Is It a Husband Book?

Josie Leavitt - November 19, 2012

Every day I lament that there are parents and kids who view all books along gender lines. If there’s a girl on the cover, most boys (please don’t get mad at my sweeping generalization, but it’s true) won’t pick it up, let alone read it. I think all books can be read happily by any gender. But I was giving this some thought and realized that the gender issue is coming from the parents.
Two women were shopping for their husbands and one of them showed the other The Tiger’s Wife, and the friend asked, “Is this a husband book?” The other woman shook her head and said no, it was more of a chick book. Here’s the thing: if adults won’t read across gender lines, how are we supposed to get kids too? Someone could easily say that The Tender Bar is really a guy book, and it could well be, but it’s also damned good. And to skip it because it’s about a boy and his growing up, really prevents those women from experiencing a great read.
This has always been a pet peeve of mine. Everyone benefits from reading books that are not thought of as books for their gender. We have a lovely male customer who comes in six times a year sheepishly asking for Nicholas Sparks type books. There is no reason for him to feel bad about liking love stories. But every time he comes in he explains why he likes those kinds of books. He shouldn’t have to explain. He should be able to read what he wants without feeling like he might be judged for what he likes.
So, here’s what I want folks to think about during the holidays as they buy books. Get one person, be it a kid or an adult, a book that is not a book thought of for their gender. Because here’s the thing: a good book is a good book. My brother loved Mrs. Piggle Wiggle as much as I did, and I loved The Great Brain just as much as he did. And if my mom had steered us away from those books, we both would have missed out.

11 thoughts on “Is It a Husband Book?

  1. Carol Bowie

    With mass market novels there are color codes for gender. Squint your eyes before the shelves so you can’t see detail in the cover image, and you will still know which gender section you are looking at: black/white/red/orange/gold for men’s (action) novels, and pink/mauve/blue/acqua for women’s (romance) novels.

  2. Kitti

    Right on! I agree in so many ways. There are good books about opposite genders, and we learn perspective about other people when we read their stories. Who would want to miss out on the Hobbit because the characters are mostly male? Or Pride & Prejudice because it features 5 sisters? They’re both great books!

  3. Stephanie Scott

    I totally agree!
    Then again, we are living in a culture where many purchasers of 50 Shades of Grey had no idea what it was about, only that everyone else was reading it so they should too. *sigh*

  4. Carin Siegfried

    Amen sister! This was a huge frustration when I was a bookseller too. One regular customer would always search me out for recommendations but after a while, I figured out he was accepting (and liking and coming back for “more like…”) all the books I recommended by men and would not even try a book by a woman. I argued with him one day to no avail. And people wonder by J.K. Rowling writes under her initials.

  5. Tim tocher

    When I was teaching, my colleagues said that girls would read books about boys, but boys would not read books about girls. At the time, it seemed to hold true. My experience, though, was that most of the bias came from parents. Many times male students would cheerfully be reading about say, Pippi Longstocking, until they took a copy home. Next day they would complain that they wanted to read something else. By extension, would the same parents reject TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD?
    Tim Tocher, author of LONG SHOT (a book with a female protagonist that boys would love)

  6. Kathy

    As a high school librarian, I do find some truth in your words. My students are often prejudiced that way. But I also find students who break the mold unapologetically. I had one male basketball player who read love poetry (was he trying to romance a girl? – I don’t know but he kept returning for more) and one very girly girl who would only read non-fiction (of all kinds!). So I think it’s important to get them young and affirm their right to read whatever interests them. I sometimes ignore their prejudices and add to the stack something I know will appeal in spite of what they say, just to see what happens when they start to look at the book. If you can get them to open it, you can often pull them in.

  7. Teresa Robeson

    My 16 year old son has always been a voracious reader, and he is as likely to pick up a book with a female protagonist as a male. However, just like his mom (me), he is not going to pick up a book that is heavy on romance (or purely romance). So, based on our tiny sampling, I agree that kids’ choices do reflect parental choices but it’s not always on gender lines; sometimes, it’s on genre lines. 🙂

  8. DA

    Thanks for this. First of all, I hate the term “chick” and would never address the wonderful female authors I read OR my women friends who read as chicks–ugh. If I tell my husband a book is great he’ll give it a shot no matter who wrote it. I liked adventure books by males and bios of them as well as women when I was a kid. i just liked to read and my parents never made a distinction. I think it is the parents who freak out if their kid want to read across genders and it seems to have gotten worse. I think booksellers fall into that trap a lot, too. (“Is the child a boy or a girl?”) Challenge them as well!

  9. Stacy

    I am a middle school librarian, and over the years, I have found the gender lines blurring somewhat. Boys love The Hunger Games series, and girls love Percy Jackson. Boys still won’t pick up Lauren Myracle or anything they think has big romance in it. But I’m talking about middle school boys!

  10. Dianna Winget

    This post made me chuckle. My husband is a “manly” man, but he openly admits how much he enjoys watching “chick flicks” with me and our daughter. Some of his favorites are You’ve Got Mail and Letters to Juliete. If movies are okay, why not books?

  11. Shoshana

    Yes! Even worse are the parents and other adults who impose those gender lines directly; so many are so focused on whether a book is “for” a boy or a girl that nothing else about the book or the reader seems to matter.


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