In late 2015 I realised that the number of women writers I read was pathetically low. Out of the 46 books I read in 2015 only 14 were by women, just over 30%. I wrote about how astonished I was at this, and how I intended to do more to balance this out.
So how well did I do?
In 2016 I read 70 books, 49 were by women. So in 2016 70% of the books I read were by women.
I’m pretty happy with this increase, but what effect did it have on the reading I did? At first I started the year deliberately seeking out women writers, starting with some of the earliest published novels from Aphra Behn, Jane Barker, and Clara Reeve. But pretty soon I was slinking into the modern and finding women authors without really thinking about it.
But I definitely was thinking about it, I would look at a selection of books to pick from and think “male, no. I need to read more women” until it became subconscious, I wasn’t even thinking it through but instinctively ignoring male writers. The male writers who I ended up reading were books that had been on my to-read pile for a while, gifts from friends, or sequels to books i’d already read. I wonder if this is what I was doing before? Ignoring female writers on instinct?
I’ve heard comments from male readers, on why they don’t read women writers, that often echo the old prejudices I had from my teenage reading years. “Women write lighter stuff, fluffier, chick-lit, romance.” This is all, of course, bollocks. But there are a lot of brilliant books written by women that just don’t appeal to me. I am not a cis-genered hetrosexual girl, and I never felt that women’s literature was marketed to me. I never felt publishers cared about what I wanted to read.
It was never a conscious decision to ignore female writers, but that is exactly what I did for years. Maybe it was because I didn’t think women like me were being published, our stories were not being told. Maybe it was because I felt women not like me wouldn’t write things I would find interesting.
Whatever the reasons, I decided to make the change and I do think it’s had a positive effect on my reading. I’ve become more aware of who authors are and how their life experiences influence the novels they write. I’ve read more novels by trans women. I’ve read more young authors. I’ve read more British authors.
I’ve started to notice the gaps in what is available, easily findable, and publicised. I’ve not, to my knowledge, read any books by trans men. I’ve not read, in the last year, many books by lesbian or bisexual women writers. I’ve not read many books by women of colour. The list could go on forever.
Forcing me to look at one aspect of the authors I read (their gender) has made me look more closely at everything I read, who are the writers, what are their experiences, what story do they have to tell?
I’d be interested to know your thoughts on everything here. Do you find yourself tending towards books from one kind of author more than another? Do you think that matters? Let me know what you think.