Romances for Men to Cross-Read

Jason Pinter had a post on Huffington Post Why Men Don’t Read bemoaning the difficulty of publishing books for men. (*) He pointed out how the industry is dominated by women, that women read and buy more books and that if only publishers would pay attention to men, more men would read because there would be more books for men to read.

While I have some sympathy for his position, I admit it’s tepid. For how many centuries has publishing aimed itself at male tastes and denigrated the female? Since the beginning. Woman have it all over you in terms of oppression, misrepresentation and being left out. The proverbial shoe is on the other foot and I have to say, I just don’t feel too sorry for you men. Sorry.

The fact is, women cross-read. We read ALL genres, including the ones written by and for men. Men, for the most part, don’t seem to do this, and it’s not for any good reason that I can see. Well, I take that back, there is a good reason, it just has nothing to do with literary merit. I think in the US the male position is far more rigid (giggling, sorry!) than the female. A woman can read Lee Child and no one will question her femininity for doing so. But a man who reads, say, Loretta Chase? His masculinity would be called into question. He must be gay or something, right? And really, maybe we should spend a minute thinking about that. What is it about male culture that makes that such a threat? Women are a bigger market because gender roles don’t limit our reading in the way they do a man’s reading. There’s your problem, Mr. Pinter.

Do you know how many years I suffered through SciFi and Fantasy novels where the women characters were nothing but a male fantasy with absolutely no relation to what real women are like? That’s if there were women at all. How about the John D. MacDonald’s lovely Travis McGee series, where all the women are whores or die? I LOVED those books, but don’t think I didn’t notice what happened to the women. There are entire novels in which there are no women at all, and you can name your genre on that one.

I grew up devouring SciFi and Fantasy and feeling so sad and more than a little frustrated that the women mattered so little. And now, thank God, that’s changed. There are finally, finally writers, male and female, who write about women in a way that doesn’t have them there for sex or service only. Thank you John Scalzi and Jim Butcher and Lois McMaster Bujold to name only three.

Anyway, on Twitter, we got to wondering what romances a man could cross-read and really enjoy. The answer, for any given individual, is going to vary, of course. The very question is fascinating to me in that it is, itself, rife with stereotype and, possibly, sexism. Is it true that woman enjoy the HEA (happy ever after) of Romance while men do not? What ARE the gendered patterns of reading and are they rooted in biology or is it a cultural construction? All very interesting questions.

For me, the first two authors to cross my mind were Meljean Brook and Ann Aguirre. Both those authors write stories I think a lot of men would enjoy. Aguirre may not always be straight romance, but there are very strong romantic elements. Brook is total cross-over material and I’ve been personally thrilled to see her covers become less Romancy and more Urban Fantasy-ish.

So, here are some of the recommendations the Twitterverse has made – IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER because I’m too lazy to alphabetize the list:

  • Meljean Brook Meljean’s Guardian series rocks. I think a lot of men would love this richly populated world.
  • Ann Aguirre. Her Sarantha Jax series is great. I’ve loved the Skin series, and then there’s the Corinne Solomon series, too. I suspect since many of her books don’t say Romance on the spine, she already has cross-over.
  • Karen Rose I’m a big fan of Karen Rose. She’s a great writer and her characters are fully realized on the page. Her books tend to feature serial killer, psychotic villains with, typically, a woman in jeopardy. Lots of action and detail.
  • Anne Stuart Several people recommended Stuart. I confess, she’s in my TBR so I can’t make a personal recommendation. I have the Black Ice series on my iPhone and will be getting to it soon, though.
  • Allison Brennan Like Karen Rose, she does very detailed, action oriented woman in jeopardy, police-oriented books. Definitely recommend.
  • J.R. Ward I almost hesitate to recommend Ward for a guy and yet . . . There is something cracktastic about her books and, in the name of science, I would be interested in knowing if men would share the addiction. Any male readers out there willing to sacrifice themselves in the name of science? Leave a comment and I’ll see about sending some intrepid man a Black Dagger Brotherhood book.
  • Diana Gabaldon Gabaldon is another author I haven’t gotten around to reading yet. I’m afraid I’ll be sucked into the world when I should be writing my own darn books. But several bookstore and library people said there are a lot of men reading her. She is, of course, not marketed as Romance. Which may explain the male readers.
  • Suzanne Brockmann – Her Troubleshooters series is awesome. I get annoyed that it’s so hard to figure out which are reissues of her old Harlequins and which are actual Troubleshooters, but yeah. Lots of great military action.
  • Colleen Thompson’s Romantic Suspense. Someone recommended her. I haven’t read her RS yet so I can’t comment much.
  • Earlier Iris Johansen I’ve read a few of her early books too.
  • Barry Eisler Technically, of course, Eisler is not marketed as Romance, but there are very strong Romantic elements in his books so I completely agree that he’s a good choice for a male reader looking to see what’s on the other side.
  • Welcome to Temptation, Don’t Look Down or Agnes and the Hitman, Jennifer Crusie — I completely agree with the recommendation for Agnes and the Hitman. I loved that Crusie/Bob Mayer book. I mean to pick up and read the others. Crusie is just a really good writer. Even her straight romances are just darn good reading.
  • Larissa Ione Her name got mentioned a couple of times, too. Def. agree with this recommendation.

I’ll probably update this if more recommendations come in. In the meantime, who else would you add? What do you think in general? Are you a guy? Why do you read or not read Romance? Want a BDB book to try out?

* Read the comments to Pinters article. There’s one guy who says men are too busy with their jobs to read, and even manages to imply that women are not. OMG. Really? Buddy, women are working full time and then coming home and working even more, doing the majority of the work of maintaining a family and a home. Trust me, the average woman has WAY more demands on her time than the average men. This is just not reason men don’t read.


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10 Responses to “Romances for Men to Cross-Read”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Carolyn Jewel, Kendra James. Kendra James said: Romances for Men to Cross-Read « Writer's Diary: Ann Aguirre. Her Sarantha Jax series is great. I've loved the Ski… […]

  2. Kwana says:

    Good post Carolyn and I have to say as soon as I started reading my face screwed up with the look of “oh please”. How long and we had to deal and adapt and happily explore different authors.
    You are right with men not crossing over because they don’t want to. And no it’s not due to time constraints because no one works harder than a woman. That’s not gonna fly. I often wish men (ok my man LOL) would step out even further and go full out with a traditional romance (regency historical perhaps) and really get a good romantic moment to bring home.

  3. […] Carolyn Jewel responds to recent Huffington Post article called “Why Men Don’t Read.” […]

  4. Susan/DC says:

    Ian MacEwan wrote a short piece about how he tried to give away books one day in a London park. Women would stop, look at the book, and decide if they wanted it. Men would just rush by, no interest whatsoever. Too small a sample to be statistically valid, but his experience certainly supports the idea that more women than men read novels these days.

    • Carolyn Jewel says:

      It would be interesting to try that experiment on a bigger scale. Though, maybe context is part of it? At Comic Con last year, I signed 200 books to men and women both and they were gone as fast as I could sign. People at ComicCon are there to pick up schwag.

  5. King Rat says:

    I would be willing to try J.R. Ward. My entire romance reading consists of 4 books to date. I vowed I was going to read a few until I found something I liked. That hasn’t happened yet.

    I’ve laid out two criteria for stuff I’m willing to try (which won’t really guarantee I’ll like it):

    1. No women acting dumb/being taken advantage of/in peril/etc. I’m much more likely to like romances about women that are the type and in situations I’d actually want to be with.
    2. No regency romance or novels of manners. Anything where people have to be “proper” grates on me.

    All 4 of the ones I’ve read failed criteria #1.

    • Carolyn Jewel says:

      Thanks for the comment! I think your criteria #1 is going to narrow your choices of any fiction quite significantly. Women acting dumb is a staple of fiction, I’m sorry to say. Many non-romances would violate this criteria right away. (Case in point: The Gargoyle, which I believe would be considered Literature, features a female character who is, in the romance parlance, TSTL (Too Stupid to Live). Women in peril is even more pervasive, and across genres, too. Tess Gerritsen has a post over at the Murderati blog on Why Dead Women Sell Books that you might want to take a look at because her premise if quite interesting.

      Criteria #2 is a matter of preference, of course. Not everyone likes historical fiction, but there are an awful lot of historicals that do not necessarily depend on “properness”

      J.R. Ward is like crack. There are such flaws in the books and yet . . . Damn. I would start with the first 3 of Ward’s if you’re going to brave these over-the-top cracklicious books..

      Here are my recommendations:

      Grimspace by Ann Aguirre

      Skin Game by Ann Aguirre

      The Guardian series by Meljean Brook — You could safely start in the middle of this series. The earlier books have covers that in no way convey the richness of the stories. In addition, her steampunk story in the anthology Burning Up, is absolutely amazing. Read her story.

      Suzanne Brockmann’s Navy SEAL and Troubleshooter’s books. She has a huge backlist that’s being reissued so you have to be careful that you’re not getting a reissue of one of her books for Harlequin, which are still very good, but they’re shorter so you don’t get as much action. Her longer SEAL Team 16 books are much richer with a lot more action.

      Games of Command by Linnea Sinclair. This is Sci-fi romance.

      Let me know if you try any of these and what you thought of them if you do.

  6. King Rat says:

    Women in peril/TSTL/etc. does appear quite often in other genres, and I regularly criticize books there that contain it. There’s a special problem with it in romance, for me personally, though. It’s that I read it think “who wants to be with that woman?” or “who thinks about romance when dangling from a side of a cliff?” In romance, it totally ruins the whole point of the book for me, as it’s not romantic! (Based off 4 books.)

    I have requested Grimspace from the library, as well as the first book of the Guardian series. Hopefully they’ll turn out for me.

    • Carolyn Jewel says:

      Hey, I just re-read the original post and was reminded of my offer to send Ward to an intrepid gentleman reader. If you’re still up for it, email me your mailing address and I’ll send you one or two of her books!

  7. […] latest attempt is J. R. Ward’s Dark Lover, recommended by romance author Carolyn Jewel. If you read her post, she wasn’t sure a guy would like it, but I was willing to sacrifice […]