Time for a small rant (ok, when isn’t it time for a small rant?)
I read books, good books (mostly, I hope). I read fiction and non-fiction, books from all over the world (though sadly only those in English, due to my own personal failings). I read short books and long books, prose and poetry, books by men, women and occasionally children.
I select the books I read based on a number of factors, I think, in this order:
- Is it an author I already like?
- Is it a genre / style I am in the mood for?
- Did a person I know, and trust to know the type of book I might like to read (even if they have a different opinion) recommend it to me?
- Did a site / person I don’t know, but trust from experience recommend it?
- Am I just taking a punt on something new because I feel like it?
At no point, ever, do I think ‘is this book by a man or a woman?’ Does anyone? Honestly?
And that is why the #readwomen2014project, the below Guardian article and all the other associated paraphernalia frustrates me so much:
It is equating correlation with causation.
Has anyone thought:
- Maybe high profile book reviewers aren’t women because they aren’t interested in the profession or aren’t as good? Or maybe they just don’t happen to write for the London or New York Reviews of Books (which, incidentally, most big readers – including myself – I know, hardly ever read, because they are too pretentious).
- Maybe books by women aren’t as good? Even if women write the same number of books as men (or more) that doesn’t make them worthy of high profile reviews.
Also, in terms of providing evidence of the need for this, it is pretty scant:
- Joanna Walsh, one of the founders of this movement lists Zadie Smith as one of her top undiscovered women. Zadie Smith (!), winner of multiple honours for her first novel, including the 2000 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction, the 2000 Whitbread Book Award in category best first novel and shortlisted for The Man Booker Prize in 2005 for On Beauty? That Zadie Smith?
- As ‘evidence’, the article quotes an author and journalist who tried this last year and found his results ‘inconclusive’ (in sum, some women writers were good and some weren’t – quelle surprise) and adds that his favourite male authors remain his favourites.
- Pritchard at ‘Critical Flame’ who is publicising this process (and therefore may not provide the most neutral commentary) states that the white male is still the default. I assume he hasn’t noted the Women’s Prize or last year’s Man Booker Longlist, on which 8 of the 13 authors were female or non-white and three were both.
I think it is such a shame we are focussing on reading women or men, white or other or any other ‘category’ of novel. Surely, the wonder of a good book is that it transcends the author (especially in the age of the kindle, where often I can’t remember the author or title of the book I am reading and never see the cover)? This seems unnecessary, retrograde, ridiculous and just a little sad….