Although I am indisputably male (as you can tell from my rippling muscles and from my deep, melodious baritone voice) I have a pronounced "feminine side" with which I am fully in touch.
And so whenever issues arise that involve discussion of so-called "male" or "female" ways of thinking and behaving I put aside the vase of flowers I am arranging, prick up my ears and emit low growls of scepticism.
I am doing a lot of growling in recent days (alarming for my dog, who shares my study and worries I may be a bear or a jaguar) as through my busy desktop I follow current discussion of how and why women love to read fiction while dull men are fiction-averse.
"But wait," I growl.
"I'm a man and an avid reader and read almost nothing but fiction. I love to immerse myself in the imagined lives of imagined folk. Why, at this very time I am reading Tove Jansson's novel The Summer Book and Shakespeare's riotously fictitious play The Comedy of Errors. Perhaps, when I read, I am an honorary woman. I do hope so."
Now the famous topic of women and fiction is given a fillip by a new book, Professor Helen Taylor's Why Women Read Fiction, and by opinionated reviews of her opinion-packed book.
Here are some thought-stoking fragments of Erica Wagner's review of the book in the New Statesman.
"Are women drawn to imagining other lives because their own are still so constrained?" Wagner wonders.
"Towards the end of Helen Taylor's book, Why Women Read Fiction," Wagner writes, "Bidisha - writer, broadcaster, filmmaker, artist - gives a blunt answer to Taylor's question. 'I think women read a lot of fiction because life is so crappy,' she says. She calls the extent of women's immersion in fiction 'a trauma response'."
"[Elsewhere in the book] Zoe Steadman-Milne ... answers Taylor's question of why women read so much fiction - in the UK, the US, and Canadian fiction markets they account for 80 per cent of sales - and why they appear to make up the majority of literary festival audiences. 'I think a lot of it is to do with stimulation,' Steadman-Milne says. 'Women may feel understimulated intellectually [because of] the day-to-day monotony of caring, looking-after, housework... so maybe it's the opportunity to be yourself and think of yourself not as a mother or a wife.'"
MORE FROM IAN WARDEN:
Just to interrupt Erica Wagner for a moment I will testify that my personal experiences confirm that, whatever the reasons, women read fiction and men don't. My attempts to find fiction-reading book clubs have all foundered on the way in which I am always, uncomfortably, the only man in the group, and so feel quaint and token and a kind of toy boy.
But back to Wagner, who reports that Taylor quotes one of her older interviewees telling her that "boys are not encouraged to live in a make-believe world. When I was a child, boys were steered towards the practical ... boys' books used to mould the future man".
"Fiction offers a journey out of the self, into other lives, other worlds," Wagner fancies, wondering if women are especially in need of these excursions away from the self.
Perhaps, explaining my womanly love of fiction, the sorts of books I read as a boy didn't do enough to mould me into the future man but instead moulded me, figuratively, into the future woman?
The first novel I can remember reading and marvelling at is Anna Sewell's Black Beauty, a book that asks the reader to imagine that he or she is a horse - a very sensitive one - seeing the world in a horse's ways. That is the kind of imagination-expanding, empathy-stoking thing that fiction can do, offering those sorts of journeys out of the self.
Then (horror!) how my devotion to the Winnie the Pooh books of A.A. Milne, so appealing to my imaginative, pigtailed inner girl, must have interrupted and perverted my man-moulding.
It is a tantalising thought, mentioned above, that "understimulation" generates a hunger for fiction.
One does not have to be a bored housewife to feel understimulated or to feel that life is somehow "crappy". I have never had such an appetite for fiction as I have now, and perhaps that has something to do with how very crappy Trump's world and Scott Morrison's Australia are and with how numbingly dull life can be in Canberra, this cosy, bourgeois city.
No wonder, then, that to escape understimulating Australia and anaesthetising Canberra I prefer to go (by reading Tove Jansson's The Summer Book) to a tiny unspoiled island in the Gulf of Finland to have crystalline adventures, especially adventures of the imagination, with people infinitely more interesting than any real people one ever meets in Canberra.
Nor can sepulchral Canberra compete in any way, when it comes to stimulation, with action-packed Ephesus, the throbbing, character-packed city where all the action is set in Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors.
And perhaps an appetite for fiction (perhaps more pronounced in us women because we have a superior appreciation of make-believe) is as simple as that. When one reads fiction, one gets to go somewhere really interesting and meet really interesting people.
The towering Shakespeare scholar and exuberant Shakespeare enthusiast Harold Bloom boiled his love of all great fiction, especially Shakespeare's, down to just that. Great fiction teems with interesting invented folk, and "I am naive enough to read incessantly because I cannot, on my own, get to know enough people profoundly enough," Bloom mused, eerily describing the plight of every understimulated Canberran.