Do I Read Enough Female Authors?

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 7.236% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

It started innocuously enough – when long-time reader Snippy left a comment on my Christmas List:

I’m curious: aren’t there any women writers whose work you’d like as a gift?

To which my snap reply was:

No, because I bought them all. (Or, in the case of Ann Leckie, won the relevant one I would have bought.)

Which was true.  My Christmas list rarely reflects what I actually like, as I am a man of little restraint and tend to rush out and purchase what I want now, now, now.  So when I heard Holly Black had a new book, I immediately zipped out and purchased that, and was literally about to purchase Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice when she announced she was holding a book contest, which I won.  (In retrospect, Ancillary Justice was so good that I wish I’d purchased it just to give her money.)
My Christmas List was, in fact, originally developed as a defensive mechanism for friends and family, because before I started locking everything off, I bought ALL THE THINGS.  So the Christmas List isn’t necessarily what I’m lusting to read – which are usually in my hot little handles – but rather what I’m curious about but not so rabidly curious as to get it that very moment.
Still, it’s a valid question.  Do I read enough female authors?  Certainly the books I’ve enjoyed the most over the last four months skew female: Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice, Holly Black’s The Coldest Girl In Coldtown, and Joe Lansdale’s The Thicket are my favorite books, so 66% wimmen.  I’m reading Alethea Kontis’ Enchanted, and that’s lovely enough that it’s going to be the topic of one of my upcoming podcasts.
But I don’t know.  I tend to be more enthusiastic on the whole about my female authors than male authors – I’m a big fanboy for Nnedi Okorafor and N.K. Jemisin, so much so that there’s actually a hidden reference to them in the novel I’m writing now, and that novel is heavily inspired by Kij Johnston and Suzanne Collins.  And while Daniel Abraham is my latest big fantasy crush I’m really kinda psyched to get around to Kameron Hurley’s God’s War, who I love as a blogger.  (I’m actually sort of irritated that that’s not on my Christmas list, as I accidentally marked that as “purchased” on my wishlist when I didn’t mean to.)
I don’t know.  It’s a tough call.  Of the books on my to-read shelf, there’s only two females on it right now out of about ten books (hellooo, Seanan McGuire and Jo Walton), but I do tend to read more books by men because I have old and accreted tastes.  Which is to say that ZOMG NEW STEPHEN KING BOOK and ZOMG JOE LANSDALE BOOK and ZOMG TERRY PRATCHETT and ZOMG OTHER DUDE I GREW UP READING do tend to clog the ol’ bookshelves, as I have a long history of acquiring my reading tastes during a time when women were not well-represented.  And I love those guys severely.  When they have new stuff, I get it reflexively.  There’s nothing wrong with that.
But they do tend to get in the way of reading newer authors.  Every book by an old favorite I’m reading is time I’m spending not reading some new hotness.
Plus, my old tastes had been reasonably constricted for the past decade or so.  I used to read very widely, when I worked at Borders, and then there was a long period where I wasn’t as in-touch with the book industry, so what I read had calcified a bit into old favorites.  Now, with Twitter and Facebook, I’m constantly hearing my friends micro-squee about awesome books, and my tastes have become much more catholic.  There’s just a lot more authors I’m hearing about, period.
And those new tastes tend to skew very equal, if not actually biased towards women, as I read more women bloggers than men and as such I’m more likely to stumble across a really exciting female author.  I think in about ten years that to-read shelf will have adjusted towards gender equivalence, as eventually I’ll have accreted enough new and exciting female authors that I’ll have to have their latest on the shelf, too, clogging up the path for even newer writers who I feel guilty about not reading.
It’s a good question to ask.  I mean, the ultimate goal is to ensure that I’m reading good books, regardless of the author’s gender.  Picking several books at random from girl-writers just to equalize the playing field would be crazy.  But it is good to stop and analyze your reading habits occasionally, to see whether the new books you’re reading could be chosen a little more widely.  And I’m glad to say that I think they are.  I’m still reading probably about 70% guys at this stage, but a lot of those guys are – ahem – grandfathered in.  But of my new and squeeing fandom-reads, a lot of them are women, and I think that ultimately balances out over time.
I won’t read a book just because someone’s a woman, just as I wouldn’t read a book just because someone’s a man.  But questioning what you’re reading?  Questioning what slices of life you choose to experience?  It’s good to be called on that, and even more pleasant to come to the conclusion that you’re well on the path.

1 Comment

  1. Lyn Belzer-Tonnessen
    Dec 4, 2013

    It’s always a nice surprise when introspection turns out well, isn’t it? 🙂

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