Sunday, April 06, 2014

Reflection: My year of reading women, 1/4 of the way through

Last year Canadian academic--in scare quotes, because honestly how can anyone take seriously any academic who writes off an entire class of people on the basis of gender or national origin--announced publically that he did not assign books by women or Chinese writers. Anna Szymanski, perhaps in a counterpoint, wrote about her year of reading women.

Independently of #readwomen2014, which I only discovered researching this blog post, I decided that for 2014 I would read books only by women authors. The only exception to this is books required for professional reasons, that is work or study, though even the first book I'll read for study is by a woman. I also signed up for a Goodreads challenge to read 40 books.

It is the beginning of April, and I am a quarter of the way through the year. I've read 13 books, so I am on track to get the 40 I need. But what has it been like, reading women? What have I read?

I typically read a lot of books, a broad mixture of male and female authors, fiction, non-fiction, novels, literature, science fiction, crime, historical fiction, popular science, biography, popular economics, social theory...and reading women hasn't changed that. I have not felt in any way deprived, or even really noticed the absence of male authors.I'd like to read the last science fiction book in a long series that is authored by a man (and came out late last year), but apart from that I am missing nothing.

What I have read is:

  • Two memoirs, neither of which was especially good. One was two saccharine, and the other was too clinical
  • Wuthering Heights. Second go-round, the last time was in highschool. Interesting to read as an adult, though I don't think I'll re-read it a third time.
  • A crime fiction series by Kathryn Fox, an Australian author, with a female protagonist. These books cover a broad range of social topics, including rape in sport, the ethics of cruise holidays, and nature vs. nurture. Not all of them are great books, but they are all cracking reads.
  • A couple of Jodi Picoult books, one of which was formulaic and the other of which was actually not bad, about motherhood.
  • Little Men by Louisa May Alcott. It's interesting to note the attitudes about raising boys and girls, and the nature of men and women, that are so anathema to me in modern works.
  • A couple of pieces of literary fiction, including one by Amy Tan that fails both of David Gilmour's criteria, and which was actually a good read.
The only thing I would normally have read by now that appears on the list above is popular science, as it is I am reading a book about bad language that will be the first book in that category. So, are there any differences at all? Probably the most noticeable is the number of female protagonists, also noted by Szymanski. Honestly, it's nice to see bits of myself reflected in literature, especially given that I haven't sacrificed anything to do it (still plenty of male protagonists in women's writing). I am even, at the time of writing, reading an excellent Swedish crime novel by an author whose surname is Larsson.

Despite my comfort and satisfaction with women's writing, unlike David Gilmour I don't believe that reading the writing of only a proportion of the human race is a good thing. I am enjoying reading women this year, but this is only a year's hiatus from the male point of view. I challenge David Gilmour, and anyone who shares his bigotry to examine some other perspectives. Goodness knows most of the world's population has to live with other perspectives, because dead white guys are required reading. If you are a live white guy, take a leap! You might find something interesting out here.

For anyone who is looking for ideas, you can follow along on my year of reading women on Goodreads.