Literature: Sex and the Single Reader

By Levenson, Ellie | New Statesman (1996), June 21, 2004 | Go to article overview

Literature: Sex and the Single Reader


Levenson, Ellie, New Statesman (1996)


A new survey from Penguin shows that women are more likely to fancy men who read books. They think that such men are more interesting, more intelligent and more in touch with their emotions.

This is true. A man reading a book shows immediately that he: a) has interests and b) is, at least sometimes, able to amuse himself. But what the survey doesn't reveal is the sexiness of men in books. My first crush was Julian in Enid Blyton's Famous Five series. A friend preferred Dickon in Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden. And for many children, discovering both reading and sexual attraction for the first time, Harry Potter is probably the subject of many fantasies.

The bonus of fancying literary characters over real people is that their behaviour is consistent, however many times you read the book. Vronsky in Tolstoy's Anna Karenina will always be gorgeous but fickle and Mellors in D H Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover is always earthy and virile. You can imagine that a character in a novel looks exactly like your ideal member of the opposite sex--a truth that Laurence Sterne recognised in Tristram Shandy, when he introduced a beautiful woman but, instead of describing her, left a blank page for each reader to fill in, according to his own imagination. …

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