“Boy Books” and “Girl Books”—what about “Book Books”?
Ponderings on the nature of gender-divided fiction, by Renae
A few days ago I was stalking my Goodreads feed, as I do sometimes (or all the time, you know). Anyway, I came across a status update from someone who was reading a book generally considered to be one of the best in the genre, if not of all books ever. This is a book beloved by millions of readers worldwide, and has been for several decades now. I was struck by her comment, though, and it got me thinking.
Paraphrasing her update: “This is totally a boy book, but I love it anyway, even though I’m a girl.” ***
Cue me scratching my head and the subsequent posting of this tweet. I’ve never walked into a library or bookstore and seen gender-related shelving, and I don’t feel like I’ve ever been judged for picking up a supposed “boy book”, and after asking my dad (who, with a wife and three daughters, has frequently been caught reading Meg Cabot and Gail Carson Levine in public), neither has he. I’ve always thought one of the nice things about fiction was that it was genderless.
I mean, yes: many books are marketed toward a specific gender. Lots of heavy-duty science fiction is “for guys” and books with naked men on the cover are “for girls.” And that’s completely fine; I’m not saying that all guys should run around reading books about shirtless rogues, rakes, and scoundrels, etc., nor should women feel obligated to read about guns and zombies and whatever if those things don’t interest them (they interest me, though, which goes to prove my point about genderless reading).
So while I certainly agree that certain titles have larger or smaller appeal to men/women, I don’t think we should feel ashamed of liking a “boy book” if we’re female or vice versa. True story: I spent most of my elementary and middle school years loaning out my “girl books” to boys in my class, who liked them A LOT and would thereafter seek me out for recommendations. I also read a fair bit of “guy” science fiction/fantasy with my dad when I was a kid, whose favorite book, incidentally, is Pride & Prejudice.
Another true story: I have a friend who’s about as “manly” as you can get. He told me that I read too many “girl books” and for a long time refused my attempts to get him, but then read and loved The Hunger Games series at my suggestion (see! I do rec books I don’t personally enjoy.), and now he’s been reading YA dystopians—many of which are definitely geared toward a female audience—like there’s no tomorrow.
Anyway, I think I’m slightly off topic here, so let’s pull it all back. My point here is this: as a reader, separating all books into gender appropriate labels is silly. A publisher may push publicity for a new release toward one gender, but that doesn’t mean it won’t have appeal for the opposite sex either. In my opinion, segregating books into “boy books” and “girl books” is almost as ridiculous as saying that being female is a “trope.” (Yes, this actually happened, and no, I have no idea what that author was thinking—but that’s another kettle of fish altogether.)
As readers—and especially as book bloggers, we like to label our books. Put them in genres and subgenres. Shelves them according to publisher and imprint, themes, location, time period. I love labeling things! But labeling “boy books” and “girl books” is potentially problematic, potentially sexist, and overall just a silly display of promoting potential close-mindedness.
All in my opinion, of course.
*** I’m not condemning this person on GR for saying what she said, nor do I under any circumstances believe that she really was in any way wrong for saying what she did. I was merely sharing where all of this started, as a kind of jumping off point. I myself am certainly guilty of thinking, “even though this book is for boys, I love it anyways, muahahaha!” So I’m not judging this person at all.