Are you one of those people who has trouble deciding what to read next? Perhaps you accumulate books like bankers accumulate bonuses, and you’ve got so many you don’t quite know where to start? This is, after all, one of the occupational hazards of being an enthusiastic reader.
In 2014, might I suggest that you occasionally base your decision on the gender of the author? I’ll tell you for why.
Back in 2012, I interviewed Jane Bradley of For Books Sake. She highlighted studies showing huge differences in the way male and female writers are received and treated, with issues ranging from publishers packaging books by women to look like chick lit irrespective of content to advising women writers to use initials or male pseudonyms ‘so that more people will pick them up.’ 2012 wasn’t all that long ago, and according to similar studies conducted last year these problems haven’t gone away. Imagine. However, this sort of malarkey has become more high profile on the internet and, rather than sitting in darkened rooms whinging and sniffing smelling salts, some sensible folks have decided the best way to address this is to be more vocal and proactive in supporting female writers and their work.
For instance, Lilit Marcus wrote this article about her decision to read only women in 2013 after reading a book by Joanna Russ about all the ways female authors get discredited by academics, critics and readers. Fast forward to 2014 and we have #readwomen2014, a campaign started by writer/illustrator Joanna Walsh which is gathering momentum.
Now, I read quite a lot of books by women. I’m not sure it has ever been a conscious decision on my part – I pick things up that I like the look of, and often those things are by Kate Atkinson or Diana Wynne Jones (or Margaret Atwood, Kate Beaton, Isabel Allende, Cat Valente, Sally Gardner, Judith Kerr, Tove Jansson, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie…) – but it’s definitely something I actively enjoy. Of the 46 books I read in 2013, 30 were written by women. However, the many articles and blog posts I’ve been seeing around the #readwomen2014 tag prompted me to take a quick look at the book collection amassed by myself and my partner, and unfortunately the numbers don’t look as equal either as I’d hoped, or as last year’s ‘books I have read’ spreadsheet might suggest.
As regular readers will be aware, I’m fond of the ‘do something intensively for a year and talk about it all the time in the hope other people do it too’ approach to life, so making a conscious decision to read more women in 2014 and demanding that you all do the same makes sense to me. I’m not planning to read exclusively women (after all Werewolf Parallel came out last month, and Roy Gill is not a woman), and I’m not saying you should either – but I’m definitely aiming to read more women than men. And I think maybe everyone else in the world should as well.
To get you started, here are some books by women I (female) have read in the past 12 months and enjoyed
- For those interested in speculative or SF fiction:
The Maddaddam trilogy (Oryx and Crake, Year of the Flood and Maddaddam) – Margaret Atwood
- For those interested in fantasy:
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her Own Making (and the follow up, The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There) – Catherynne M. Valente
- For those interested in comics about life:
Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened – Allie Brosh
- For those who like a beautifully crafted literary tale:
The Little Stranger – Sarah Waters
- For those who like a bit of mystery:
Burial Rites – Hannah Kent
I asked my partner (male) for his five, as he is an upstanding fellow who would never consciously let the gender of a writer prevent him from picking up a book – but tellingly, the only thing he could think of was Dark Horizons by Jenny Colgan. I felt this rather reinforced how important it is to have a go at positive discrimination in 2014 – but what do you think? And what are your suggestions of books by women we should read this year? Tell me in the comments!