Thursday, June 26, 2014

"A WELL-READ WOMAN IS A DANGEROUS CREATURE." Does literature have a gender?

“People wonder why the novel is the most popular form of literature; people wonder why it is read more than books of science or books of metaphysics. The reason is very simple; it is merely that the novel is more true than they are.”

― G.K. Chesterton

According to publishers, in today's world Chesterton's truism is gender-specific.

Women have cornered the market of fiction books as consumers and authors since the days of English novelist Jane Austen, while men keep piling up non-fiction tomes on their to-read shelves: according to statistics, men make up only 20% of fiction readers in America.  

Cognitive science has a reason for that: male brain is naturally more drawn to the straightforward, fact-driven nature of non-fiction, while female brains are wired for dealing with the emotional empathy, cognitive functions, and social relationships represented in novels.

Fiction allows  us to  understand real life situations through human experiences and ideas simulated in a made-up world.  When we read fictional narratives, we heavily engage those parts of our brain responsible for our cognitive abilities (thinking, feeling, perceiving our own as well as other people's mental states). Fiction requires us to keep track of social interactions between characters, guess at their hidden motivations, reading their thoughts behind their actions. As a result of both evolutionary and sociological factors, women develop these abilities before and better than men do, since a very young age (3-4 years old).

Having said that, we should all try to leave our comfort zone and gain mental strength from diversified reads: Pride And Prejudice could be anathema to a man, and Entering The Shift Age may not be any woman's perfect beach read, but  every time we pick up a book, in any genre, we mold ourselves into more socially adept men and better self-educated women.

"A well-read woman is a dangerous creature." (Lisa Kleypas)

Marilyn Monroe's library contained over 400 books on a variety of subjects: works of Literature, Art, Drama, Biography, Poetry, Politics, History, Theology, Philosophy, and Psychology covered the walls of her Beverly Carlton Hotel studio apartment. Surprisingly enough for a 'pin-up girl', her reading habit reflected both her  intelligence and her wide-ranging interests:  Marilyn owned several first editions, including her own copy of The Beat Generation classic On The Road by Jack Kerouac, Ralph Ellison’s The Invisible Man and William Styron’s  This House On Fire. From Tolstoy to Twain, many other classic works of literature were represented, including her copies of  The Great Gatsby, Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland, James Joyce’s  Dubliners, Hemingway’s  The Sun Also Rises, and  The Fall by Camus. Not just a sex-symbol, but also a well-read and inquiring mind. 
Mina De Caro


  1. Wow, I'm more inspired by Marilyn. I really like that she's not a stick-thin idol, and this is the first I've learned that she was also well-read! Thanks for this post, Mina :)

    1. I've always thought there was more than met eye about MM. Now that I've learned this usually neglected info about her life, I am even more fascinated. Glad you enjoyed the post, Goldie!