2016: a year of celebrating female authors.

Possibly a little off topic but I don’t think the world has to revolve around my larking around in Mexico when there are far more important things to discuss, such as what I’ve read this year!

This year I made a pledge to myself that I’d only read books by women. I did this because a quick perusal of my bookshelves revealed that the majority of our books are by men. And, if asked who I would claim as my favourite authors I’d immediately say: Dostoevsky, Steinbeck and Orwell. Hands down.  Although Judith Kerr is far and away my favourite children’s author and my kids love a Julia Donaldson story!

It turns out I’m not the only one to do this. 2014 was declared a year of reading women by artist, Joanna Walsh and editor Daniel Pritchard also dedicated a year to reading women and people of colour. And, of course, there is the great literary magazine, ‘Women Writers, Women’s Books’   that exists purely to encourage and promote the visibility of women writers around the world.

So it turns out I’m not very original after all! Doesn’t mean I’m wrong though, far from it. Just means the fight to get gender balance in to the mainstream reading world is ongoing.

I’ve read more than I have in a long time and I have discovered some phenomenal books. I wouldn’t say my favourite authors have changed but I feel more entitled to claim three males having evened up the gender imbalance in my reading.

Why is there such an imbalance? It is well-known that women read more fiction than men and books by males are certainly reviewed in higher numbers than books by women, but why? It appears there’s a subconscious gender imbalance at the agent/publisher level and that manuscripts by women are rejected more often than those by men. Indeed, anecdotally, Catherine Nichols found that by sending off the same manuscript but using the name George, she was far more likely to receive a positive response than using her own name. Once manuscripts are published and exist as actual books, far more books by men are then put forward for the big awards such as Man Booker and Pulitzer, further removing some incredible books from the reach of the general public.

Kamila Shamsie has called for 2018 to be the year of publishing only books by women. And while most publishing houses aren’t likely to go for such an idea, some seemed interested. I’ve tweeted Ms Shamsie to ask her how the challenge was received. I hope she responds as I’ve just ordered two of her novels!

So, here’s the list of books I’ve read since January 2016, in no order:

Marilynne Robinson: Gilead, Home, Lila and Housekeeping

Exquisite books, written in such painstaking detail. Could be read again and again and something new will always be found, especially as Gilead and Home are set concurrently.

Emma Healey: Elizabeth is Missing

Meh. But some good points about how we treat older people and people with mental-ill health.

Tove Jansson: The Summer Book

Calming. Just calming.

Roxanne Gay: An Untamed State

Terrifying and angry.

Audre Lorde: Zami A New Spelling of my Name, Sister Outsider

Zami was fascinating and eye-opening. Sister Outsider was a difficult read.

Anne-Marie Slaughter: Unfinished Business

As with many of these books, seemed to assume that all women have the option to make demands. It ignored that many are not in a position to make any noise.

Rachel Joyce: Perfect

Utter tosh.

Donna Tartt: The Goldfinch

As brilliant as everyone said it would be…mostly. I felt it descended in to a silliness with all the drugs in the desert. This section detracted from the beauty of the rest of the novel

Eimar McBride: A Girl is a Half Formed Thing

A hard slog and not that enjoyable whilst reading, but the whole was very satisfying.

Toni Morrison: Beloved

Truly a classic.

Lina Wolff: Bret Easton Ellis and the Other Dogs

Bizarre and fun to read.

Tracy Chevalier: The Last Runaway

Not my usual style but I enjoyed it.

Miriam Toews: All My Puny Sorrows

Interesting but suspect I wouldn’t enjoy another by the same author.

Roma Tearne: Brixton Beach

Started brilliantly, describing Sri Lanka and Alice’s life so realistically but once the scene changed to London, the tone altered oddly.

Margaret Atwood: Oryx and Crake, The Year of the Flood and MaddAdam

Both a pleasure and a horror to read.

Janet Frame: Owls Do Cry

Odd. Sad and odd. Not an easy read.

Magda Szabo: The Door

Began brilliantly but by the end I’d stopped caring much.

Octavia E. Butler: Wild Seed

A lot of fun to read.

Caitlin Moran: Moranifesto

Prescient and witty. Made me laugh, nod my head, and sob.

Bee Rowlatt: In Search of Mary

Lovely and informative as she follows in the footsteps of Mary Wollstonecraft. 

Dawn Foster: Lean Out

I haven’t read Lean In but I don’t want to. Lean Out is much more my thinking.

Virginia Woolf: Mrs Dalloway

I still can’t get through Virginia Woolf despite trying

Emilia Pardo Bazan: The House of Ulloa

Weird.

Donna Tartt: The Secret History

Beautifully written but again, the drugs…

Laura Restrepo: Delirium

It’s interesting but I hadn’t yet started caring about the characters by half way through. Can’t remember what I thought of it by the end. 

Jennifer Egan: The Invisible Circus

Loved this even if the premise was a bit silly. Beautifully describes the pain of a young girl who idolises her dead sister.

Elena Ferrante: The Lost Daughter

Couldn’t put it down. A very honest novel that examined one woman in minute detail.

Tina Fey: Bossypants

Not as funny or as clever as I was promised.

Jhumpa Lahiri: Unaccustomed Earth

Brilliant short stories

Ruth Ozeki: A Tale For The Time Being, My Year of Meats, and, All Over Creation

Incredible. If you haven’t read Ozeki then you haven’t read anything. She’s a genius. I adored all three books and all were so, so different. 

Elena Ferrante: My Brilliant Friend (and all the others in this series)

Wow. A great series by an incredible author. I didn’t expect to care but I was totally sucked in to the world of these books about the lives of people living in one small town in Italy.

Robin Hobb: Everything!!!!

I have been totally sucked in to the world’s Ms Hobb has created. I resisted reading them for years as I ‘don’t like fantasy’. Doesn’t matter if you think you don’t like fantasy, truly it doesn’t. You will become as hooked as everyone else. I think I’ve read about 16 books of hers this year and I still have three to go. Hobb has taken up the last few months of my reading!

Kamila Shamsie: Burnt Shadows and A God in Every Stone.
Enjoyable. 
Up next: A list for 2017, which is meant to be the year that I devote to learning. In 2016 I managed to read more fiction than I’ve read in a very long time so 2017 I give myself back to non-fiction for as much as I can manage. I’ll try to maintain a healthy balance but won’t insist on only reading female authors this year:
Kate Schatz, Miriam Klein Stahl: Rad Women Worldwide: Artists and Athletes, Pirates and Punks, and Other Revolutionaries Who Shaped History
F. G. Haghenbeck: The Secret Book of Frida Kahlo: A Novel
Catherine Mayer: Attack of the Fifty Foot Women
Maya Angelou: The Heart of a Woman
Shirley Jackson, Joyce Carol Oates: We Have Always Lived in the Castle
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