Do Girls Read Differently to Boys?

Twilight is a bestselling novel by Stephenie Meyer about a teenage girl who falls in love with a vampire (from that last wikipedia link: “The Twilight books have sold more than 25 million copies worldwide, with translations into 37 different languages around the globe”). It’s now been made into a frighteningly successful film.

In the December 2008 edition of The Atlantic, Caitlin Flanagan discusses the success of the novels, and along the way meditates upon her own reading practices when she was younger:

Never have I had such an intense relationship with books as when I was a young girl. I raged inside them and lived a double emotional life (half real girl, half inhabitant of a distant world) … books consumed me in a way that no other works of art or mass culture ever have. I chose books neither because of, nor in spite of, their artistic merit, only for their ability to pull me through the looking glass.

She goes on:

The salient fact of an adolescent girl’s existence is her need for a secret emotional life—one that she slips into during her sulks and silences, during her endless hours alone in her room, or even just when she’s gazing out the classroom window while all of Modern European History, or the niceties of the passé composé, sluice past her. This means that she is a creature designed for reading in a way no boy or man, or even grown woman, could ever be so exactly designed, because she is a creature whose most elemental psychological needs—to be undisturbed while she works out the big questions of her life, to be hidden from view while still in plain sight, to enter profoundly into the emotional lives of others—are met precisely by the act of reading.

Is this right, do you think? Do you recognise this account of teenage reading? Is it something specifically female, as Flanagan argues, or is that just sexist-essentialist mumbojumbo? [AR]



Filed under General reading

3 responses to “Do Girls Read Differently to Boys?

  1. sounds like jumbo mumbo to me. i didn’t rediscover reading until late teens – i got distracted by video games – but when i did it was definitely an escape world, and still is. i have always had a secret emotional life, and i am very male. and i’ve known many people like me.

    “This means that she is a creature designed ”

    “during her endless hours alone in her room,”

    “gazing out the […] window”

    fantastic balley hoo. the Sensitive Emotional Woman returns.

  2. Doug Cowie

    I vote sexist-existentialist-mumbojumbo. Since when do boys not have emotions?

  3. rhulcreativewriters

    I think I see the problem here. Caitlin Flanagan has mixed up two things in her mind: boys and cybermen. Easily done.

    More seriously, notice the way she lurches between the social (the teenage girl’s need for a private emotional life) and the natural (‘she is a creature designed for reading’). Completely illogical. Typical woman.


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