A long time ago now, I spotted a post on Twitter from a bookseller who had overheard a male customer saying “I would never read a book by a woman”. It struck us as an odd thing to say. Why cut yourself off from half the books in the world, regardless of quailty or subject, because of the (apparent) gender of the writer?
Another contributor to the discussion added the amusing story of a man who said who never read fantasy by women but only by men – men like Robin Hobbs.
Oh, how we laughed and laughed.
The discussion moved on, however, to declarations of the books we ourselves might never read, and some fairly blanket terms came up, culminating in: “I’d never read a book by a footballer!”
I thought about this. I’m not very interested in sport, and might have declared I’d never read a book about football – but I had enjoyed Angela Pippos’s Goddess Advantage – One Year in the Life of a Football Worshipper. It was funny, clever, insightful and, yes, about football, but much more about family and community and one person’s life. But it also made me quite like football, through her eyes.
Would I refuse ever to read a book by a footballer, I wondered? I couldn’t imagine what they might have to say that would interest me, but that was just about being selective about what I read in my limited reading time.
I had decided a while back that I wouldn’t read books by certain authors because I found aspects of their very vocal opinions (one a rampant homophobe, another a convicted violent criminal) so repugnant that I was reluctant to contribute to even the price of a cup of coffee for them from my purchase. But there are maybe three writers on that list.
But that’s not a blanket ban on a type of person or on any particular subject. There’s always the chance that a good writer, or a good story, can come from anywhere.
So… as an experiment, I tried to find a book written by a footballer that I might like to read. My call for assistance ended in a friend lending me a copy of Jason McCartney’s After Bali (co-written by Ben Collins, who is credited in the fly-leaf, though not with his specific role in the creation of the book).
That was maybe two years ago. I’ve been putting off reading it in favour of books I was much more committed to reading, in my relatively limited reading hours.
This weekend, I finally opened it and gave it a whirl.
The book is written interview-style, with Jason McCartney’s story of being caught up in the bomb blasts in Bali in October 2002, his injuries and recovery, interspersed with quotes from family, friends, medical staff and others.
I tried and tried and tried to like it.
Half way through, I gave up. I just don’t have the time to keep reading books I’m not enjoying.
I feel bad about it. McCartney endured much, suffered much, achieved much, and it’s a rude of me to want the account of his experiences to be more articulate or more insightful or more… something. But the truth is, I found the writing awkward, repetetive and ultimately a bit dull. I wish him and his well, I do, and I feel awful that I was not sufficiently ‘engaged’. But I wasn’t.
What do I conclude from this experiment?
It isn’t that I will never read a book by a footballer. It isn’t that I will never read a book about personal suffering and endurance, or one about football, or any of those things.
I conclude mainly that not every writer or every subject or every writing style is my cup of tea, and that’s okay. I may choose not to continue a book, or not to read particular authors because I don’t particularly enjoy their work (or their personal politics) or because there are just so many other books that engage me much more at the time.
Never say never, or at least almost never, is what I conclude. I don’t want to close myself off from books and ideas that may be unexpected and brilliant, or at least educational.
But I’ll continue to be discerning in my choices, because I only have so much time, and there is ever so much in the world to read!
Narrelle M Harris is a Melbourne-based writer. Find out more about her books, smartphone apps, public speaking and other activities at www.narrellemharris.com.
[Image by ponsuwan at 123RF.com)