Why Women Read Fiction: The Stories of Our Lives

ISBN : 9780198827689

Helen Taylor
304 Pages
135 x 135 mm
Pub date
Jan 2020
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  • An accessible and engaging look at contemporary women's reading practices and preferences
  • Draws on 500 questionnaire responses and interviews with women readers and writers, including Hilary Mantel, Helen Dunmore, Louise Doughty, Sarah Dunant, Katie Fforde, Judy Finnigan, and Lennie Goodings
  • Discusses how distinguished female writers see themselves as readers and relate to women readers, as well as a male-dominated industry
  • An overview of the literary industry through the eyes of women readers including childhood reading, book clubs, literary festivals and literary tourism, and discussions on re-reading particular novels by members of reading groups

Ian McEwan once said, 'When women stop reading, the novel will be dead.' This book explains how precious fiction is to contemporary women readers, and how they draw on it to tell the stories of their lives. Female readers are key to the future of fiction and—as parents, teachers, and librarians—the glue for a literate society. Women treasure the chance to read alone, but have also gregariously shared reading experiences and memories with mothers, daughters, grandchildren, and female friends. For so many, reading novels and short stories enables them to escape and to spread their wings intellectually and emotionally.
This book, written by an experienced teacher, scholar of women's writing, and literature festival director, draws on over 500 interviews with and questionnaires from women readers and writers. It describes how, where, and when British women read fiction, and examines why stories and writers influence the way female readers understand and shape their own life stories. Taylor explores why women are the main buyers and readers of fiction, members of book clubs, attendees at literary festivals, and organisers of days out to fictional sites and writers' homes. The book analyses the special appeal and changing readership of the genres of romance, erotica, and crime. It also illuminates the reasons for British women's abiding love of two favourite novels, Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre. Taylor offers a cornucopia of witty and wise women's voices, of both readers themselves and also writers such as Hilary Mantel, Helen Dunmore, Katie Fforde, and Sarah Dunant. The book helps us understand why—in Jackie Kay's words—'our lives are mapped by books.'


Preface: 'A Friend, a Bible, a Perfume'
Part One: How, Where, and Why Women Read Fiction
1: 'Cheap Sweet Vacations': Reading as a Woman
'What Their Books Yield or, Why I am Not Buying a Kindle', Rosie Jackson

Part Two: What Women Read
2: Reading as a Girl
The Poet on her childhood reading, U A Fanthorpe
3: Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre, the Novels Women Love Best
4: Romance and Erotica: Fiction by Women for Women
5: Women, Crime, Sci-Fi, and Fantasy
The Literary Blogger, dovegreyreader 

Part Three: Writers and Readers
6: Women Writers on their Reading and Readers
7: Book Clubs in Women's Life Stories
8: Festivals, Literary Tourism, and Pilgrimage
Fiction in Lives, Lives in Fiction
9: The Stories of Our Lives
Appendix: Questionnaire about women's fiction reading

About the author: 

Helen Taylor is Emeritus Professor of English at the University of Exeter, Honorary Fellow of the British Association of American Studies, and Leverhulme Emeritus Fellow 2016-18. She has taught English and American literature at the universities of the West of England, Bristol, Warwick, and Exeter, where she was Head of the School of English. A specialist in literature and culture of the American South and women's writing, she has published widely in both areas. Her books include Scarlett's Women: Gone With the Wind and its Female Fans (1989, reprinted 2014), Circling Dixie: Contemporary Southern Culture through a Transatlantic Lens (2001), and The Daphne du Maurier Companion (2007), as well as a BFI Film Classic on Gone With the Wind (2015). Curator, Chair, and participant in many literature festivals, she was the first Director of the Liverpool Literary Festival, 2016 and 2018.

"Selected as a book to watch out for in 2020 by The Sunday Times"
"A fascinating study of why the novel became central for women..." - The Sunday Times, Best books of the year 2020 so far

"... an ambitious undertaking ... [Helen Taylor] has asked more than 500 female readers and writers about their reading habits. Anecdotes from famous authors and figures including Hilary Mantel and Judy Finnigan, as co-founder of the Richard and Judy Book Club, are interwoven with observations from readers. Taylor does this without ego, letting the words stand alone and turning what could easily be a dry, worthy report into more of an impassioned conversation... if youre thinking about why you choose the books you do, this is a thought-provoking place to start." - Susannah Butler, Evening Standard, Book of the Week

"If publishing wants to get closer to its readers, it will do well to listen to Helen Taylor. In her new book [...] Helen Taylor [...] offers a timely and lively exploration of why women keep the book trade ticking over." - Julie Vuong, Book Brunch

"... there is a wealth of fantastic contributions which Helen has pulled together into a brilliant analysis of women and reading. I'm nodding in agreement with every sentence." - DoveyGreyReader

"Ms. Taylor was for many years professor of English Literature at Exeter University. This is not her first book but it is her best." - peterwatsonauthor.com, Universities Press Review

"Taylor captures the complex delights of reading, while taking a clear-eyed look at the politics of how books are marketed, shared and enjoyed. Astute, engaging, inspiring, Why Women Read Fiction will speak volumes to anyone who's ever experienced, at first hand, the power of novels and short stories to enrich and transform lives." - Sarah Waters

"This spirited cultural history and savvy analysis as to why, how and what women read is - well, a really good story!" - Sarah Dunant

"In her generous and accessible book, Helen Taylor shows how the enterprise of reading draws us into an unseen collective, where the resources of the imagination are pooled; but she is not afraid to show the creative power of division and dissent. Though authoritative and well-researched, Why Women Read Fiction is far more than a study meant for academics and publishers - it is lively and absorbing, like a conversation with other women you wish you knew." - Hilary Mantel, author of Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies

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