What novel sustained you through transition or crisis? British researchers discovered women and men have different formative favorites. For women, Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre is the stand-out with Austen’s Pride and Prejudice in second. Men favor Camus’s The Outsider, Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye and Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five. From The Guardian:
Our final top 20 of men’s reading clearly shows a majority of books with strong active narrative themes – books that might traditionally be described at quintessential boys’ books. . . Men’s reading choices tend to identify themselves with novels that include intellectual struggle. Personal vulnerability is represented as a more or less angst-ridden struggle against convention, a sense of isolation from social normality. Catastrophe and the struggle to rise above circumstance characterise the plots.
Women’s formative reading was done between the ages of 12 and 20, while men picked pooks they’d read at 15 or 16 years old. Many of the men had stopped reading fiction after their teens.
In the New York Times (but behind the subscription barrier), David Brooks cites the survey and speculates that boys don’t like to read because they’re assigned too many girly books in school.
(Boys) are sent home with these new-wave young adult problem novels, which all seem to be about introspectively morose young women whose parents are either suicidal drug addicts or fatally ill manic depressives.
It shouldn’t be any surprise that according to a National Endowment for the Arts study, the percentage of young men who read has plummeted over the past 14 years. Reading rates are falling three times as fast among young men as among young women.
For boys, Brooks recommends “more Hemingway, Tolstoy, Homer and Twain.” I don’t know about Tolstoy, but definitely more Hemingway and Twain. Tom Sawyer is one of my formative novels, along with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.