In January I wrote:
Both religion and fiction serve to reassure our associates that we will be nice. … Religious beliefs show we expect the not nice to be punished by supernatural powers, and our favorite fiction shows the sort of people we think are heroes and villains, how often they are revealed or get their due reward, and so on. We don’t believe the stories really happened, but we do tend to believe these “social truths” about their characters.
Robert Wilbin asked me how that fits with these ’06 findings:
[Researchers] interviewed 500 men, many of whom had some professional connection with literature, about the novels that had changed their lives. … Similar research into women’s favourite novels … [was] last year. The results are strikingly different. …
Women … named a “much richer and more diverse” set of novels than men. … “Men do not regard books as a constant companion to their life’s journey, as consolers or guides, as women do,” … Women readers used much-loved books to support them through difficult times and emotional turbulence, and tended to employ them as metaphorical guides to behaviour, or as support and inspiration. “The men’s list was all angst and Orwell. Sort of puberty reading,” she said. Ideas touching on isolation and “aloneness” were strong among the men’s “milestone” books. … They revealed a pattern verging on a gender cliche, with women citing emotional, more domestic works, and men novels about social dislocation and solitary struggle. She was also surprised she said, “by the firmness with which many men said that fiction didn’t speak to them”. … Most of the men cited books they had read as teenagers, and many of them stopped reading fiction while young adults, only returning to it in late middle age. … “On the whole, men between the ages of 20 and 50 do not read fiction.”
Men do like fictional heroes that maintain and even develop their determination, ideals, and identity in the face of outside indifference or hostility. This makes sense as a male ideal, since men need to project confidence and toughness in our world.
Men probably also tend to avoid religion between the ages of 20 and 50, at least when free to choose for themselves. I wonder why such men see less need to use fiction or religion to show their identity and ideals, relative to women or other aged men.