Why don't men read love books anymore?

The differences between the sexes are disappearing more and more. In reading behavior, however, there are still - or more and more - blatant differences: men prefer the newspaper, women the novel.

“Women read differently” is the title of an essay by Ruth Klüger, and everyone who, following their environmentally conscious conscience, uses public transport is shown this every day. The working people who drive to work in the morning are similar to one another, whether men or women, in clothing and behavior, wear shirt, trousers and jacket in roughly the same cut and color; they differ only in their reading: the men read newspapers and magazines, the women novels, and very thick ones. Sexual differences level out more and more - only the hair remains untouched and the reading. What happens on and in the head separates the sexes.

Men and women reading

The increasing reluctance to read, which is being talked about everywhere, can therefore only be determined by reading research, which carries out a separate branch of "female reader research", in men, but not in women. At all levels of education, women read as much today as they have ever done before. In families, reading behavior is mainly determined by the example of the mother. A reading mother brings up reading daughters, sometimes even reading sons; the newspaper-reading father, on the other hand, has little influence on his children's reading: fathers do not father readers. Before and beyond all statistics, the "Libreria delle Donne di Milano" anticipated this as early as 1982 and founded a documentary series under the title "Novels - the mothers of us all".

Under no circumstances do boys, although animated by their mother, concern themselves with books for girls. The sister devours his favorite books too, the boy who reads "Defiant Head" or "Heidi" has not yet been found. Computer games, nowadays the real enemies of books among children, only keep boys from reading, and at a fairly early age, too. Girls who play along still do not give up reading. This opposition of the male sex to the book, which was practiced at an early stage, although it developed only in the course of the 20th century, remains lifelong.

It not only arises from a sporting restlessness that resists sitting still; rather, it is an expression of a compulsory profiling within the family in relation to the female environment. This slight contempt for the book does not lose this accent of resistance in later life.

The adult man avoids reading what reading research calls "human interest stories" and what reading women are. Instead, he turns to specialist magazines and daily newspapers that deal with his professional reality, require knowledge, train memory, demand political awareness. While he was fascinated by stories of adventurers and space travelers in his youth, as a man in the book he finds the hero in the great personality of history and the "action" of comics in the political struggle of historical figures. The literary authority of the adult man is the historian and natural scientist; Women transfer maternal authority to the book and from there to the poet. This predisposition of reading attitudes, which is inherent in young people, controls the entire cultural scene.

In the course of study, but especially in senior studies, the sorting of the sexes is a real division of the church. Men and women sit in separate pews, as in a medieval church service: the men bench with the historians and philosophers, women listen to literary and art scholars. Feeling and a sense of beauty, trained by reading novels and fashion magazines - a large part of the fashion that is not worn, but only shown flirted with historicist quotes and ornaments - guide the women on their way to the theater and museum, the historical interest points the men in the library. Older women are almost never to be found among the students preparing for exams there, while older men rummage through piles of books with great seriousness. When they read, study, men want to feel women. This corresponds to the reading posture that leads retired men to visit the library: men read - in the tradition of the monks - at the lectern, women - in the tradition of the French aristocrat, the "accrochante", half lying, in their boudoir die hommes de lettres received - at home and even lying down.

The woman's non-fiction book

The line of development of female reading runs from the femme savante, the lady who let men instruct her in reading, to the Werther reader, behind whose emotional outgrowth the caricaturists were right from the start. The aristocratic salon lady is replaced by the sensitive bourgeois woman who is now being devalued by reading research as a "hedonistic reader" because she likes her reading. She is diagnosed with immersing herself in and out of the novel and enjoying a “flow experience”. Women who, like the femme savante, reach for men's books do so with a consciousness of exception; but that is only 11 percent of the readers.

The schism of the sexes has been established since Jane Austen, from whom one can learn why women writers and readers do not like to deal with male subjects. She replied defensively to a priestly friend who wished to be included in her Romanpanoptikum: “A man of such class must sometimes be able to talk about scientific and philosophical subjects about which I understand absolutely nothing. At least every now and then he would have to decorate his speeches with numbers and allusions, which a woman like me, who only speaks the mother tongue, could not possibly put into his mouth. " Since then the novel has been the genre of everyday people, its subject is feeling, its problem is the order of bourgeois life - all areas in which women are allowed to feel like experts. The novel is the woman's non-fiction book.

In the meantime, the detective novel, once the refuge of men from female emotional culture, is one of their favorite reading - with the detective novel, the woman wears the literary man's suit - but the self-discovery literature that was created in the second third of the 20th century with Karin Struck and Verena Stefan , shapes the style of what women read: "Books - experiences that can be bought" was once an advertising slogan in bookstores.

In the literature houses and talk shows, the moderator - now mostly female - is commissioned to test the empirical value of a novel with which the publisher is speculating on women's desire to read. While in the "Literary Quartet" Sigrid Löffler was still allowed to bring literary studies into play, i.e. knowledge that could only be acquired through studies, Marcel Reich-Ranicki and Hellmuth Karasek threw their aesthetic judgments full of cynicism at the author and audience, today it is the writer who now represents himself, difficult to keep distance from the intrusive question about the personal experience behind the narrated text. The probing of the "story" for the "human interest", which came from the audience at poetry readings in the avant-garde bookstores of the 1960s and 1970s and was perceived as an embarrassment, comes from the podium today and is taken for granted. Any polemics in such a private conversation with the author would be a personal insult, and so it is extinct.

No less schismatic than the reception of the novels is their production. In publisher's brochures, on the front pages, where the best-selling works are presented, the heads of women gather, the further you turn the pages and get into the areas of essay writing, historiography, philosophy, the less often you will find them. Men, if they are announced on the first pages with novels, set themselves apart from the competitors by providing a mixture of experience and educational knowledge, describing private life in the historical context of fascism, the GDR, an underdeveloped country and thus their affiliation to the second, scientific-essayistic part of the publisher's catalog. Women authors describe life as existence, authors tell it as a story.

Particularly educated authors such as WG Sebald, Hanns-Josef Ortheil, Martin Mosebach and Daniel Kehlmann achieve an increase in the value of "human interest" through knowledge of natural sciences and art history, which brings their books to the level they need to be reviewed in the feature pages, in literary houses presented and never to be read in S-Bahn or U-Bahn. The difference between trivial and "high" literature, of passionate interest to educated and scholars in the post-war period, has meanwhile become meaningless; Nevertheless, the enthronement of a literary elite by the newspaper and the literary house remained important.

Gender specific production

The genres read by men (essay, historical works, political books, classical literature) determine the rank of newspaper or magazine: quality is masculine, both with the author and with the reviewer. Hardly ever do women succeed as writers in publishing houses in these genres, hardly ever read such books as readers, and rarely do they review them. The more men in the program, the higher the intellectual level, the more proud the publisher, newspaper, magazine of themselves.

The publishers, however, are increasingly calculating with the novel reader and the profit to be drawn from her love of reading. At most, the biographical literature preferred by men stands up to comparison. Goethe, Napoleon, George are safe investments. Genres, on the other hand, which, like the essay, do not first convey historical knowledge but presuppose it, seem to be dying out. The essay is replaced by a new type of advice and non-fiction book made from female morality and male pragmatism, which deals with raising children, bullying, doping, care for the elderly and investments. Depending on their marital status and employment situation, the female or male reader can choose his topic. The “all-age literature” would have to be accompanied by a “unisex literature” - a literature that combines morality and life story, pragmatic instruction and narrative and prepares the reunification of the sexes. For the time being, however, the motto still applies to the relationship between men and women: live together, read separately.

Hannelore Schlaffer lives as an essayist and journalist in Stuttgart. In 2007 Suhrkamp released the band “Mode, Schule der Frauen”.