Gender Differences in Novel Reading

Posted: July 3, 2006 in Reading Habits

Is there a difference between what men and women look for in a novel? Apparently so, according to at least one study conducted this year in the UK. The researchers found, among other things, these contrasts between the sexes:

” Women readers used much-loved books to support them through difficult times and emotional turbulence. They tended to employ them as metaphorical guides to behaviour, or as support and inspiration.

“The men’s list was all angst and Orwell. Sort of puberty reading,” she said. Ideas touching on isolation and “aloneness” were strong among the men’s “milestone” books. ”

The _Guardian_ (UK) published the resulting two lists of top 20 favorite novels, one reflecting the choices of men, and the other the top choices of women. Perhaps surprisingly (or perhaps not), there was little overlap between the two lists.

Here they are:


1. Albert Camus – The Outsider
2. J.D. Salinger – The Catcher in the Rye
3. Kurt Vonnegut – Slaughterhouse-Five
4. Gabriel Garcia Marquez – One Hundred Years of Solitude
5. J.R.R. Tolkien – The Hobbit
6. Joseph Heller – Catch-22
7. George Orwell – 1984
8. F. Scott Fitzgerald – The Great Gatsby
9. Milan Kundera – The Book of Laughter and Forgetting
10. Harper Lee – To Kill a Mockingbird
11. Vladimir Nabokov – Lolita
12. J.R.R. Tolkien – The Lord of the Rings
and Fyodor Dostoevsky – Crime and Punishment
14. Graham Greene – Brighton Rock
15. Nick Hornby – High Fidelity
16. James Joyce – Ulysses
17. Mark Twain – The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
18. Joseph Conrad – Heart of Darkness
19. Franz Kafka – Metamorphosis
20. John Steinbeck – The Grapes of Wrath


1. Charlotte Bronte – Jane Eyre
2. Emily Bronte – Wuthering Heights
3. Margaret Atwood – The Handmaid’s Tale
4. George Eliot – Middlemarch
5. Jane Austen – Pride and Prejudice
6. Toni Morrison – Beloved
7. Doris Lessing – The Golden Notebook
8. Joseph Heller – Catch-22
9. Marcel Proust – Remembrance of Things Past
10. Jane Austen – Persuasion
11. Mary Shelley – Frankenstein
12. Jeanette Winterson – Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit
13. Gabriel Garcia Marquez – One Hundred Years of Solitude
14. George Eliot – The Mill on the Floss
15. Louisa May Alcott – Little Women
16. Gustave Flaubert – Madame Bovary
17. C.S. Lewis – The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
18. Margaret Mitchell – Gone with the Wind
19. Joseph Conrad – Heart of Darkness
20. Harper Lee – To Kill a Mockingbird

My own top 20 list would draw partly from both of these two lists, and add titles not mentioned on either. It would also most likely fluctuate depending upon which day you asked me, and what sort of mood I was in. That’s one thing about these lists of favorite books. I doubt there are many people who’d list the same 20 without fail, unless they’d spent an awful lot of time thinking about the subject and weighing their opinions in the past. So, if you asked me today, this would be my top 20 list (not in any particular order):


1. Virginia Woolf – To the Lighthouse
2. Charles Dickens – Great Expectations
3. Gabriel Garcia Marquez – One Hundred Years of Solitude
4. Charlotte Bronte – Jane Eyre
5. George Eliot – The Mill on the Floss
6. Jane Austen – Pride and Prejudice
7. Gustave Flaubert – Madame Bovary
8. Charles Dickens – Our Mutual Friend
9. Virginia Woolf – Mrs. Dalloway
10. William Faulkner – The Sound and the Fury
11. William Faulkner – As I Lay Dying
12. F. Scott Fitzgerald – The Great Gatsby
13. Margaret Atwood – The Blind Assassin
14. George Eliot – Middlemarch
15. Jane Austen – Sense and Sensibility
16. Leo Tolstoy – Anna Karenina
17. Kate Chopin – The Awakening
18. A.S. Byatt – Possession
19. Willa Cather – My Antonia
20. Carson McCullers – The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

Not surprising I’m heavy on British fiction and heavy on southern fiction, with drops of Russian and Latin literature thrown in. That sounds about right.

Anyone else have a Top 20 list to share? I’d love to hear from you!


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