I was thinking today about how often I meet people, men usually, who say "I don't read novels". They usually say they only read non-fiction. One of the main reasons seems to be that they have little time for reading, so if they're going to read, they want to learn something.
Of course I think that you can learn something from novels, but that's beside the point. I just realised today that you never hear people say, when talking about films, "I only watch documentaries." Surely there are so many people (*cough*men*cough*) who think nothing of flopping down in front of TV for the evening to watch a drama or a comedy, and certainly those who, even if high-minded and anti-TV, will go the the movies to watch a good shoot-em-up or a well-crafted, thought-provoking piece of arthouse cinema.
So why don't they look at novels in the same way?
Incidentally, those readers who claim to only read biographies etc, also seem to take forever to read their chosen books, reading a couple of pages a night before falling asleep. I would venture that if they gave a good novel a try, they might learn something and be engaged enough to read a good chunk at a time. They could even read a book instead of watching TV.
Actually, further to this, I was interested in a survey the Guardian did recently about male and female reading habits. Men read significantly less fiction than women (no surprises there, I worked that out when I was a shopgirl in a bookstore - they also don't read books written by women*), and the novels they name as being their favourites seem to be the ones they read as angry young men or studied at university 5, 10, 20, 30 years ago. Anecdotally, I have come across just these types, who name books such as The Crying of Lot 49 as their favourite novels, but who haven't ever bothered to pick up something that's come out in the last 20 years which might be just as good. One guy even said to me once "fiction these days is crap"! Well how does he know if he never reads any? Oh, that's right, he doesn't have time, and he wants to learn something when he reads. As far as he's concerned, he's read a good novel. Why bother looking for any more?
*Of course I'm not talking about all men; there are plenty of exceptions, including my husband who not only reads novels, but novels written by women. I think that might be why I married him. But on the flipside I have a male novelist friend who says he doesn't read novels. That's even more scary.