Sunday, May 16, 2010

Manly Books

It's pretty well accepted in the publishing industry that women read much more fiction than men. Go to any book store or stop by the rack of books by the magazines at the grocery store and you can clearly see this in the available selections. Honestly, how many guys do you know that belong to reading clubs? A bunch of manly men sitting around discussing enduring themes and how a novel made them 'feel', while balancing a plate of finger sandwiches and sipping green tea. Seriously. I can't even conjure an image.

My coworkers in the office have a monthly book club, and when I asked if I could join, I was scoffed at. Openly. "Your a 'manly-man', why would you join?" one Lady asked. And this after they had chosen Neil Gaimon's Graveyard Book as their selection. "Did you at least note the structure of said novel (short story-like), or the parallels to Kiplings works?" I asked. Nope. But they did invite me to sit with them on their next selection, Reading Lolita in Tehran...

Pa-shaw. Not manly enough.

Honour This Day by Alexander Kent is a manly book. Douglas Reeman (the real name for the author) is a World War II British Navy veteran. As Kent, he writes the story of Richard Bolitho, a British Navy Officer set from the end of the US revolutionary war through the Napoleonic Wars. Great stuff, but alas, never to be seen in a women's reading circle...

And why exactly? I think there is action, certainly (and Reeman does an excellent job of making you feel like you are there, with a host of details you would only think to include if you had actually served in the Navy and been to sea in war- think Horatio Hornblower only better). But the plots are also fairly linear. There aren't a lot of twists and turns, they're there, but not so much so that they detract from telling a great story. Or maybe those twists make it more suitable for the reading circles?

Most of his books are out of print, and he is one of the first authors I look for when I hit a used book store. (I know you can find these on amazon, but I like the thrill of the hunt). The aspect of the writing that I really don't much like is his shifting POV. Most authors use 3rd person, where you describe a person (as opposed to first person where the writer uses 'I'), but Reeman will liberally shift POV through 3 or 4 people in one short scene. A little hard to follow at times.

HTD was my most recent Kent novel, and I loved it. When Reeman is detailing the seamanship, the battle sequences, how leaders and men in war interact, he does so flawlessly. (And I can say this with some authority as I was a leader of men in war). The romantic aspects (there is a love interest, a point of honour, an affair) not so well played. But then, this is not meant to be filed in the stacks with the Romance novels, this is high adventure. No lace doilies and finger sandwiches here!

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