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Why I Don’t Read “Girl Books”

Writer and speaker Rob Carmack suggests that Christian men need to start reading more books written by women.

…in the Christian publishing market, it is a rare thing for men to seek out and read books authored by women. Last year, I was reading an excellent book by Shauna Niequist entitled Cold Tangerines. A friend of mine saw that I was reading this book and said, “Isn’t that a girl book?”

It wasn’t his fault; it’s the marketing and the culture. I told my friend that the book had been written by a woman, but it was really a book for anybody.

In the past year or so, I have discovered several great female writers, and I always feel disappointed when I recommend these authors and their books to my male friends only to be responded to with the question, “Aren’t those girl books?”

Can we please agree to stop thinking this way?

If that were Carmack’s only concern, I would heartily agree. Men who don’t read women authors just because they are women strikes me as equivalent to refusing breakfast from anyone who’s left handed. No. It’s when I read through Carmack’s  recommendations that I think I detect the author’s real intent.

According to him, the two primary books written by women that Christian men should read are books on… Christian feminism.


Does reading books written by women on other subjects or from other perspectives count? I hope so. Because the ones Carmack suggests are mostly from religious progressives.

I recently finished Kathy Keller’s short book (more like a long essay) “Jesus, Justice, and Gender Roles.” And my favorite read of 2013 was “The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert” by Rosario Butterfield. This year, I also finally got around to reading Lauren Winner’s “Girl Meets God.” Not to mention, one of my favorite fiction reads of the year was written by a woman, Kat Heckenbach.

But now I feel like I’m defending myself.

Which is what these kind of charges always make you do.

The reason I avoid some “girl books,” namely the ones Carmack recommends, is because they’re part of the current wave of religious progressivism. It has NOTHING to do with the authors being… girls.


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{ 15 comments… add one }
  • Kat Heckenbach December 4, 2013, 11:58 AM

    First, thank you :).

    Second, I think much of the issue is that “women authors” often equate to “romance authors” or “chick lit authors” in a lot of people’s heads. To turn that around, how many male authors other than Nicholas Sparks are known for love stories? Most guy authors write what guys like to read.

    Part of me wants to say women tend to read both girl books and guy books, but I think that is more my experience because I hang around with a lot of geek girls who love sci-fi and horror and such. When I go outside my little circle, I find that for fiction women mostly write romance and women mostly read it. That in regards to nonfiction women tend to write books for women, and men tend to write them for both just men or for the general population.

    It’s not an idea we’re unfamiliar with. Everyone has heard the story that JK Rowling used her initials because she was advised that boys would avoid a book written by “Joanne Rowling”–that the initials would imply a male author.

    My point is, the divide is there. I don’t think all men avoid women authors, but many probably do dismiss us. Fortunately, there are guys who are willing to step out and recommend books by women authors, and there are more of us female authors these days stepping outside the traditionally female genres. BUT, if a *topic* is not of interest to you and you choose not to read the book, you should not be made to feel guilty because the author is the opposite gender.

    Oh, and you know you’re going to get grief for that blog title :P.

    • Mike Duran December 4, 2013, 2:45 PM

      Kat, I agree that there is a divide, for whatever reasons. My objection here is that the author seems to imply that evangelical culture is the culprit. Hence, his recommendations. Not to mention that he references no fiction. So to suggest that Christian men don’t read nonfiction written by a woman simply because it’s written by a woman, seems to miss a crucial possibility: subject matter.

      • Kat Heckenbach December 4, 2013, 3:37 PM

        Hm, I missed that implication when I read it the first time: Evangelical–specifically evangelical–culture the cause?? Nah. All the stuff I said above is true for both Christian books and secular. Too many people inside the Christian publishing world don’t see that it is *exactly the same* outside their bubble. People are dumbfounded that romance is the top genre in the Christian market, but it’s the top genre in the secular market as well. And yes, in both Christian and secular, women tend to write nonfiction for women, while men tend to write for men only or for both sexes.

        And this time I clicked over to the article you linked to (I just read the excerpt you posted the first time) and I see what you mean about the books he’s promoting. It’d be like me saying fellow women should be reading this great book about prostate health because it has some information about hormone balance and women have hormones too :P. So yes, absolutely–subject matter is the issue, not the author’s gender.

        • Thea van Diepen December 6, 2013, 12:16 PM

          “Too many people inside the Christian publishing world don’t see that it is *exactly the same* outside their bubble.”

          This exactly. I’ve been noticing that more and more, that both worlds are the same candy in different flavours. And it frustrates me, honestly. We’re supposed to be in the world but not of it… and we’re doing a crap job at it. But I would argue that the reason we’re doing a crap job is because we’re relying more on our own ability to do it than God’s.

          Ok. Mini rant done. I was just very happy to find that I’m not the only one who’s noticed this. 🙂

    • D.M. Dutcher December 4, 2013, 8:04 PM

      A lot of men write romance. Many use female pen names though instead of initials, so you won’t be able to tell unless they reveal themselves. One article about it is at:


      There are also men who write for women in general. Nicholas Sparks has made insane amounts of money doing just that. Sidney Sheldon, Andrew Greeley, and Tom Robbins also. To be honest, it’s probably wiser to write for women than men apart from the specfic ghetto because they make up so much of the market in any other genre.

  • Samuel Choy December 4, 2013, 12:39 PM

    I read books by women all the time. The gender of the author is not a litmus test for me. However, I do refrain from reading any book with a bonnet on the cover or the word “Amish” in the title. I may make an exception for Amish Vampires in Space.

    • Iola December 5, 2013, 1:36 AM

      Like you, I don’t read Amish books but I’ve read the Kindle sample for Amish Vampires in Space, and it’s now on my to-buy list.

  • Johne Cook December 4, 2013, 1:02 PM

    How many of the Firefly episodes were written by men and how many by women? Doesn’t matter, right? Because Firefly.

    I tend to read SF/F and some mysteries. I absolutely don’t limit to my reading to gender / race – my litmus test (as Sam says) is quality and genre and stuff like that.

    If someone writes a book in my ballpark that comes from a Christian Feminism viewpoint, I’d read it because of the quality of the work, not because it’s Christian Feminism. The Feminism in Firefly is handled in such a way that I can enjoy the characters and the situations and whatnot.

    So it’s simple – if you can craft your Christian Feminism books to be as good as Firefly, sure, I’ll give that a shot. Otherwise, don’t guilt me into reading substandard fare simply because you want to feel superior to my reading preferences / habits. Can we agree to stop thinking that way? 😉

    • Teddi Deppner December 4, 2013, 4:10 PM

      Hey, now. I think the formula goes something like this: How many of the Firefly episodes were written by men and how many by women? Doesn’t matter, right? Because Joss Whedon.

      But I’m just nit-picking. I agree with you, Johne. Doesn’t matter what your ulterior motive is, if you make it as good as Firefly, you’ve got a great chance of creating raving fans and getting canceled on Fox! 😉

  • Teddi Deppner December 4, 2013, 4:00 PM

    I admit to having a bit of a bias against female authors, mostly because of repeated disappointments. They just didn’t write a lot of books I enjoyed. So there’s probably some semi-significant number of good books that I missed simply because I passed over them when I saw a woman author.

    But I’ve had enough fantastic experiences with women authors (Lois McMaster Bujold, Anne McCaffrey, Madeleine L’Engle, Anne Rice) that I try to flip through and try new ones every so often.

    Funny thing, same thing goes for preachers. There aren’t a lot of women preachers that I really connect with. Most of them rub me the wrong way, even if I agree with their teaching. I can think of only one at the moment that I could listen all day long: Lisa Bevere. She’s a Spirit-filled firecracker and always seems to have a message that resonates with me.

  • Kessie Carroll December 4, 2013, 4:04 PM

    Men should read agenda-based books by women? Gee, what a non-agenda-laden message!

    How about people should read whatever we like, gender aside? I don’t care if the writer is male or female, as long as the story is good.

  • D.M. Dutcher December 4, 2013, 8:29 PM

    It’s frustrating because these days, if you are a guy who reads Christian fiction at all, you are reading mostly women. He’s making the case for non-fiction, and even then men read them too. I read RHE, as well as Kathleen Norris’s Dakota and other works, and in secular non-fiction you’re hard-pressed to read social science books without women authors. You’d have to work to avoid them in any genre if you read any real amount of books.

    More likely than not, if they aren’t reading women authors, they aren’t reading much on any level at all. That’s what I’d blame the evangelical subculture over. You’d be surprised at how little reading matters to the public idea of Christian men apart from the glasses and beard Reformed crowd, and even them limit it substantially.

  • Rebecca LuElla Miller December 5, 2013, 12:04 PM

    I find this interesting in light of the recent Rachel Held Evans brouhaha about not enough women speakers at some Christian conferences. Why is it we have to pay this kind of attention to the gender of the writer/speaker? Can’t quality and content stand on its own? Are readers supposed to give Title IX breaks to women authors?

  • Thea van Diepen December 6, 2013, 12:22 PM

    I totally get not wanting to read recommended books because of their content, and yet feeling defensive because of the implications being made about the supposed reason you’re not reading them. Don’t worry, you’re fine. 🙂

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