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I assume, since you’re here reading this, that you love book shopping. I also assume you can spend hours (if not days) wandering around a bookstore picking up and putting down various books before carefully selecting one or two (or, if you’re me, ten) to take home with you. But what makes you pick up a particular book in the first place?

I was talking to a friend yesterday about this. He told me that there are a few things that a book needs in order to get his attention. The first, despite that old saying, is the cover. I tend to agree on this one – an author’s choice in cover art does say something about the book and the author’s style. That’s not to say I’ve never enjoyed a book without loving the cover, but I’ll rarely pick one up randomly when wandering around in a book store. The second important element was, of course the cover blurb. Which we’ll all agree is quite important.

What really intrigued me, however, was his third point: that the protagonist nearly always needs to be male. He went on to explain that it’s not because he’s sexist or dislikes reading about women, but rather that he has a hard time placing himself in the story when the protagonist is of a different gender.

This had honestly never occurred to me, but now that it has, I can’t un-occur it.I have been thinking back over some of my favourite books, and trying to assess whether the gender of the protagonist affected my enjoyment. Honestly, I’d have to say no. And I wonder why.

Is it because so many books about/for women are of the Danielle Steele or “chick lit” variety and therefore, quite frankly, I have no interest in experiencing them? Is it because so many of the awesome, kickass characters I’ve read are men? Is it because I live in a world where the male point of view is perceived as the norm? Or because I get along (and have always gotten along) better with men?

After a lot of thought, I think it’s possible that reading books with protagonists that are male, female, transgender/sexual, mice, even tin cans and crackers (Tom Robbins’ Skinny Legs and All, in case you’re curious) has made me a more empathetic person. It’s helped me become more comfortable imagining myself in others’ shoes. And imagine all the amazing books I would have missed out on if I demanded a female protagonist? The Cather in the Rye, Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates, A Prayer for Owen Meany, Travels with My Aunt… the list goes on and on.

What do you all think? Does the gender (or species or type of food) of the protagonist inform your decision about whether or not to read a book? And do you find that your enjoyment is more intense if you share the same gender as the protagonist?

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