“Women read women’s books, men read men’s books.”


I’m due to move soon and despite having a lot of things to do I haven’t achieved a great deal. I need to find somewhere else to live, book a flight, buy a train ticket, pack, and buy a camera. Everything’s a bit too much, so in desperation I looked on the internet for something that would cheer me up.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for A Day, by Winifred Watson was recommended. I admit I’d never heard of it or her, but I was willing to give it a go. In her preface, Henrietta Twycross-Martin writes that the author believed that ‘women read women’s books, men read men’s books’. Ms Twycross-Martin adds that this was truer during the author’s time than now. Yet this is the second or third time I’ve come across this distinction. The first time was when an Irishman referred to some books in his own shop as “women’s crap” and his Irish relative looked at me to see if I would be offended. The books were romances (I think) and not the kind I read, but anyone including men can read them if they want to. Maybe they should. Maybe I should. It was the first time I had heard that people (only men?) thought women read different books to men.
I knew a woman once who told me read books about ‘families’. I wasn’t sure what she meant but the closest I got to reading books about what I think are ‘families’ was Little Women. Then at school I ploughed my through Poldark and another similar book (don’t know what it was about but it was a thick book, so wasn’t I the clever one, but I still preferred The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe). Then there was Gone With The Wind. Oh, and War and Peace. Does “women read women’s books, men read men’s books” mean women read books written only by women, and men read books written only by men? Last year I spent months reading non-fiction books on WWI written by men, about mainly men. Does that make me a man? And now that I’m reading Miss Pettigrew Lives for A Day, am I now a woman?
My favourite play, and one I was obsessed with for about a few years, is Julius Caesar – and no, it was one of the set texts at school. I’ve read quite a few ‘self-help’ books written by men. One of my favourite first pages of any novel is the one from The Thirty-Nine Steps; Richard Hannay doesn’t share a common background with me yet he feels exactly the same way as I do. And then I also identify with Davies in The Riddle of The Sands. HG Wells wrote Ann Veronica, so what does that make him?
I don’t know. I’m in need of mental balm, so I’m going back to Miss Pettigrew.

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About S.A. Aslam

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