet women don't read much sci-fi because it's all outside their experience and is male dominated. Something here doesn't add up. (I strongly suspect that Taylor reads and enjoys one but not the other). Also it is at the very least contentious that sci-fi is less 'female' than detective fiction (see, for example, the last few years of Silver Dagger and Hugo/Nebula award winners).

  3. 5 out of 5

    Bobbi

    This book holds some very important issues surrounding our reading habits, based around interviews, research and Taylor’s own experiences and commentary. Previously unaware that women form the majority of fiction readers it was a great insight into escapism. The discussions after re-reading childhood favourites was also particularly interesting - how reading with what we understand as adults can alter our prior impressions to stories. A personal favourite book of mine is the Magic Faraway Tree: This book holds some very important issues surrounding our reading habits, based around interviews, research and Taylor’s own experiences and commentary. Previously unaware that women form the majority of fiction readers it was a great insight into escapism. The discussions after re-reading childhood favourites was also particularly interesting - how reading with what we understand as adults can alter our prior impressions to stories. A personal favourite book of mine is the Magic Faraway Tree: I am now intrigued to re-read and join the discussion to compare to my memories of loving the book as a child. Although the book is not life-changing, it provides food for thought and sparks a lot of conversation for women’s role in each stage of the literary process. Why Women Read Fiction can be found in audiobook form as Book of the Week on the BBC Sounds App.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Alexander Van Leadam

    Insightful and illuminating but, as often is the case in feminist studies, a bit unfair on the male reader. There's no doubt that the male perspective has been responsible for a lot of female exclusion but it's not as if males haven't evolved since. Reducing male readers to stereotypes and caricatures, against which female readership is explained, may actually impede deeper understanding of true gender issues. Insightful and illuminating but, as often is the case in feminist studies, a bit unfair on the male reader. There's no doubt that the male perspective has been responsible for a lot of female exclusion but it's not as if males haven't evolved since. Reducing male readers to stereotypes and caricatures, against which female readership is explained, may actually impede deeper understanding of true gender issues.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Louise Culmer

    A fairly interesting book about women’s reading habits and what they mean. The author is an earnest feminist who uses the word ‘patriarchy’ a lot and perhaps is influenced by her own biases. for instance, when writing about childhood reading, she insists that boys and girls read different books, which up to a point is true but is not the whole story. For instance, she mentions the Jennings books by Anthony Buckeridge as boys books. Well, I was a big Jennings fan as a child and I Knew other girls A fairly interesting book about women’s reading habits and what they mean. The author is an earnest feminist who uses the word ‘patriarchy’ a lot and perhaps is influenced by her own biases. for instance, when writing about childhood reading, she insists that boys and girls read different books, which up to a point is true but is not the whole story. For instance, she mentions the Jennings books by Anthony Buckeridge as boys books. Well, I was a big Jennings fan as a child and I Knew other girls who enjoyed them too. And she omits to mention that some authors appeal equally to both sexes - Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl, C.S. Lewis, Arthur Ransome, Malcolm Saville, were all read by both boys and girls when I was young, and I suspect still are. There’s a lot of grumbling about men and their reading habits (women’s of course being better). Her knowledge of science fiction and fantasy is slight, in her anxiety to prove that women don’t write or read these much, she omits to mention excellent writers like Tanya Huff, Mercedes Lackey, etc. The chapter on book clubs was the most interesting to me, these clubs are revealed as hotbeds of jealousy and competitiveness, especially when the club meetings are held in the homes of members, with one woman complaining “I hate the way wealthier members flaunt Their perfect lives with a Massive house aand Filipina maid laying out home made nibbles to the rest of us living in a two-up two-down with the kitchen cupboard doors falling off.” I was left wondering what this woman thought better off members should do - move to a smaller house perhaps so as not to upset the poorer members? Sack the maid? personally, I’d quite enjoy having home made nibbles in a massive house for a change. I think it helps to enjoy this book if you are, like the author, an earnest feminist. if you are not you may find it a bit heavy going.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Molly O'Connor

    It’s only in recent years that I’ve noticed that reading fiction can be perceived as ‘girly’. I’ve had conversations with men who say they don’t read fiction because they don’t see the point in it and I’ve also spoken to men who say they’d love to join a book club but that there don’t seem to be any ‘for men’. I picked up this book with these interactions in mind, hoping to understand how and why the reading of fiction became a ‘feminine’ hobby and why female readers of fiction are so much more It’s only in recent years that I’ve noticed that reading fiction can be perceived as ‘girly’. I’ve had conversations with men who say they don’t read fiction because they don’t see the point in it and I’ve also spoken to men who say they’d love to join a book club but that there don’t seem to be any ‘for men’. I picked up this book with these interactions in mind, hoping to understand how and why the reading of fiction became a ‘feminine’ hobby and why female readers of fiction are so much more prevalent than male ones. Through extensive research and over 500 personal interviews with female authors and readers alike, Helen Taylor explores the history of women’s fiction reading from beloved novels, to favourite genres to book clubs (amusingly referred to as ‘the female equivalent of freemasonry’). Taylor ultimately explores how the reading of fiction has shaped and influenced the way that women understand their own lives and stories, while not shying away from how factors such as race and class can impact attitudes and access to fiction. This book is a total treat for book lovers - while the topic is fascinating I got so much joy out of reading the excerpts from interviews of female readers. It’s such a wonderful feeling to feel connected to others through a hobby and shared love of reading just seeps out of the pages of this book.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    The author is up-front that her work surveys mainly white middle-class native-English readers in America and Great Britain. Although some respondents had more diverse family or childhood backgrounds and some ethnic or country-of-origin diversity, there was a definite majority. So rather than overlay results onto all female readers, it's more appropriate to assume the generalities apply only to a certain subset of female readers. As a frequent and indiscriminate reader myself, it was interesting t The author is up-front that her work surveys mainly white middle-class native-English readers in America and Great Britain. Although some respondents had more diverse family or childhood backgrounds and some ethnic or country-of-origin diversity, there was a definite majority. So rather than overlay results onto all female readers, it's more appropriate to assume the generalities apply only to a certain subset of female readers. As a frequent and indiscriminate reader myself, it was interesting to read about what other readers think about their reading lives. An optional read for library staff, especially collection services and readers' advisory.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Chrisanne

    Not what I wanted. If you're interested in selling and conference stats, interviews with readers and authors, etc., this is your book. But the explanation that Austen and Brontè were what was read 30-40 years ago in high schools in Britain doesn't quite explain the phenomenon that exploded in the US. And the inclusion of Du Maurier seemed a bit irrelevant given that I am the only one, outside of my library acquaintance, who knows the book. What I want are stats, combined with scientific studies Not what I wanted. If you're interested in selling and conference stats, interviews with readers and authors, etc., this is your book. But the explanation that Austen and Brontè were what was read 30-40 years ago in high schools in Britain doesn't quite explain the phenomenon that exploded in the US. And the inclusion of Du Maurier seemed a bit irrelevant given that I am the only one, outside of my library acquaintance, who knows the book. What I want are stats, combined with scientific studies about why women read books. It's a book that has never been written and needs to be.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

    Some parts were very interesting like the chapters on romance, book clubs and female authors. Other parts were sorely lacking depth. I was especially disappointed by the author's dismissal of fantasy and science-fiction. F/sc have expanded greatly since the feminist sci-fi's of the 60's and 70's. What about f/sc crossing with YA, romance and erotica? Even though the women responding to her questionaire didn't read much of them, she still could've researched the genres and what they offer to fema Some parts were very interesting like the chapters on romance, book clubs and female authors. Other parts were sorely lacking depth. I was especially disappointed by the author's dismissal of fantasy and science-fiction. F/sc have expanded greatly since the feminist sci-fi's of the 60's and 70's. What about f/sc crossing with YA, romance and erotica? Even though the women responding to her questionaire didn't read much of them, she still could've researched the genres and what they offer to female readers.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Roy Kenagy

    SOUTH 028.9 :: READ0 :: LITCRIT, NOT SOCIAL SCIENCE, BUT PULLS A LOT TOGETHER :: INTRODUCTION FILED :: ONE_NOTE

  11. 5 out of 5

    Cathryn

    A really enjoyable and interesting read, although imperfect because it gives an overwhelming impression of white middle class-ness, and the focus is very much on certain types of writing

  12. 4 out of 5

    Margarida

    It was like talking to someone that sees reading the some way I do.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Zoe Jordan

    I thought this was an interesting book, which provoked a lot of personal reflection on my reading habits and what reading means to me, as well as interesting and new conversations with my family and friends (male and female) about their own reading, and the influence of gender and class. The questionnaire used in the research is included in the back of the book, and is a great discussion starter. The book is informed by a huge number of interviews and mix of perspectives, including female authors I thought this was an interesting book, which provoked a lot of personal reflection on my reading habits and what reading means to me, as well as interesting and new conversations with my family and friends (male and female) about their own reading, and the influence of gender and class. The questionnaire used in the research is included in the back of the book, and is a great discussion starter. The book is informed by a huge number of interviews and mix of perspectives, including female authors, individual women, and book groups, which I think gives it a good depth and breadth, though not every perspective is covered - the author is aware of this, but there is a bit of a lack of diversity. I’m also not much of a romantic or crime reader, which are two of the genres discussed in detail in the second section (that said, I noted down a few of the books mentioned on my “Want to Read” list). One of the book’s overarching themes is how fiction, and particularly “women’s fiction” (a notion the author rightly questions) is often dismissed as frivolous, low-brow, or not as important as other genres, squeezed into the day between or after more essential tasks. I found the descriptions of what reading meant to different women and the astounding importance of fiction to their lives – whether for expanding horizons, supporting them through hard times, forming bonds with others, escaping from day to day life – to resonate with my own feelings about fiction in a way I have found hard to articulate myself. In addition to finding this book an interesting exploration of the role of fiction in women’s lives, it struck me as a powerful call in support of reading for all – regardless of genre or gender. I’d already decided to try and read more than I did last year, and starting the year with Why Women Read Fiction has only strengthened that ambition!

  14. 4 out of 5

    Tutankhamun18

    I was very excited when I discovered this book and expected it to do for books what Women in Clothes by Sheila Heiti and others did for clothing and personal identity. It did not. This book does not share the personal stories of women interviewed and does not present their words in different topical collections. What this book does do is tell us what the author thinks of women, of women reading habits and choices, how women fit in with publishing houses, festivals, bookclubs, female authors and w I was very excited when I discovered this book and expected it to do for books what Women in Clothes by Sheila Heiti and others did for clothing and personal identity. It did not. This book does not share the personal stories of women interviewed and does not present their words in different topical collections. What this book does do is tell us what the author thinks of women, of women reading habits and choices, how women fit in with publishing houses, festivals, bookclubs, female authors and what this means and delves into various genres. All the while these opinions from the author are backed up by extensive research into books, statistics and articles and also quites from authors and quotes from women whom she has interviewed. These quotes are used as evidence to illustrate her points, rather than being merely showcased. Personally I wanted this mere showcasing of womens stories about their own reading habits and preferences. I did not like the first few chapters. However, chapter 3 about Pride and Predjudice and Jane Eyre, I loved and found free from such conjectures. It was spoken about as cultural phenomenons, drawing upon lines from the interviews with women she conducted, giving accounts of events and retellings and mentioning the male opinion through a few, well backed up quotes from male authors or historical figures.Chapter 4 about romance and erotic novels and Chapter 5 about Crime and Murder novels was very interesting. Neither of these are genres I enjoy or read, so it was interesting hearing what attracts people to them. These chapter were also far better written like chapter 3. I think the author is great at writing around a topic and that the intro and first two chapters acctually just lacked focus. Overall this book was a little dispointing (because I was expecting it to be more like Women in Clothes by Sheila Heti and Co), but interwsting at times. Most of her conclusions felt very obvious to me: men dont read female looking covers, books help women to make decisions and survive hard times in life, women authors have many struggles which male authors do not have, literature is dominated by the white middle class... It wasnt new or profound to me. And it also wasnt personal accounts I had hoped for. My favourite part, as I said was the chapter on romance and erotica and also on crime and murder.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Beth

    It was interesting but not everyone can relate to it because she stays focused on the most female-dominated aspects of reading such as romance and crime. She particularly talks about why women in general love some books and writers that I am not bothered about, such as Jane Austen. And she says about how sci-fi is mostly read by men without getting into how some women are passionate about it. I enjoyed getting the insights into the communities of readers that she gave though, and I could relate It was interesting but not everyone can relate to it because she stays focused on the most female-dominated aspects of reading such as romance and crime. She particularly talks about why women in general love some books and writers that I am not bothered about, such as Jane Austen. And she says about how sci-fi is mostly read by men without getting into how some women are passionate about it. I enjoyed getting the insights into the communities of readers that she gave though, and I could relate to the parts about reading being a "guilty pleasure" for females who are expected to spend their attention on other people and/or being useful.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Elaine

    Interesting but a little repetitive. I wish she'd covered more contemporary fiction than the ubiquitous Brontes, Austen, Eliot, etc. Interesting but a little repetitive. I wish she'd covered more contemporary fiction than the ubiquitous Brontes, Austen, Eliot, etc.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Beth

  18. 5 out of 5

    Clare

  19. 5 out of 5

    Katie

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jenny

  21. 5 out of 5

    Olivia

  22. 5 out of 5

    cathryn james

  23. 4 out of 5

    Lahli

  24. 5 out of 5

    Deborah Wilson

  25. 5 out of 5

    Nicole

  26. 4 out of 5

    Anne

  27. 4 out of 5

    Clare_smeaton

  28. 5 out of 5

    Momo

  29. 4 out of 5

    Lilya

  30. 5 out of 5

    Rosy

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