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Read Women in 2014

I'm a feminist. And a reader. That said, I am also sexist as all hell.

I did a quick count of the books I finished last year, and discovered only 8 out of 35 were written by women. Half convinced it must be a statistical outlier (because I had been researching Sherlock Holmes, and I'm a feminist, damnit!), I looked over my lists from earlier years. The number for the year before that was 12/52. And the year before that 13/57. It seems I'm consistently reading only 20% women. Some years more (say, if I'm re-reading Harry Potter), some years much less (there is one dismal one where only 7 out of 55 were women).

At least, so far, this year (having finished only one book), I've read 100% women: the wonderfully named The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, to boot. That said, on my "currently reading" list, which at the moment contains 75 books, only 18 are written by women. Hovering around 20% again. And according to Librarything, only about 20% of the books I own were written by women.

This is not a surprise, really. I am perfectly aware that I have grown up in a culture in which we are subtly (and sometimes not-so-subtly) taught that men's opinions are worth more than women's: men's thoughts can be deep and universal, whereas women's tend towards limited and superficial. Men write art; women write "chick lit" (I have discussed this at length in relation to Jane Austen). Intellectually, I find it appalling, of course; but that is not always enough to counteract 30 years of socialisation and ingrained prejudice. The trick is to be aware of it and keep it in mind when making choices. This is the purpose of the #readwomen campaign, which I am hereby joining.

I have decided that I will read at least 25 books by women this year. Here are some good books by female writers (I have limited myself severely when it comes to non-fiction), if you want to join me:

Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem (non-fiction)
Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale
Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
Jane Austen, Persuasion
Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey
Djuna Barness, Nightwood
Aphra Behn, Oroonoko
Aphra Behn, The Rover (play)
Karen Blixen (Isak Dinesen), Seven Gothic Tales (short stories)
Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre
Octavia Butler, Lilith's Brood
A. S. Byatt, The Children's Book
A. S. Byatt, Possession
Angela Carter, The Magic Toyshop
Angela Carter, The Bloody Chamber
Kate Chopin, The Awakening
Agatha Christie, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
Agatha Christie, Murder on the Orient Express
Agatha Christie, And Then There Were None
Agatha Christie, By the Pricking of My Thumbs
Caryl Churchill, Cloud 9 (play)
Susanna Clarke, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell
Simone De Beauvoir, Le Sang des autres (The Blood of Others)
Simone De Beauvoir, Le Deuxième Sexe (The Second Sex) (non-fiction)
Helen DeWitt, The Last Samurai
Emily Dickinson, Poems (poetry)
Emma Donoghue, Kissing the Witch (short stories)
George Eliot, Daniel Deronda
George Eliot, Silas Marner
Judith Flanders, The Invention of Murder: How the Victorians Revelled in Death and Detection and Created Modern Crime (non-fiction)
Elizabeth Gaskell, North and South
Charlotte Perkins Gillman, The Yellow Wallpaper and other stories (short stories)
Mavis Doriel Hay, The Santa Klaus Murder
Selma Lagerlöf, Nils Holgerssons underbara resa genom Sverige (The Wonderful Adventures of Nils)
Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
Ursula Le Guin, The Earthsea Quartet
Ursula Le Guin, The Dispossessed
Ursula Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness
Doris Lessing, The Golden Notebook
Doris Lessing, The Good Terrorist
Doris Lessing, Shikasta
Katherine Mansfield, The Garden Party and Other Stories (short stories)
Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall
Hilary Mantel, Bring up the Bodies
Hilary Mantel, The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher
Erin Morgenstern, Night Circus
Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye
Iris Murdoch, The Black Prince
Irish Murdoch, The Book and the Brotherhood
Anaïs Nin, Under a Glass Bell (short stories)
Arika Okrent, In the Land of Invented Languages (non-fiction)
Baroness Orczy, The Scarlet Pimpernel
Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar
Ann Radcliffe, The Italian
Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea
Christina Rossetti, Goblin Market and Other Poems (poetry)
J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Suzanna Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things
Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
Sei Shonagon, The Pillow Book
Lionel Shriver, We Need to Talk About Kevin
Rebecca Solnit, Men Explain Things to Me (non-fiction)
Susan Sontag, The Volcano Lover
Zadie Smith, White Teeth
Muriel Spark, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
Gertrude Stein, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (non-fiction)
Josephine Tey, The Daughter of Time
James Tiptree, Jr. 10,000 Light-Years from Home
Sigrid Undset, Kristin Lavransdatter
Catherynne M. Valente, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making
Sarah Waters, Fingersmith
Jeanette Winterson, Lighthousekeeping
Jeanette Winterson, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit
Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway
Virginia Woolf, Orlando: A Biography
Virginia Woolf, Jacob's Room
Virginia Woolf, The Years
Virginia Woolf, The Waves
Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own and The Three Guineas
Frances Yates, The Rosicrucian Enlightenment (non-fiction)

Today is Virginia Woolf's birthday. May I suggest you start with Mrs Dalloway?

And please use the comments section to point out all the great ones I forgot about/never heard of.
Ole Petter likes this



Tor,  25.01.14 17:42

I'm even worse, it turns out. In 2011, 0 of the 26 books I read were written by a woman. To my defence, I read four series of books by male authors that year, so there were a lot fewer than 26 authors represented, but still.

I'm quite curious about how it turns out like this. I know for a fact that I don't conciously select books based on the gender of the author, and I feel reasonably sure that I don't unconciuosly discriminate against female authors. (Although it is hard to know. It would be interesting to do a test, of some kind.) Other factors I can think of off the top of my head are availability, market presence and canon, used here in the meaning "books people I know or follow online talk about".

I'll make an effort not only to read more books by female authors, but also to think about why I choose the books I do, and maybe I'll have something more useful to say at the end of the year.

May I also add that so far this year, 100% of the books I've read have been by female authors:

The Twistrose Key by Tone Almhjell

It was quite good, so I can recommend it, along with this disturbingly short list of books by female authors which I've also read over the last two years:

Quiet av Susan Cain
Ancient Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction av Julia Annas
Pride and Prejudice av Jane Austen
The Night Circus av Erin Morgenstern
Not for Profit av Martha Nussbaum
Ole Petter likes this
Camilla,  25.01.14 19:03

I also read all too few non-Western writers. In fact, too few non-Europeans as a whole. And that list of female writers is disturbingly Eurocentric. I do apologize. Feel free to give me some names.
Ole Petter likes this

Ole Petter,  25.01.14 20:00

I read "Come, Thou Tortoise" by Jessica Grant last year and I really liked it: recommended! (She's from Canada though, so not really non-Western.)

Your list is excellent (that is, the small subset of it that I have actually read consists of books I love). The only addition that comes to mind (beyond the Tortoise book) would be Ingvild Rishøi's novellas (I just bought her latest collection: "Vinternoveller", I hope it is as good as her previous collections).
Camilla likes this

Are,  29.01.14 13:17

I recently read two books by Rose George - on shipping and excrement respectively. Both were very good. Previous to that, I suppose I read The Hunger Games books - or maybe that was in 2012 - and a few Atwood books. I don't read that many books, but I'd think that my ratio is about 1/3. Probably because more scifi, thrillers and computer science books are written by men?
I do feel like the books that affect me the most - for instance the Rose George books and Atwood's the Handmaid's Tale - are often written by female authors.

And browsing through my Kindle I see that the Luminaries is queued up.

I have to say I'm more worried about lack of women in filmmaking or game design as compared to books, after all, the threshold for writing a book is pretty low, whereas you need a lot of financial backing for a mainstream game or film.

PS: I don't know that I subscribe to your men/art women/chick lit description of our culture. Of course, this is highly subjective and personal, but in my mind men write cheap thriller novels and sometimes quality fantasy, while women write really fabulous science fiction and quality documentaries... :)