I recently checked out the Book Swap shelves in my work, and saw On Beauty by Zadie Smith. It’s a book I’ve always wanted to read, but have never gotten around to reading. So, I picked it up.
A colleague of mine read the blurb, out of interest, and came to the conclusion that, “it looks good; just a bit too girlie for me”.
Stop right there.
When it comes to good fiction, there’s no such thing as ‘girlie’. Yes, some authors aim their writing towards men (Lee Childs, Dan Brown) and some at women (Jodi Picoult, Maeve Binchie). But then you get past the take-your-brain-out trashy fiction (don’t lie, you know they are), books transcend gender.
No-one ever put down The Great Gatsby or Nineteen Eighty-four for being too manly, or decided that To Kill a Mockingbird was a girl’s book. Classic, well-written fiction doesn’t work within the realms society sets. It goes beyond the ideas society lays out about boys liking gun fights and girls playing dress-up. This is the wonderful thing about fiction; it has no limits. Neither the writer nor the reader is limited to certain topics or genres; we can write about and read whatever we want.
You know who is limited?
It’s not the writers who decide that Woolf is for women and Orwell for men. It’s the publishers who cover Woolf’s fiction with patterns and flowers, and Orwell’s with bold colours and block lettering.
Of course, this shouldn’t make a difference to us, the reader. Haven’t we been told, countless times, not to judge a book by its cover? But we will. Unfortunately humans are social, self-conscious creatures, many of whom will not pick up a book if they think people will judge them for being too feminine/masculine (delete appropriately).
This, dear readers, is a crying shame. Everyone – and I mean everyone – should read Of Mice and Men at least once, regardless of the cover publishers have given it. Everyone should read something by Kate Atkinson – ignore the advert in the shop window aimed at women!
It’s up to you and me to set these wheels in motion, to break out of the chains society and publishers put us in, and read books with covers which might make people give you a second look.
Try it – it will be worth it!