Reading Women… And Men

2014 is officially The Year of Reading Women, thanks to the ReadWomen campaign (you can follow on Twitter here), and the growing disgruntlement among the reading community at the ratio of men to women winning literary awards and being featured in publications like the LRB. Gender has been an ongoing issue in the literary world for years, with both sexes commenting on the fact that more men than women win important awards like the Booker, and books written by men are taken more seriously than ‘chick lit’ and ‘women’s fiction’.

I’ve often thought that the only female writers who are revered as much as their male counterparts are those that are over the age of fifty and have been writing long enough to ‘prove themselves’ – perfect examples being Margaret Atwood and Alice Munro. They are seen as wise older women who, in their grey years, finally have the experience and, I don’t know, authority to write and be truly praised without being slotted into some sort of women’s genre.

That isn’t to say that the world and the literary community do not respect female writers, but for a long time there was/still is a general feeling that men were somehow superior to women (that old chestnut) when it came to writing about the world, whether fictional or real. It’s the way things work in a lot of areas, even if not overtly. Women often come second. But, as much as I hate chick lit, as least we have our own genre. And now that it’s all referred to as women’s fiction is even better, as chick is inherently a demeaning word, used by the type of people who also refer to women as birds. No thanks.

Women’s fiction as a genre is extremely broad, but I like the idea that women write fiction specifically for other women sometimes. The only downside to this is the perception that fiction written by a woman is only for other women, and I think this has caused a lot of fiction by women to be dismissed in some way as either chick lit or women’s interests, i.e. romance, motherhood, and lunch with friends. This just isn’t the case.

My point – got there in the end – is that not enough people, generally, read books by women. And that’s not my fact, it’s one that is generally agreed upon by everyone, otherwise #ReadWomen2014 would not be happening. I think it’s great, and I really support it. But, however, I am not personally making 2014 my year of reading women. And that is because almost everything I read is written by women. Browsing through my reviews from 2012 and 2013, the vast majority of books are written by women; same goes for my bookshelves. Not a bad thing per se, but the appearance of ReadWomen in my timeline made me think about this. Maybe I need to read more books written by men? It’s very easy to fall into habits of reading the same types of books over and over (my boyfriend tells me that every book I read is sad – someone always dies or cries), and I like the idea of breaking some habits for the new year.

So, I am making 2014, for me, the year of continuing to read women, but reading many more books by men. Not exactly a catchy campaign title,  but it works for me.

What are your reading habits going to be in 2014? Are you going to ReadWomen?

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A great post about ReadWomen2014 can be found on A Life In Books.

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7 thoughts on “Reading Women… And Men”

  1. I wrote a post on this a few weeks ago and so needed to check my own reading. Without my making a conscious decision it tends to break down into two-thirds women, the rest men. I’ll continue to choose a book on its apparent merits rather than its author’s gender but I would like to see more attention both in terms of reviews and awards given to women writers. I was amused by your comment about your boyfriend. Some time ago my partner asked me to stop passing him books without happy endings. So few were ending up on his TBR pile that he’s softened his stance but it did make me think about the fiction I read.

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    1. I absolutely agree that you should choose to read a book based on its merits rather than gender. In an ideal world it wouldn’t matter to us at all whether a book was written by a man or a woman, and that wouldn’t affect our expectations or perceptions of it. Sometimes I do wonder what makes me choose the books I read, and I think gender is one of many factors. We could get pretty deep here but I think if ‘one’ reads books that all seem to be similar in some way or have similar themes, there must be some underlying reason for that. Would be interesting to hear someone analyse why they or someone else read a certain type of book.

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  2. After evaluating my 2013 reading list I decided an emphasis on women authors was imperative for 2014. I blogged about it and then discovered #ReadWomen2014 and felt overjoyed/vindicated. So far my tally is at 6 male & 6 female authored books, and I’ve discovered male-authored books dominate my library and current reading list. I feel a bit embarrassed I’ve not made gender an reading issue before this year.

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    1. To be honest it could be seen as a good thing that you have not emphasised gender before now – as I say above ideally we would all be gender blind when choosing a book. It is interesting to see which gender we naturally gravitate towards though, and to think about why that might be. How much do wider cultural opinions and perceptions affect what we read? Also, I will definitely check out your blog post. Thanks for commenting!

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  3. I’ve been intrigued by the Year of Reading Women, too. More than half of the books I read are by women authors already, so it’s not an issue for me. However, looking at my reading list from last year, I noticed a huge lack of books by authors of color, so reading more diversely has become my aim for this year.

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    1. Hi Leah! That’s a good point, I hadn’t thought about that either. As well as sticking to female authors it’s very easy to stick to books that come from similar cultural backgrounds. I think I will follow suit for 2014 and branch out a bit into other countries and cultures. I’m quite attracted to translated fiction as well so will read more of that too.

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