The Written Word

I was awoken at 10:30 this morning to the sounds of my boss — one of them, actually; I have an Office Space type situation where I have a hierarchical team of managers who can all be called a "boss" — calling me to fix something I rarely touch and have never understood.

While participating in the SWAT call, I had a little bit of time to go websurfing, so I ran across some good news and some bad news in the book world.

It turns out that Borders is slowly going gentle into that good night. That bums me out.

Fortunately, I got a nice pick-me-up couched in the 75 books every man should read and the feminine counterpoint.

I am woefully behind on my literary chops: particularly in the big-name pillars of prose like Dostoevsky and Updike. I don't think I've ever sat down and read through some of the numerous properties that have been filmified over the years. Things like One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Deliverance, or anything by Mario Puzo.

On the other hand, I've read surprisingly more from the girls' list. Then again, it has authors like Pearl S. Buck and Ursula K. LeGuin. And Agatha Christie. And Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley's Frankenstein, for some reason.

This brings up an interesting distinction. Most of the books on the men's list are the literary equivalent of the action movie: man vs. wild, man vs. man, spy vs. spy, paleface vs. redskin, that kind of thing. They all seem to draw upon some elemental conflict of wills that is exacerbated by gunplay, or swords, or knives, or what have you. I can't really picture Louisa May Alcott or Erica Jong writing a scene that involves a three-way duel with pistols before the poison tablet ruptures inside somebody's stomach.

Novels geared towards men, then, probably have some kind of macho hook: get the girl, get the Euripedes Vaccine, get revenge, get the fish, get to California. As much as I enjoyed the Esquire author's flavor text, calling The Grapes of Wrath "all about the titty" is simultaneously hilarious and misguiding. It's not about the titty, right up until it is, and it's striking and moving and heartbreaking all at the same time.

But Frankenstein is itself a weird sort of book that relies heavily on revenge. What, exactly, makes this a book every girl should read? There seems to be an appreciable buffer for exchange and interplay here: Legends of the Fall could go into either category, as could (and did) Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man Is Hard To Find".

It's a fun question to ponder: what makes a book decidedly male- or female-oriented? Why did my elementary school have such a strong division between those who were allowed to read The Hardy Boys and those who were allowed to read Nancy Drew? I suspect that it has something to do with the circumstances that surround the protagonist's conflict. No self-respecting man is going to give a good goddamn about Jane Austen's pompous whiny debutantes trying to snag a decent husband.

At the same time, few women would or could appreciate the gritty plot progression in something by Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett. It's all a matter of personal preference, I guess.

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