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When ‘novella’ isn’t manly enough.
Masculinity seems to be in a fragile state, with men going to extremes to protect their neck(beard)s from all that is pink, floral, and otherwise lady-like. So each week, we’ll dive into the ways men are guarding themselves from a feminized society, as we ask, “Are men OK?”
A novella is traditionally defined as a work of fiction longer than a short story but shorter than a full-length novel. There’s no official page count for what makes something a novella, but given that a solid novel is usually around 300 pages, let’s say a novella is around 150. Novella comes from the Italian word for “new,” in its feminine form. So of course, as Twitter user Rose Biggin pointed out, men had to change that.
The BookShots genre was created by James Patterson, creator of the famous Alex Cross series, and your dad’s favorite author. The books are under 150 pages and under $5, “all thriller, no filler” as its site says. And then, there’s the ad.
Everything about BookShots trailer screams masculinity. There’s the black and red color scheme, the deep narration, the white man assuming everyone will move out of the way for him as he runs down the street while reading because he’s never been forced to consider the needs of others.
BookShots are not just manly thrillers; there are two romance titles by women under the genre. But the imagery, the majority of the subject matter, and, well, the name BookShots makes the whole thing so obviously masculine.
“Let’s face it—far too many books are far too long,” reads the description for BookShots. “They start out great, but before you know it, you’re bogged down with characters you can’t keep straight, mind-numbing descriptions, and meandering flashbacks.” (We contacted BookShots about why they chose to rebrand the novella, but have not heard back.)
Perhaps male readers need to be marketed to in a new way, since women have taken a liking to books more than men (which is thankfully a far cry from the days when “a woman shouldn’t read too much, and certain books should be avoided,” according to A People’s History of the United States). In fact, a recent Pew Study found that “the average woman read 14 books in the past 12 months, compared with the nine books read by the average man—a statistically significant difference.”
That’s a pity, because reading for pleasure is a great, nongender-specific hobby! And yet somehow it’s become coded as a girl’s thing, a nerd’s thing, or just something that manly men who play sports and hunt bears don’t do (men who have clearly never heard of Ernest Hemingway).
If a 150-page BookShot that they can devour like an action movie is what introduces men to reading, that’s cool. But again, the issue is whether to appeal to existing notions of masculinity, or to encourage men to look outside of those notions, and to challenge them.
I’ll be honest, I’m into a shot-like book. I was bored to tears trying to read Tolkien, and I refuse to attempt the Song of Ice and Fire series. I panic if I open a book and there’s a map or a family tree. So my personal reading habits tend to gravitate more toward novella-length stuff. Does that make me masculine? Not really. But if it did? That’s also OK.
Novella or BookShot, a good story is a good story. There should be no need to judge it by its cover.
Jaya Saxena is a lifestyle writer and editor whose work focuses primarily on women's issues and web culture. Her writing has appeared in GQ, ELLE, the Toast, the New Yorker, Tthe Hairpin, BuzzFeed, Racked, Eater, Catapult, and others. She is the co-author of 'Dad Magazine,' the author of 'The Book Of Lost Recipes,' and the co-author of 'Basic Witches.'