A while ago, one of my book reading groups, both consisting solely of women, came to a discussion of how disappointed we were with the male authors we had chosen to read. From Trey Ellis’ Bedtime Stories: Adventures in the Land of Single Fatherhood, to Steve Harvey’s Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man (which I boycotted the actual reading of for obvious reasons), to Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ Memories of My Melancholy Whores, we just were not impressed. I begun to think of some of the male authored books I had read on my own and Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint and even Bernard Schlink’s The Reader jumped right into my consciousness as novels where the telling of the romance just lost it’s mark.
That is not to say that men cannot write good novels. Of course they can and often do. But as the main objections we had to the aforementioned books were regarding themes of love, relationships, and sex, I wondered if men could write good romances. Romances that women would want to read. So I asked the group, more avid readers than myself, if they could recommend a good romance novel…written by a man. A good romance novel that wasn’t Harlequin, or Mills & Boon, or fluffy “chicklit” AND was written by a man but not just any man, one who was man enough to not use a female pseudonym.
So now I’m home, contemplating that question again. Does reading or writing a romance negate a man’s masculinity? What’s with it? Do men not have emotions? Do they not fall in love? Do they not one day decide to wife someone? Aren’t they the ones who ultimately make that decision? So why do men who attempt to explore the emotions that come with being in love feel the need to write with a female pseudonym?
I’m beginning to think romance to a woman is entirely different from romance to a man. Maybe that’s why we have such a hard time understanding each other. But why? We both were read Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and the like were we not? Did young boys not want to grow up and be the prince who would rescue a forlorn princess one day and dote on her forever just like young girls longed to be that princess waiting for Prince Charming to come and sweep her off her feet and make her happy forever and ever? And if they (young boys) did not aspire to that same end point, where did things get lost in translation…for either party?
Now I seriously want to know what the average man thinks about novels like Pride and Prejudice or Wuthering Heights – classic romances. I want to know what the male reader thinks a good romance is. I want to know if there are any romances written for the man (romances, not porn or erotica) and if these books above that I don’t really like are targeted to them rather than to me. It was after all a guy friend who recommended Memories of My Melancholy Whores as a really great book. Say what?
So I’m seriously brooding over this topic and my mind wanders and I start to think of my all time favourite romantic movies – The Notebook and Love Actually. And gasp, they were both written by men. Ok, so now I know to give Nicholas Spark‘s novels a try, but then who else is there? Again, Mills & Boon/Harlequin type books need not apply. Oh and lets stick with contemporary romances. I’m not getting into a discussion of why Madame Bovary, Othello, Romeo and Juliet, and the like are not romances.