I’ve discovered something disturbing about my recent book reviews. I’ve only done eight of them, but I have consistently rated the male authors (all four of them) higher than the female writers (there were four of them too.)
In fact, my average rating for women’s books is over a point lower (3 stars versus 4.25 out of five.) What is going on ? I’m a feminist! I’m a huge fan of women authors and a strong supporter of women anything! Am I secretly sexist?
I took a closer look at the books. The four by men include a haunting murder in the Sahara (Deep Sahara), a contemporary thriller about witness protection (Empty Promises), a teen action novel about an ancient artifact (The Ancient Tripod of Peace) and, most surprisingly, a sensitive story of a woman recovering from rape (Off Season) which I reviewed on this blog.
I was glad I read all four books.
All four of the books by women basically centered around two people who really wanted to have sex with each other, who couldn’t or didn’t for various reasons, and then who did, often for many pages. I wasn’t particularly glad I read any of them.
If you don’t like that kind of book, why did you read them? That is a fair question.
The first book was billed as a fantasy romance (Realm of the Dragon). I like fantasy books a lot, but I didn’t get that the genre designation means it is a romance novel that happens to occur in a fantasy setting. My mistake. I didn’t enjoy it.
The second book (First Impressions) was designated an M/M romance. Okay. My protagonist in y1 is gay and has a romantic interest, so I though I would read this one to see how the author handled issues of discrimination and social acceptance with sensitivity. Maybe I could learn something. Uh, yes. I did learn a lot, but it came from multiple-page-long detailed descriptions of every possible gay sex act. I was traveling internationally while reading the book and the descriptions were so thorough I feared being arrested for trafficking in porn.
I won’t make that mistake again.
The third book (Duke du Jour) billed itself as a time travel romance. I love time travel books. How can there not be time travel in this book, I reasoned. There was. The male hunk hit his head and woke up in another time period where he proceeded to not have sex with the female head-strong beauty for the required many chapters. I will say, this author did a lot of research to make her story historically accurate, and I enjoyed learning about the Napoleonic time period. She is the only she to which I gave four stars.
So. Absolutely no more romance novels, I promised myself, no matter what else they claim to be. If it says romance anywhere in the blurb, I will not review it. It is not only fair to me, it is more fair to the romance writing world.
Enter Cloud Whispers, a novel about a woman’s metaphysical awakening after a near death experience. Now this sounds cool, I thought. She’s happily married, got a lot going on, and the book calls itself women’s fiction. Yes. Not a romance novel.
Guess what? The main character has a sister who is, wait for it, an unattached head-strong beauty. Her husband has a brother who is really rich (they usually are) and smokin’ hot (they always are) and you guessed it. Most of the story is these two lusting after each other until they finally do the deed.
Arrgghhh. I was all the more annoyed because I felt like I had been mislead.
I ended up asking myself three questions.
- What’s wrong with reading about romance? Nothing. I have no quarrel with lust or love and think they are a great when combined together. If that is what someone likes to read, than that is what they should read. I also have no objection to details that would make a crow blush, although if one is going to go there, I think it’s nice to warn a reader beforehand.
- Why don’t you like to read romance? I guess I don’t read to get aroused. I read to learn things and travel places and solve puzzles and understand people. Romance novels provide little if any of that. I find them too predictable. I often find them preoccupied with physical attractiveness, which I think is kind of shallow. They tend towards preoccupation with wealth and fashion, which I think is definitely shallow. I’d rather let my nether regions find their fun elsewhere.
- Why do so many women write romance? Because so many women read it. Romance novels are the largest segment of the book industry, particularly the fast growing online book segment. Why do so many women read it? Hold on a minute and I’ll offer my theory.
I heard that 90% of the content on the internet is pornographic pictures and videos. Really? I went searching to see if that had any basis in fact. According to this article in Forbes (yes, Forbes really does have an article about how much porn is on the internet) it is more like 5 to 15%, almost exclusively enjoyed by males. The most popular site (and sight) is a live webcam arrangement where a woman will strip for a man while talking to him.
We all understand. Most men are visually stimulated.
Most women are not, or not so much so. Watching hard core porn actually makes me want to not have sex.
However, we tend to be a verbal gender. By that I mean most women are more verbal than most men, although judgements about specific individuals should not be made. (Most men are better at math then most women, but I’m better at math than 98% percent of either and I’ve got the test scores to prove it, so best not judge my math ability when you see my boobs ….)
Anyway, it has finally occurred to me that steamy romance novels have become (and maybe always were) the feminine version of porn. Judging from the sales numbers, we women as a group might enjoy our version of sexual stimulation more than the guys. We’re certainly entitled to it.
However, if I want to compare male and female authors, I need to find that smaller percent of women authors who are writing “real” books. (My designation and I take responsibility for it.) They are out there. Many of them fill my shelves and are my idols. I need to get smarter about reading between the lines of book descriptions, so I only select novels by those of any gender that I have good chance of enjoying.
I hope to do a follow up on this post months from now, comparing stats on how I’ve rated non-romance writing women and their male counterparts. I’m confident I will be praising female authors as well, and the numbers will support my assertion that both genders can and do tell stories that speak to my heart and mind and soul.