You should message me if: you read women’s fiction

Book Riot posted this excerpt from a recent interview with Meg Wolitzer, whose careful, observant fiction I really enjoy. Wolitzer often speaks out against various institutional biases against women authors, and in this interview she theorizes about the way packaging can discourage male readers from picking up new books by female authors. Book Riot’s Josh Corman considered his own reading habits and admitted that the male authors on his bookshelf greatly outnumber the female authors, but he doesn’t really think about it that way:

I feel no less aware of or interested in Téa Obreht or Karen Russell when compared to, say, Adam Levin or Gary Shteyngart, and yet the sizable male-to-female ratio still exists. So while I don’t feel like I fit neatly into Wolitzer’s observation, the evidence doesn’t exactly avail me.

Without diminishing my respect for his candor and willingness to self-examine, let me just say: if I only had a dollar for every time I hear that one.

Back in the day when I maintained an OkCupid account, I thought long and hard about my minimum standards for an equal partnership and included this caveat under the header of “You should message me if”:

You like to read – although perhaps, like many, you don’t read as much as you’d like.  If you’ve compiled a list of favorite books, the list includes some written by women.

The phrasing of “You should message me if” invites a checklist, and the checklist invites a response that checks off each item to confirm the qualifications of the respondent. Even so, many of the men who messaged me simply skipped that line, focusing on other criteria such as female friendships or an interest in cooking. Of those who acknowledged my female author specification, responses ranged from qualification to “gender-blindness” to the admission of privilege, with or without rationalization. Some were genuinely interested in talking about books by female authors they’d read. Others only made a note of their reading habits to insist that it didn’t matter.

I am not posting excerpts from those messages to provide anecdata. (If you want real numbers to quantify gender biases in literary publishing or readership, VIDA is all over it.) I am not posting them to invite mockery (spelling and grammar in particular are not fair game for jeers here). I’m posting them to give a sense of what this conversation can look like on the ground, and why I am tired of having it.

I’ve been trying to come up with female authors who I’ve read, and liked. Unfortunately, the list is shockingly short. The only person who I could come up with is J.K. Rowling, which is a bit to obvious of a choice. I found it rather surprising that this was the case, and I really don’t have an answer as to why. I’m going to have to think about it.

My entire house is given over to books and there are many women among my favorite authors. Just for starters, Willa Cather’s “Death Comes for the Archbishop” is definitely in my top ten books of all time list.

Until I read your profile, I didn’t realize that more than 80% of the books I like are written by men. I think it’s interesting, but it’s probably nothing strange. Anyway, from the questions I gathered that we have a lot of the important things in common.

I’m not sure if among my favorite books are many written by women (and being favorite changes quite often, although there are some all-time stars), but one of the most peculiar ones I read in the last years was written by a splendid, cynical, East-Germany born feminist (Are there English translations of Sibylle Berg?), hopefully this prevents me from being disqualified (the other conditions I fulfill).

some of my favorite poets, in no particular order: marie howe, mark doty, joy harjo, audre lord, Neruda, etc. etc. my dad is an english professor and a haiku poet, so needless to say, it runs deep in the fam. i do love to cook, and i definitely don’t read as much as i would like to. i minored in women’s studies, so there’s plenty of my favorite books, essays, and poems written by women.

So, I assume by what you said, most men find it strange that women prefer female authors? I tend to like whoever writes best about what I want to read. Sounds vague eh? well, I’m just being honest is all.

And also that your statement about having books by women listed in your favorites really gave me pause. Now I am thinking about that.
[later message] New and improved with some women authors. I did really like “The Night Circus” by Erin Morgenstern so check it out. Kind of makes you feel like you wish Cirque De Soleil would make you feel, but doesn’t.

It is only strange that most of your favorite books are by men because of the propensity for people to choose favorite books that are “classics” i.e., from a time before the feminist revolution when women were rarely published.

Kudos for have a Margaret Atwood book that is not the Handmaid’s Tale on your list.

My favorite book is written by a woman.

In my entire life, up until reading the last sentence in your profile, I have never considered the gender of the author for something I’m reading.
A link recently made its way around my friends on Facebook pointing out that JK Rawlings wrote a whole series around a boy, instead of a girl. I suppose for some that raises questions or just eyebrows, but it never occurred to me.
However, it might be because I’m male. Not that that makes me a Neanderthal, rather that maybe I can’t appreciate the plight of a female writer because I don’t have a connection.

Words are cool. And for the record, I like female authors just as much as male authors.

While the proportion is probably embarrassing, I can safely say that many of my favorite books are by women. Emma, Orlando, Cold Comfort Farm and Busman’s Honeymoon, to name a few.

It’s not my fault! The only sci fi one I can think of is Ursula LeGuin.
And I can’t think of aaaany comedy ones! Although this could just be me not looking very hard
Go write a book I’d like 😀


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