Today, it’s all about the ladies. We are celebrating International Women’s Day as well as ruminating on the Orange Prize for Fiction long list, announced late in the night. Next weekend in Mothering Sunday (in the UK). Last week I read a piece in the paper about gender bias in book journalism and reviewing (there are far fewer female reviewers and far fewer books reviewed written by women). All in all, it feels like an oestrogen fueled few days!
It got me thinking about my reading relationship with women writers. To my absolute shame I will admit to having read none, zero, nil, not one of the books on the Orange long list. I haven’t even read last year’s winner. Why is this I wondered. Then I thought back to the last time I read a book written by a woman…The Woman in Black by Susan Hill doesn’t count – it was a second reading. So it must be Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen; utter pap! It was a bookclub book. Has reading books like this one subconsciously tainted my opinion of books by women? But hang on…that’s not entirely true either. In the last 12 months I’ve also tried to read February by Lisa Moore, long listed for the Booker Prize 2010. It was so depressingly sad, I didn’t manage to read it all and couldn’t appreciate the quality of the writing. I also tried The Wilderness by Samantha Harvey, short listed for the Orange Prize in 2009, similarly I found it too sad, too introspective…maybe just too *whispers* literary?
Am I just not up to this standard of writing? Am I not bright enough to get it? That isn’t the answer either because I have loved writing in the same league as the two aforementioned women. Zadie Smith (especially On Beauty), Andrea Levy, Hilary Mantel and Sarah Waters have all entertained me enormously with a variety of titles. I also adore older fiction written by women; Du Maurier, Bronte (all), Austen, Mitford. Why then are my shelves not heaving under the weight of great books by women writers? Last year I howled with laughter while reading Caitlin Moran’s How to be a Woman. I might not agree with her opinions on body hair and I don’t own as many shoes as she does, but she talks some sense about stuff like competitiveness among women, women not trusting each other. Have I unconsciously not chosen to read modern books written by women, because I inherently don’t trust them to entertain me? Am I somehow jealous of their achievements? I don’t think this is the answer either, otherwise I would avoid all female written literature.
Having asked Mr Fiction Habit when the last time was he read a book by a woman, he genuinely couldn’t remember. Under duress he seems to think it may have been Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (on our shelf, but I haven’t read it – why?). His only comment was “Not impressed” Oh dear!
Considering the article about lack of female book reviewers and lack of women’s books being reviewed, I wondered whether actually my issue is more straight forward. These books are just not being marketed properly to me. I am not being engaged and excited by these books early in the publishing process, they are not jumping off the shelves at me in the bookshops, their styling doesn’t appeal to me. I need to rectify this. There is not a great deal I can do about book marketing, but I can make more of an effort to seek out these women writers that seem to have eluded me until now. I am challenging myself this year to read at least 6 modern books (the number on the eventual Orange short list) written by women. After all, we women need to stick together and support each other sometimes. I’ll let you know how I get on…