On Reading Only Writers Whose Surnames Begin With “M”

Last night I went to the bookstore and came home with 4 books by Cormac McCarthy and 2 by Hilary Mantel. The Mantel books and No Country For Old Men I have already read but decided I needed to own them, though I have no idea where they will live in my overflowing book pile. The other 3 McCarthy books are new. I’m really looking forward to them.

But my eagerness for this book pile has renewed my vow to read only books written by authors whose surnames begin with “M.”

I mean, I have nothing against writers whose surnames start with other letters (or who are in other alphabets altogether). I’m sure that non-M authors write really well. And in the past, I haven’t noticed when I’m reading a non-M author; it hasn’t mattered at all. I’ve been letter-blind. But my purchases last night made me realize that I’m really not interested in non-M authors. They just don’t speak to me. There are plenty of great M authors, so I won’t lack for good stuff to read. And, you know, I don’t really care how hard the M authors work at portraying people who have non-M surnames. There are plenty of other books for those people. Since my last name starts with L, it’s a bit of a risk to embrace only the M authors. They might say something about us L people that I don’t like. But I won’t let it bother me if I do.

So, if that wasn’t obvious, the above paragraph was Tongue-in-Cheek. But with a serious purpose.

Why do men say they won’t read books written by women? Why do they not try writing good women characters?

I think it’s because one of the foundations of patriarchy is cowardice.

Patriarchy is all about the fear of losing power to a perceived weaker person.

It’s about shutting off certain human emotions and assigning them to women because strong emotions are scary.

It’s about worrying that other men (or women!) will think you’re not good/strong/brave enough.

It’s about avoiding unpredictability.


Let’s think about the idealized knight. He has adventures. He faces dragons. He is kind to those in need. He doesn’t run away when he is frightened. He takes on challenges. He continually strives to become better.

Now, most people don’t live up to this standard. But it is a standard worth striving for. It’s idealized for a reason.

Readers and writers who don’t take risks at least some of the time are basically performing the equivalent act of staying in their hut or offering sacrifices to the dragon instead of heading into its lair. They’re walking around the block over and over and over. Yes, it’s sometimes stupid to walk straight into a dragon’s lair. Yes, it’s nice to be enclosed in what’s familiar and comforting and safe. Yes, if you try to write a woman and do a bad job you will get tons of criticism from women.

So what?

Take risks.

Have adventures.

Be brave.


I’m going to close with one of my favorite scenes about facing a dragon:

“This grew to the unmistakeable gurgling noise of some vast animal snoring in its sleep down there in the red glow in front of him.

“It was at this point that Bilbo stopped. Going on from there was the bravest thing he ever did. The tremendous things that happened afterward were as nothing compared to it. He fought the real battle in the tunnel alone, before he ever saw the vast danger that lay in wait.”