Our last post about the Weiner/Picoult/New York Times fracas got us thinking about our own reading choices, as we are the breed of primate to read the kinds of books reviewed in The New York Times. If it's possible that the Grey Lady expresses some selection bias in its reviews, might it be possible that your humble, opposable-thumb sporting Ape has some bias in his reading selections?
Unfortunately, the short answer seems to be yes.
After we finish reading Jonathan Franzen's Freedom sometime this weekend, The Ape will have read forty-five novels/short story collections this year, most of them new titles. Of these, only eight are by women. Even more startlingly, none of the women writers were of color.
We are not happy about this. It seems that if we reading according only to our taste, we overwhelming choose writers like us: white, male, and American (though we go out of our way to cover contemporary American writing, so that last one is not a surprise).
Some gravitation towards sameness is neither shocking nor undesirable, but the imbalance here is dismaying and is cause for some self-reflection. How did this happen and what is to be done about it?
Some of this is contingent: burning through all three of Stieg Larsson's books and and Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials Trilogy perhaps skewed the numbers. Still even last year, of the sixty-one novels/story collections we read, only fifteen were by women, somewhat better than this year, but still not a ratio we're comfortable with.
Perhaps as Picoult and Weiner charge, there is a bias in mainstream book-reviewing and that bias, paired with whatever our own biases are, materially affects the authors we read. Perhaps we've overlooked some serious, talented women for reasons that are not fully realized.
Perhaps the genre itself is skewed; perhaps it is dominated, for reasons either related or not to our own biases, by white men. Here are the female writers of American literary fiction with new books (either paperback or hardback) we've read this year: Julie Orringer, Lorrie Moore, Hilary Thayer Hamann, Amy Greene, Jennifer Egan, Aimee Bender, and Michelle Hoover. Who have we missed? Jane Smiley has a new book, but we've always been lukewarm on her. Is that the smoking gun, our relative lack of excitement for Jane Smiley?
For comparison's sake, here's a gender breakdown of The Millions' most anticipated books of 2010: forty-two total, eight by women--a ratio that seems oddly familiar. And yet not at all comforting.
We're going to thinking about this further, but are also interested to hear what others make of this. We're particularly interested in titles we might pick up to fill in whatever gaps we've missed from women writers over the past year.