June 2, 2022

Joanne Harris suggests some “parents, largely fathers” perceive reading as “girly”


Joanne Harris: shared her experiences of teaching (Keyserzozie, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

It’s that time of year when “authors saying things at The Hay Festival” dominate the news headlines (not the actual news headlines, of course. The publishing ones). This year it’s the turn of Joanne Harris, best known as the author of Chocolat (1999) and Five Quarters of the Orange (2000).

A report in the Daily Mail carried a quote from her interview at the Hay Festival on Tuesday, where she relayed her experiences of teaching to an audience:

When I was teaching boys particularly, I found that not only boys did not read as much as girls but they were put under much more pressure by parents, largely fathers, to do something else as if reading was girly … I have met a lot of men who not only didn’t read books by women but were quite proud of it.

The author was speaking at an event promoting her new work, the psychological thriller The Narrow Door.

It’s not the first time Harris has hit the headlines (again, the bookish ones) this year.

Back in February, Harris said she turned down a US deal for one of her novels due to the use of the f-word in the manuscript, tweeting “I don’t believe my use of the word ‘fuck’ harms anyone.” A Guardian report on the story also carried a report from Harris’s blog on the role of sensitivity readers:

I think a lot of people (some of them authors, most of them not) misunderstand the role of a sensitivity reader. That’s probably mostly because they’ve never used one, and are misled by the word ‘sensitivity’, which, in a world of toxic masculinity, is often mistaken for weakness. To these people, hiring someone to check one’s work for sensitivity purposes implies a surrendering of control, a shift in the balance of power.

The Hay Festival continues until Sunday June 5; The Narrow Door is out in paperback now.



Tom Clayton is publishing executive at Melville House UK.