Friday, September 09, 2011

Men dominate women in personal reading habits

I could do better.

Earlier today I stumbled on the website of VIDA Women in the Literary Arts. Founded in 2009, VIDA seeks “to address the need for female writers of literature to engage in conversations regarding the critical reception of women’s creative writing in our current culture.”

Recently, they’ve been pointing out the imbalance between the sexes in publication rates in “literary” periodicals such as The Best American Short Stories, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Harper’s and Granta

Surprise! Men dominate women across the board.

Which led me to wonder about my reading rate.  How many women authors to I read compared to men?

Surprise! Men dominate women across the board. 

More than two-thirds of my reading is by male authors.  In fiction, 50 books by men compared to 24 females. In non-fiction, 15 books by men and 7 by women. (A total of 96 books. Among my current reading -- two men and one woman.)

Frankly, I am surprised. I thought my reading would include more women.  I like female authors. Edith Wharton, Willa Cather, Alice Munro and Margaret Atwood are among my favorite writers. I don't discriminate according to sex, at least consciously.

In my current reading, several authors, both male and female, were read more than once. In 2011, I’ve read four books by Louise Penny and two by Steve Hamilton because I’m working through their complete oeuvre.

The roster of female authors is solid. With works by Kate Atkinson (2) and Ann Patchett – again two of my favorite writers. Note – that's two of my favorite writers, not two of my favorite female writers. 

There’s also Jennifer Egan, Karen Russell, Siobhan Fallon and Lee Smith. Fallon’s short story collection currently ranks as the best collection of short stories I’ve read this year. Smith’s is close behind and has the distinction of penning the funniest story I believe I have ever read.

I’m not only surprised by the dominance of men over women in my reading, but disappointed. Some of the imbalance has to do with genre fiction. I’ve read a lot sci-fi this year, but only one book in that genre by a woman – Sherri Tepper. Yet she’s not the only female sci-fi writer.

I read a lot of mysteries too – Michael Connelly, Robert Crais, George Pelecanos, but there’s also Louise Penny, Laura Lippman and Jan Burke.  Still, more men than women.

My survey won’t change my reading habits immediately. The truth is I rarely consider whether a certain book is written by a man or woman.

Maybe it’s time that changed.

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