Answer to battle of the sexes may lie between the lines

On my bedside table: Jerusalem, the biography by Simon Sebag Montefiore, The Music of the Primes by Marcus du Sautoy, The History of Australia , part II, by Manning Clark. One bought serendipitously at a recent discount sale at work, two as yet unfinished and all typical of my reading habits.

Typical too, of a man according to Liz Byrski of Curtin University, at least in its absence of fiction written by women.

In the Herald recently Dr Byrski wrote that men lose out badly by not reading fiction by women: "… does this account for some of what so many of us women see as emotional ignorance, and men's inability to express their feelings or to attempt to understand ours? … So could men benefit from reading women's fiction? I'd say without a doubt that men's relationships with women would benefit profoundly."

It's a big claim for the power of literature and it comes from an author who, cynics might say, is talking her brief.

The most hostile male response might be that this is a trick to get men chasing something they can never achieve, revealed when she describes men as ''poor darlings'' missing so much, ''more I suspect than we might realise'': the artifice of complicity with the (presumed female) reader at once exclusionary and condescending.

Male doubters should consider, though, that scepticism may be a symptom of the very thing she describes. Resistance doesn't prove that she's right, but if she is, then resistance should be expected.

In any case, it's unarguable that men, on the whole, do throttle their feelings more and often find women hard to understand. The question is whether that is the cause of avoidable harm.

If women identify it as a source of damage in their relationships then in one sense the case is already proven, because men are being distanced from the women they love.

But can women's literature help men? Byrski's point is that it influences women over a lifetime of reading, by helping develop an intuitive understanding and providing a shared vocabulary which allows for the expression of emotions.

Perhaps women are more drawn to that kind of writing because they are naturally more emotionally literate, or more receptive to being taught. If men don't read it in the first place then perhaps they are less attuned and less teachable.

But you can turn that on its head. If men are by nature less emotionally intuitive, then maybe they need to make a more conscious effort to learn. Literature is one obvious teacher and has the great advantage of allowing the reader to engage with emotional issues without the storm and stress of direct personal involvement.

So I'm going to put Byrski's theory to the test. She has kindly provided me with a reading list of women's literature which I'm going to dive into over the coming months. While I have read a few of these writers there are only three books on the entire list of 87 that have been on my bedside table. QED.

You can find the list at where I'm going to blog about the books, the issues they raise and anything remotely related. It's really an opportunity to start a conversation with anyone who cares to join in, but especially other men.

If these women writers have things to teach me or other men, then I expect it will be by a cumulative process operating through character and style. If there are moments of startling revelation, then all the better.

And if Byrski is wrong, then at least I will have extended my range of reading.

Simon Morris is a Fairfax Media journalist.

This story Answer to battle of the sexes may lie between the lines first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.