Men writing about love

/Cover of The Course of LoveFirst some facts:

  • There is only one male Mills and Boon writer – and he writes under his wife’s name
  • and four grudgingly recognised female writers of Westerns (and they are accused of bending that particular genre in more ways than one).

In-between these gender outliers, it’s a bit of a free for all. Nevertheless, despite the fact that all men will have loved, far fewer men write romantic fiction, or books about love.

And I’m not including here books where there’s a sprinkling of lurve on top of a mountain of general bad behaviour and savagery. I’m talking about contemporary authors who truly attempt to reveal what they understand about love. Authors who lay themselves bare, who wrestle with love, whose hearts have (in all probability) been broken. Those men.

Cover of BullfightingAnd they do exist, but let’s just get the following man writers out of the way: Tony Parsons (with books like Man and Boy), David Nicholls (One Day and Us) and Nicholas Sparks (anything romantic that has recently been filmed, like Message in a Bottle). They are all popular, they all write well, but they feel to me like observers, one step distant from real involvement. They tell stories about men and women in love, but they don’t dig that deep.

My “Men who write about love” do it in a way that is very revealing to women, in books that will make you look differently at male bravado, and with characters who are almost certainly based on their own experiences. Authors like this:

This is a terribly Non-PC blog, I know. After all, why even bother distinguishing the gender of writers? Why not include gay writers and those who are transgender? But it gets worse, because  what I think I am really trying to say here is that men write better books about love than women do.

Prove me wrong.

Messing with my comfort zone

Sorrel MoonDo you keep getting told (like it was a good thing) to “get out of your comfort zone”, or is that just happening to me? Personally, I have taken a month of Sundays and a good few decades to create said comfort zones, especially the bookish one. But lately there has been pressure from all sides to break the mould. Here’s how it is shaping up in the reading department:

In a Reader’s Challenge involving my library team, I drew the least wanted slip of paper out of the hat: Westerns. That is correct – those novels with horses (not a fan), booted men with flinty eyes, Indians all painted up and looking war-like, tavern ladies and sweet wholesome wives. Nothing there for me then. But I have to know more, I have to read at least one a month. I closed my eyes and picked one at random: Sorrel Moon by Cotton Smith who is a Spur Award Winning Author. The book is in memory of Chief Swift Eagle – say no more. There is a man blinded by a wild horse, an outlaw posing as a man of God who goes by the name of Glory Van Camp (!!!!), a tough bar wench, a strong wife and a Chinaman – but no Indians. Actually Cotton Smith writes well and has a lot of fun with naming things. I think I got lucky here – it could have been much worse.

The Wolf BorderNext up is a book that a good friend swore I would love. “It’s about the rewilding of wolves in England” she added … and your point is? I wanted to say. That’s the problem with friends recommending books that they have loved – it calls into question not only their reading tastes, but also (if you are in a downward turning mood) the very friendship itself. But we escaped calamity with this recommendation and I am going to pay it forward to you. Because strewth, The Wolf Border is a mighty fine book by Sarah Hall. It’s really out of my comfort zone – not so interested in wolves, nor socio-political themes for that matter, but it turns out to be a multi-layered, intelligent, gripping story in which the parallel threads of wolf rehabilitation and personal development are played out in moody Cumbrian England. We interviewed Sarah in 2008.

Finally, it is festival time. Auckland Writers Festival 2016 is upon us and there is no better place to mess with a comfort zone than at a festival, where everything that is presented is good to brilliant, the authors are there to inspire, and you feel like a newly charged version of your tired old reading self.

So, bring on the random choices and the serendipitous finds, and ta-ta for now to my reading comfort zone.