Friend and writer Christopher DeFilippis recently published his annual round up of books, a thing he has been doing for ages and aeons and will hopefully do for ages and aeons more. Like me, Chris reads a LOT and has opinions about what he reads.
But his top five from 2013 struck me as curious in one way: all the authors were men (even while the subject of one book is a woman who did amazing things for the world of astronomy, and oh I love that book, but I digress!). The worst read of the year, also written by a man. The honorable mention of the year, written by two men.
I asked him on Twitter what his favorite books by female authors were for the year, and to his surprise, he realized he hadn’t read any female authors in 2013. Nor, it turns out, had he read any female authors in 2012. (Octavia Butler made his best-of list in 2011.)
“In my defense,” Chris tweeted when a couple followers made author suggestions, “it’s more coincidence than ailment that needs a remedy.”
Then, I asked him if I could blog about this, because…
I let that sink in. As a female author, something in me shrieked, because that’s pretty damn disappointing, even as a coincidence. So, I looked back at my own reading habits of the last three years, because I was curious. I never set out to intentionally read one gender more than another, so I suppose my numbers are also all coincidence (I didn’t count anthologies in my numbers, just single author novels or collections.):
In 2011, I read 57 books, 37 of them by female authors (65%).
In 2012, I read 60 books, 27 of them by female authors (45%).
In 2013, I read 55 books, with 33 of them by female authors (60%).
I re-read a lot of classic SF in 2012: Bradbury, Grimm, Tolkien, Burrows, and I discovered Colson Whitehead! I binged on boy writers.
So, was it actually a coincidence? Could a reader not realize they hadn’t read a female author in two years? Unfortunately, I believe the answer is absolutely and completely yes, because male authors remain the default. Readers just go there, without thinking twice.
Goodreads publishes a monthly newsletter. The February newsletter talks to three authors, Alexander McCall, Alice Hoffman, and Andy Weir. Each is asked to name five novels of a specific kind.
McCall’s five favorite tropical books. All five authors are male.
Hoffman’s five favorite books about NYC. Three of five authors are male.
Weir’s five favorite books about Mars. All five authors are male.
Fifteen books, two female authors (mentioned by a female author). 13.3%.
When you want to be a writer, “they” tell you to read everything. Read every genre you can get your mitts on, because even if you don’t realize it, this will improve your writing within the genre you actually want to write. They tell you to read broadly, whatever catches your interest, upon whatever shelf it sits.
How do female authors still go so very unnoticed?
How is it their books aren’t getting in front of eyes that would enjoy them?
How can we make it so they do?
Two years, without realizing he hadn’t read a female author.
In my mind, this is like going two years without water. Without air. Without 50% of the nutrients you need to survive. Your bones will be brittle. Your teeth will snap off. The forty-meter squid will devour what remains of your soul in the middle of the frozen apocalyptic night.
All right, maybe not, but I remain just as surprised as Chris at the numbers. Because damn. Damn.