Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Men and Women

As you may or may not be aware, HBO has created a new series based on George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire. (The HBO series is titled A Game of Thrones which is the first book in the series)  I have wanted to read the series since it was first published, and because I always like to read a book before I see the movie/show, I was torn when the first episode aired.  But, I watched it anyway.  And I was hooked!  I bought the book and finally started reading it after the first four episodes. I found it boring!  Not because the book is bad (not at all!!!), but because the HBO series is so true to the book, I was ready to find out something new.  Well, yesterday, I finally hit the new stuff, and wow!

I immediately wanted to write a blog/review of the book, even though I'm not finished.  While I thought I could wait, something happened this morning that encouraged me to go ahead.  Before my first class this morning, I saw an old student of mine.  He was in my World Lit class last semester, and he too, is reading the series.  We began discussing the first book, the HBO series, and ultimately science fiction/fantasy genre in general.

I've always loved sci-fi/fantasy, both in television/movies and books. But, I have to admit, I haven't read as many books in the genre as I would like. Namely, because I'm a woman, I find that I enjoy reading books written by women about women as opposed to masculine lit.  And the sci-fi genre is dominated by men.  (It also turns me off when a title or cover is cheesy, and let's face it, many fantasy novels have cheesy covers and titles.  I know, I know, don't judge a book by its cover). I read an article yesterday on Salon that addressed the  issue of women writers, and I guess it justified my feelings somewhat about my proclivity for women novelists AND made me feel ashamed for doing what so many men do.  In her article about V.S. Naipul's recent slam on women writers (particularly Jane Austen), Mary Elizabeth Williams explains:

Let's forget for a minute the millennia of restrictions that made a life of letters impossible for almost all women throughout history. Ignore the questions of whether women have had equal opportunity to write important books, and get right to the heart of Naipaul's assertion -- that they're incapable of doing it. Because what he's really getting at is a persistent attitude that runs rampant not just in the arts but in business, in sports, and anywhere men and women congregate: that the feminine is automatically unimportant and inferior, that "size and weight," so to speak, are the only criteria worth measuring.
Bravo! I literally cheered. Williams goes on to explain what we already know, that of course women write differently than men do; they even write about different subjects, because the female experience is unique; it is not the male experience, but that doesn't mean that it is less than.  As a woman, I like it when I find someone who points this out, who speaks up.  But, then I had to think about my wariness of male writers.  I typically (and wrongly) don't want to read contemporary male authors. (Men like Dickens, and Collins, and Twain, and Hawthorne) don't bother me so much.  So, I wondered, am I doing exactly the same thing?  I do read male writers' works, but if put in front of me, I would probably gravitate more to the woman writer. And I don't think that's fair. Just because it is different does not make it less important, or even less aesthetically pleasing.  The real reason I don't like to read many contemporary male authors is because it makes me feel better if dead men who lived in a less tolerant time make quibs about women, but when  modern men do, it infuriates me.

So, now back to A Game of Thrones, a book written by a man. And it includes some really strong female characters, characters to love--and hate as the case may be.  The novel is written in short chapters which are focalized through different characters, so the story comes together piece by piece.  And I'm proud to say that I don't even try to rush through the male characters' sections.  Perhaps there is hope for us all to become even more enlightened!

BTW, I highly recommend the book, and the summer is the perfect time for reading it--after summer, winter will come. (That makes sense once you've read the book). And I promise, I will write a real review of it as soon as I'm finished!


  1. I have mixed feelings about your comments, Kelli. I completely agree with you when you say a book shouldn't be dismissed simply because it was written by a man—or a woman. But, as a reader, I don't think it's wrong to gravitate toward the feminine—or the masculine, for that matter—any more than it's wrong to gravitate toward historical fiction to the detriment of mysteries. As you yourself pointed out, women write differently than men--not better, not worse--differently. And it's okay to like something different. Now, as educators, I believe we have a duty to include the works of men and women; even more, as educated feminists, women who have listened to professors deride the works of women or offer the occasional "token" work written by a woman (Yes, I've actually heard those words spoken by a prof before!), we have a duty to provide our students with an opportunity to read works by all oppressed groups--women and racial minorities. I would even go so far as to say that we have a duty to provide them with work from marginalized genres—like children’s/young adult literature or graphic novels. In sum, as an instructor, I have a duty to provide my students with a variety of works by a variety of authors, and to defend the value of those works to the best of my ability, so that my students can decide for themselves what they like and what they don’t. But as an individual, reading alone and for my own pleasure, I reserve the right to read what I like (and to like what I like) without judgment or guilt—even if it is “feminine tosh.”

  2. Kelli,

    I find it interesting that just this week Katherine was encouraging me to begin this series. She has been reading it for awhile and loves it.

    I must admit that whether or not a book is written by a female or male author does not usually influence if I want to read it. To me, how it is written and the story itself matters the most. Do I love female writers? Of course. But I think you're right to push yourself to read outside your personal preference. Because you can always be pleasantly surprised. I believe that it is a lot easier to convince people that they should read more female and other minority writers, when one is open to all writers, even the "standard" white male.

    Now with that being said, I know that I reserve the right to enjoy or not enjoy certain authors regardless of race, sex, or creed. And when I stop to think of it, some of my favorite children's lit fantasy writers are female: L'Engle and Rowling to name a couple.

  3. I started reading Game of Thrones a couple of nights ago, and I love it. I was looking for a pick-me-up, something fun and all-engrossing, and this book is all that and a bag of chips (yes, I went there). Anyhow, I know there was some initial resistance from fellow bookclubers, but it's good. It really is. Give it a chance. Winter is coming.

  4. I'm so glad you like it!!! I'm ready to read the second book. It really is a book to get lost in.