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Sunday Salon: Boys and Girls

March 4, 2012

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For much of my life, I read more books written by men than women. It wasn’t a conscious decision, and I couldn’t tell you why it worked out that way, but the men lead by a pretty considerable margin. When I began book blogging, and thus examining my reading on a far more detailed level than ever before (the unexamined library is not worth having, right?), I decided I needed to find some more women authors to try. Luckily for me, my fellow book bloggers were reviewing a ton of wonderful sounding books, many of whom were written by women! A few years later, and my gender ratio has flipped. Once again, it’s not an active goal on my part (I only really focused on author gender for one year), but I definitely read more women than men nowadays. I’m not sure if book blogging is responsible for the change, or just my own tastes evolving as I grow older, but I’m not complaining. I enjoy reading authors of both genders, in both fiction and nonfiction; I can’t imagine life without my favourites, both men and women. And yet, reading and blogging about so many excellent women writers makes me feel like I’m ‘sticking it to the man’ considering the documented male-skewed focus of the literary world (see pie chart illustrated data for 2010 and 2011 if you’re skeptical).

Does your reading skew towards one gender? Any ideas why? Or do you ‘not pay attention to any of that stuff’? ;)

And now on to some one-sentence reviews! Amusingly, the books I’m talking about this week were all written by women; I promise I didn’t plan it that way. ;)

Books I Loved and Found Every Page a Delight

Books I Would Have Loved, Except for One or Two Little Quibbles or Books I Really, Really Liked

Read The Alchemy of Race and Rights by Patricia J. Williams if…you’re interested in very raw, personal essays on race issues by an intelligent black law professor, who thus frames her thoughts through the prism of US law, especially property law.

Books I Definitely Liked, Although They Didn’t Blow Me Away or Books that had Great Points Counterbalanced by Not-Great Ones

Read Quirkyalone by Sasha Cagen if…you enjoy perky, pop-culture kind of nonfiction or you’re happily single and could do with some validation.

Read The Princess of Cleves by Madame de La Fayette if…you’re curious to read one of the earliest psychological novels or you can’t resist a good courtly love tale or you collect books featuring Mary, Queen of Scots.

Books That Aren’t For Me but I Could Still See Some Good Points

Read Longitude by Dava Sobel if…you enjoy history of science books and aren’t bothered by a somewhat incoherent structure and less than compelling prose.

Read The Squatter and the Don by María Ruiz de Burton if…you’re curious about a nineteenth century Mexican-Californian novel and aren’t bothered by over-the-top melodrama, a lot of political interludes, and an ironic outrage on behalf of wealthy Mexican landowners combined with complete blindness about how Californian Indians also lost their homeland.

The Sunday

29 Comments leave one →
  1. March 4, 2012 6:34 am

    I’ve always read more books by women, but it has never been a concious decision to do so. Their writing and the stories they tell just often seem more interesting to me.

  2. March 4, 2012 7:13 am

    Looking back over the last few years, the balance is close to 50/50, with a slight edge toward women. It’s not a conscious effort on my part; it’s just the way it’s worked out. When I was in college and reading mostly canonical works, the balance probably tipped the other way, although my professors usually assigned a decent number of women authors, given how unbalanced the canon is.

  3. March 4, 2012 7:46 am

    I don’t deny it. I read more men than women and more Caucasian than those of other races. But…but…but I do have one female author’s work planned in the next month. Does that make me a better person in your eyes? ;) I also sincerely want to get back to reading Walter Mosley’s Easy Rawlins series, but not because it’s a series of books written by an African-American author about an African-American character, but because it’s a series I’m already enjoying for other reasons, including it reminds me of Raymond Chandler, whom I’m also reading.

    • March 4, 2012 9:25 am

      I know you were teasing with your question, but I just want to make it clear to other blog readers that I don’t think readers who read mostly men or white authors are bad. ;) For me, delving into women authors made me realise how much I loved them, so now I naturally gravitate towards them! And making myself read more diversely in the ethnic sense also made me realise how strongly I prefer a mix; if I always preferred white authors that’s who I’d read!

  4. March 4, 2012 8:46 am

    I like women’s fiction and women mystery writers so most of my books are by women, though there are some terrific thrillers out there by male writers.

  5. March 4, 2012 9:02 am

    I paid attention to gender one year and I read more women than men. So far this year, though, I have been paying attention and I have read more men than women so far this year. I tend to just grab what is interesting and a few required reads here and there, so it is not a conscious decision. There have been years where I am sure I read more men than women because I was reading a lot of fantasy and most fantasy authors are men….

  6. Urbana permalink
    March 4, 2012 9:29 am

    I’ve always preferred books by women and would guess that about 70% of my bookshelf is female-authored. The lack of female authors/ reviewers in literary publications is something I’ve been aware of for years; fortunately there are many great blogs like yours that help to even the score.

  7. March 4, 2012 9:34 am

    I’ve never really paid attention, but most of my very favorite authors are women. I think I skew that way in all my reading.

  8. March 4, 2012 10:17 am

    Hmm, I’m going to go back and review my lists and I’ll have an answer later. Interesting question to pose! I’m like Kailana, I don’t pay attention to gender as much as to story, so I know I read both male and female authors.

    Ouch, so far this year I’ve read 11 women authors, and 4 male. Last year, 40 of the books I read were by men, so just a little under half.

  9. March 4, 2012 10:40 am

    I’ve never paid attention to the ratio of male to female authors I read, but I need to look into this. I would guess I read more women since I enjoy women’s fiction, but that’s just a guess.

  10. March 4, 2012 11:13 am

    There was definitely a time where I was mainly reading books by men, but I like to think that I’ve evened it out a bit now… Having said that, since starting my blog I’ve probably read about 75% books by men, and 25% by women, so that’s probably not so hot… I don’t know, I tend not to think about it too much, but I think it is a good/necessary thing to think about.

  11. March 4, 2012 12:19 pm

    I tend to only pay attention in hindsight, and I really wish that weren’t the case. I really do need to learn to plan more carefully. I read more men than women, but not by a lot. Where I’d really like to have things better balanced is in other areas of diversity. And it’s doubly important for me to pay better attention when it comes to homeschooling.

    Anyway, I love your one sentence reviews–the less-than-wonderful experiences particularly tend to leave me giggling. :P

  12. Jillian ♣ permalink
    March 4, 2012 12:59 pm

    I just looked: in the whole time I’ve been blogging (since Jan 2010), I’ve read 40 books by men and 45 by women. I don’t tend to worry if I’m swaying this way or that, but I do look out of curiosity now and then. :)

  13. March 4, 2012 1:01 pm

    Since I don’t feel any need to broaden the kinds of things I’m reading, I pay no attention to the gender of the author. If there was a woman who had written a fantastic new book and I hadn’t heard about it because of her gender, then I’d want to pay attention, but I don’t think that happens. Someone mentioned Fantasy novels previously, and I’m thinking that the “bad old days” when female SF authors had to hide their sex (Andre Norton, C.L. Moore) are over.

  14. Nikki permalink
    March 4, 2012 1:49 pm

    I definitely read more male authors than female. I’m kind of a book snob and prefer to read literary fiction over anything else, which, I suppose, is male dominated. I do have a few female authors in my collection, but it’s definitely male dominated. I think more female writers are starting to get noticed in the literary fiction genre, which I’m happy about, so maybe in the future my bookshelf will contain just as many female authors.

  15. March 4, 2012 2:14 pm

    Since I’ve started paying attention, I notice I skew a bit towards female authors. However, some of my very favorite authors are men, and many of my top books are by men. I do like to mix it up, though. Last year I was about 60/40 favoring the ladies; this year it’s the same so far.

    I have to admit, I do enjoy the slight feeling of “sticking it to the man.” The patriarchy will not dictate what I read! Bwahahahahaha!!!

  16. March 4, 2012 4:35 pm

    In a typical year, I read far more books by women than by men; an interesting stat, since I gravitate towards secondary world fantasy (as opposed to urban fantasy/paranormal romance), and most people seem to think male authors dominate the genre. My own undirected reading proves that there are tons of women writing fantasy; however, their books seem to get significantly less press than male-authored releases. It bothers me no end. I doubt there’s an even balance between male and female authors in the genre, but there are a lot more women fantasy writers than everyone seems to think! Whenever I see someone say, “Oh, there just aren’t that many women writing epic/high/secondary world/whatever you want to call it fantasy,” I want to trot out one of my lists of female-authored titles. I should make a leaflet or something so I can evangelize more efficiently.


    Anyways, last year my numbers came out far closer to 50/50 than they had in years. I read 160 books by women and 142 books by men. I think this may have been because I made a conscious effort to read more non-American work. Perhaps it’s more difficult for non-American women to get published; or perhaps they face the same problems as female fantasy writers, and their work doesn’t receive as much exposure.

    • March 4, 2012 6:47 pm

      Oh, I do agree about the fantasy authors. I can only think of one male author that I seek out (Brandon Sanderson)–all the rest of my favorites are women. Though I don’t read that much fantasy/SF any more anyway, compared to the old days…

  17. March 4, 2012 6:00 pm

    I read significantly more women than men – to the point where occasionally I have to make a deliberate decision to read male authors.

    I am also consciously trying to read more Australian authors as so often my reading choices are dominated by American and UK authors.

  18. March 4, 2012 7:01 pm

    I haven’t kept track of author gender the past year or two, but I always tend to assume I read more books by women than men. It seems like when I go to the library, I see more women’s names than men’s on the books as I check them out. I’d be bothered by the idea of reading more men than women, but not the other way around for whatever reason.

  19. March 4, 2012 8:07 pm

    For much of my life I read more male authors, but then I got interested in less mainstream viewpoints and now read more women. I still like some male authors a great deal, but the women tend to seem more interesting and relevant. I don’t feel I am sticking it to the male authors. I just ignore them. I am more curious about what women are saying.

  20. March 4, 2012 8:59 pm

    I’ve read more books by men since I started blogging…left to my own devices, I gravitate to the female authors.

  21. March 5, 2012 2:40 pm

    I’ve never actually tracked this aspect of my reading but now that I am keeping a list of what I read so I can analyze my stats later this will be a good one for me to examine.

  22. March 5, 2012 3:13 pm

    My reading definitely used to be more heavily skewed towards men, but every year since I’ve started keeping track, I’ve noticed a shift towards more women authors. I don’t consciously select books on this basis, however, since I never know until the end of the year how many books I’ve read at all, nor how many by either sex, so I suppose this might just be latent interests expressing themselves. Whatever women authors have been writing about seem to be what I want to read about!

  23. March 6, 2012 1:57 pm

    I’m like you on this one Eva. At first I read more men, I think (I have no stats to prove this), but blogging really made me start reading more female authors and now they tend to dominate. And I now read more translations, and more authors of color and international authors, and GLBTQ authors, and etc. I like it :)

  24. March 6, 2012 3:53 pm

    I don’t really pay a lot of attention to what I read, but I know it’s very male-skewed. This has a lot to do with what I’m reading–I’m trying to focus on a lot of the classics that I’ve missed, which means a lot of white men! I think my interest is more in expanding my region of literature (away from Britain/US) than in balancing the male-female ratio of authors, but I’m always happy to read women authors. (Who, incidentally, tend to dominate my “favorites” lists.)

  25. March 7, 2012 11:07 am

    I am a mainly male reader I do try and add more female writers but its a slow process as most my library is male but I try to add more than I did ,all the best stu

  26. March 8, 2012 8:50 pm

    Quirkyalone sounds interesting, esp. after I read more about it on Goodreads. I had a relative recently tell me I should be putting more effort into meeting guys because otherwise I’d end up living alone with a cat. I said, “But that wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, would it?” To their credit, they had to admit that it wasn’t. It’s not that I’m against being in a relationship, but I certainly am not seeking to be in one just for the sake of being in one.

  27. March 11, 2012 2:57 pm

    This year I’m making a conscious effort to read more women after analysis of my 2011 reading showed that I had read more men. That’s probably the influence of male authors dominating the so-called classics and newspaper reviews. Now that I get most of my recommendations from fellow bloggers I seem to be gravitating toward female authors anyway. It will be interesting to see how the numbers look in a few years’ time.

Thank you for commenting! For a long while, my health precluded me replying to everyone. Yet I missed the conversation, so I'm now making an effort to reply again. It might take a few days though, and there will be times when I simply can't. Regardless, I always read and value what you say.

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