Saturday, March 18, 2017

Men reading women

Do men who read widely (fiction, especially) bypass female authors and consciously seek out male writers?

The question hit me yesterday when I found an article by Lorraine Berry in Signature (3-15-17), "The Man Who Doesn't Read Women."  She is surprised and upset that her doctor, who likes to read, confessed that he has never read a female author. I assume this means other than a poet like Emily Dickinson assigned in school.

He prefers masculine prose, whatever that is, something unsentimental, full of action and tough-guy prose.  I wonder if the doctor has read Annie Proulx, whose prose style comes out of the American West; but, then, she is author of "Brokeback Mountain."

A friend of mine, also a doctor, read Middlemarch last year, the huge Victorian novel by George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans) and was interested in Edna St. Vincent Millay. Is this unusual?

I can't imagine a sensitive man not wanting to get the feminine perspective on life, love, and other areas provided by such women writers as Louise Erdrich, Joan Didion, Hilary Mantell, P.D. James, and so many other contemporary writers.  I can't imagine a literate man consciously avoiding the female voice in prose or poetry.

A remarkable American poet who has challenged the stereotype of the manly man who reads only Hemingway-esque writers is Paul David Adkins. He served in the U.S. Army for 21 years in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. He then began writing poetry, mainly by women, and he found the 1989 collection of verse by Lynn Butler, my wife. As he indicates in his new collection of poems, "Flying over Bagdad with Sylvia Plath," he was inspired by Lynn's "Planting the Voice" and other poets, whose work inspires his own.

Mr. Adkins, who teaches at SUNY, is a remarkable man, a fine poet whose manly credentials are unquestioned, whose emotional and spiritual self has been wisely nurtured by the female muse.  In the heat of combat, he has turned not to pornography for escape or pulp fiction but to women poets. I'm sure he would have a fascinating conversation with Lorraine Berry's doctor.

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