‘ahems and ahahs’

Literature, & Etc.

What happened to all those Rabbits and Portnoys and Rojacks and Wapshots and Herzogs?

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Over at the Washington Post Book section I recently read two articles that can essentially be summed up by the following two bullet points:

1. Males don’t read. (Only 20% according to the article.) 

2. It’s because we no longer have strong masculine fiction, we’ve moved away from the Hemingways, Roths, Updikes, & Bellows of the world. 

Let me explain.

The first article is a review of a book entitled The Signal by Ron Carlson. It’s not so much the content of the book that is the focus of this post but the type of ideological critique of how men read and how women read (as if we still need to gender reading and intelligence in the sexes, so glad we’ve learned from our past mistakes and history). 

Ron Charles, not to be mistaken with the author of the book that is being reviewed, starts his article by citing that he has accepted the fact that men do not read any more and that this battle was lost long ago as he writes: Norman Mailer published right on this spot!). Chuck Palahniuk and his “Pygmy” vibrator gags notwithstanding, polls suggest that only 20 percent of fiction readers are male. Ian McEwan warned in the Guardian that “when women stop reading, the novel will be dead.”

But not to worry my fellow men, those 20% of us that are capable of reading intelligence, there is a solution. Take Ron Charles’s advice and read The Signal by Ron Carlson because there are some books out there just for us. This is when Mr. Charles refers to an article posted sometime last week by Michael Lindgren who seems to be mourning an older style of masculine fiction that he sees missing from the world of fiction and literature today. As he states: 

What ever happened to the American Man? You know, the one who bullied and swore and drank his way through novels full of cigarette smoke, big cars and red meat? The one who’d abandon his family for a prostitute, or coerce his girlfriend into a threesome, or sleep with the housekeeper after murdering his wife? What happened to all those Rabbits and Portnoys and Rojacks and Wapshots and Herzogs? And does anyone really miss them?

Apparently Mr. Lindgren and Mr. Charles both miss this style of fiction. Both men seem to agree that what is missing from our literature is that rugged masculine style of fiction, the type referenced above. I think these gentleman fail to see something about all of the canonical American authors they cited above. People enjoy reading Hemingway, Roth, Mailer, Updike, not because of the types of rugged, misogynistic, arrogant, often homo-phobic male characters that they present to the reader, but IN-SPITE of them. LethemChabon1

Their fiction and writing is beautifully crafted and enjoyable to read, the only problem is that often they seem to be a product of their generation which for the most part has seen fit to perpetuate patriarchal systems of authority and socially constructed roles of gender. 

I take offense to the fact that first off, men do not read, and secondly, when we do, we need to have fiction at less than 200 pages and that it must be focused on rugged outdoor activities or some antiquated notions of masculinity that rely on violence and sexuality as primary themes of interest.

Why are Mr. Charles and Lindgren mourning the fact that as a society, writers today have moved beyond these issues. I am certainly not saying that we couldn’t use more writers like Roth or Hemingway, god forbid, the more the merrier. But, that style of writing was appropriate back then, writing today should reflect our current concerns and issues, and I would like to think that as a society we’ve progressed beyond these types of gendered readings and associations. Sadly, these two writers for the Post have simply reinforced and reminded me that we have not. 

Mr. Lindgren writes: that men want to be bad boys, kind of, but they can’t quite get there. They’re too comfortable, and they like women too much, to be engaged in all that operatic despair. Why is this a bad thing?

Read and form your own opinions but I for one could do without this type of gendered bigotry. 

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Written by thebeliever07

June 5, 2009 at 10:17 am

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