Reading Women


I’m well aware that I spend a lot of time reading books written by men, and hardly as many written by women. But I don’t normally like to call attention to the fact, and for good reason: it’s embarrassing! No, it’s not really that. OK, it’s that too. It’s that dividing up writers along gender lines seems rather wrongheaded to me. Doing so can be very useful for revealing unconscious bias in reading habits (and research shows we are subject to unconscious biases of various kinds, does it not?). But at the same time I’m not really interested in quantitatively analyzing my reading, not in any way whatsoever. Number of pages, number of books, number of books written by women, vs. number of books by men, etc. I don’t really care, I’d much rather address myself to the singularity of individual authors, whether they be male or female, following my curiosity, my interests, and my instincts.

Anyways, while recognizing that in terms of quantity women writers got short shrift to the men this year, nevertheless I spent many hours in the sublime company of many female writers, whom I will now name-check. Marguerite Duras, Nancy Mitford, Patricia Highsmith, Christine Brooke-Rose, Djuna Barnes, Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, Cynthia Freeland, Anne Garréta…

Check back soon for a couple more end-of-the-year retrospective posts.


  • ” I’d much rather address myself to the singularity of individual authors, whether they be male or female, following my curiosity, my interests, and my instincts.”

    Exactly. I cannot figure out why serious readers cannot be trusted (and respected) to read what they want (or even need) to read. With a greater focus on translated work this year my ratio of female writers increased but only to about 20%. However, when I gathered my thoughts about my favourite or most important reads, women fared exceptionally well. As someone who spent almost 40 years trying to exist in the world as a female person, I once felt a tremendous amount of guilt about the fact that “women’s novels” – and by that I mean theme as much as authorship – simply heightened my sense that I did not understand how women thought or how they managed to feel at home in their lives and bodies.

    When I finally had an explanation and a name for my way of being and began to openly identify as male it was especially important to surround myself with male voices for a few years. Another 16 years or so on now, living as a man, I oddly find that my closest friends are women and I am finally in a space of gendered comfort that reading can be guided by my interest in what writers are doing with language, sex and gender not withstanding. I find it frustrating that I have to defend my reading choices all over again.


    • Thanks for your thoughtful reply, JM.

      As of yet, no one in my blog comments or on Twitter has gotten after me about my reading habits. I suppose I feel a little defensive all the same (as you picked up on) from having seeing more or less hostile criticism leveled at others vis-à-vis the gender imbalance in the publishing world. That criticism has mostly been leveled at publishers, book review editors, critics, and so forth. And I admit that some such (hostile never helps though) criticism can bring about positive change in getting the publishing rate closer to parity. (In particular, the #ReadWomen campaign, started by Joanna Walsh, has been a tremendous force for bringing visibility to the issue, and always in a positive light.)

      So, my fraught position is something like : While admitting the responsibility of publishers and editors to pay attention to parity, I don’t really think individual readers (or readers en masse, whatever that would mean) bear any obligations except to their own curiosity and instincts. And I’m defensive about that!

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