Tag Archives: female authors

Reading, 2014

I read 106 books last year. There’s not much new to say by way of an introduction: I continue to read fantasy, writing, and astrology books with other genres sprinkled in as they catch my eye. I read several books on Lenormand this year although I found the system of divination more memorable than any of the books I read about it. Still, this new interest motivated me to read a book in Spanish about it while I waited for books to come out in English. Okay, it was a thin book, but I made it through and was pleasantly surprised at how much Spanish I’ve retained

Now that I’ve started counting how many male and female authors I’ve read, I’m keeping it up:

Chart comparing numbers of male and female authors read.Again, more women than men. Really, I’m not even trying. That the total is 106 is coincidence, since I didn’t count anthologies and some books I read had two authors.

And with that, the list:

  • The Rise of Renegade X by Chelsea M. Campbell (9/10; finished 3/23/2014): I expected a hokey story. Really, a world in which superheroes and supervillains are not only born, but are conveniently marked with either an H or a V on their thumbs? And then the story turned out to have depth and nuance and surprises, and all those sorts of things. Sixteen-year-old Damien Locke, would-be supervillain, learns his father was a superhero when an X appears on his thumb instead of the hoped-for V. Worse, Dad wants to persuade him to become a superhero, and has Damien move in with his superhero family. An excellent YA book with an excellent sequel: The Trials of Renegade X.
  • When They Severed Earth from Sky: How the Human Mind Shapes Myth by Elizabeth Wayland Barber and Paul T. Barber (9/10; finished 4/8/2014): I’ve read books that look at mythology as literature, as archetypal psychology, and as remnants of religious practices. This is the first one I’ve read that uses cognitive science to analyze it. The authors argue that many myths describe real events as filtered through the limits of human memory and understanding. It was a fascinating perspective to consider, and well-explained.
  • The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters (9/10; finished 5/8/2014): I have no idea why I decided to read this. It’s a police procedural set during the end of the world, and normally I don’t enjoy either police procedural or apocalyptic novels. This one was worth the effort. The author does a great job of depicting a man who clings to duty as a way to keep himself together both in the present disaster (an asteroid is due to hit the Earth in less than a year and wipe out most life), and the past traumas in his life. Watch the world continue to fall apart in Countdown City and World of Trouble.
  • Cold Magic by Kate Elliott (10/10; finished 7/14/2014): One criticism leveled against the fantasy genre is that it keeps telling stories about white people set in a pseudo-medieval Europe. So points to Kate Elliott for creating an alternative nineteenth-century England in which immigrants from Mali settled centuries earlier, leading to a culture that is a fusion of Celtic and Malian, with dashes of Roman. The narrator herself is Phoenician, although she’d never use that term herself. Plus humans aren’t the only sentient species on the planet, and like the title says, there’s magic. There’s an exciting plot to go along with the intriguing world-building. And the story gets that extra thumbs-up from me because even after Cat falls in love with the annoying-but-endearing man who throws her life into chaos, her loyalty to her cousin and best friend Bee remains paramount. The book is followed by Cold Fire and Cold Steel, which, alas, I didn’t love as much. But have I mentioned the great world-building in this one?
  • Eleanor by Jason Gurley (9/10; finished 8/12/2014): A fine novel that eventually turns into a fantasy novel, but I would have enjoyed it even without magic. A child’s death slowly destroys her family, the culmination of rot that started a generation earlier. I could wish the ending was a little tighter, but it wasn’t enough to spoil the book for me.
  • Writing Fiction for Dummies by Randy Ingermanson and Peter Economy (8/10; finished 8/13/2014): An unfortunate title. I realize all Dummies books follow this pattern, but it can be read as Writing Fiction for Dummies to Read, which is probably not what was intended. Anyway, this is a how-to-write book in which the authors aren’t afraid to say that their method may not work for everyone. It may be unique in that respect, and it was great to read something that wasn’t proselytizing at me. Indeed, the authors are willing to try to help both plotters and pantsers: you work your way through the chapters in one direction for pre-planning your novel and in reverse order if you prefer to write it all down first and shape it later.
  • Write Your Novel from the Middle: A New Approach for Plotters, Pantsers and Everyone in Between by James Scott Bell (9/10; finished 11/21/2014): This is short enough that it’s more of a fat pamphlet than a book. But it gave me a definition of a story’s midpoint that finally clicked with me: “Oh, that’s what it does!”
  • Antigoddess by Kendare Blake (8/10; finished 12/1/2014): Despite my love of Greek mythology, I don’t read all that many books that make use of it. I decided to read Antigoddess because with Athena as one of the protagonists, I figured Blake would avoid a lazy gods = villains, mortals = heroes equation, and she has. The gods are dying, slowly, in ways related to their powers. Athena and Hermes learn that Cassandra, reincarnated as a teenage girl in New York, may be the key to saving their lives, but Cassandra doesn’t remember them or her past life. Given how the sequel Mortal Gods ended, there better be a third book forthcoming.
  • The Invisible Orientation: An Introduction to Asexuality by Julie Sondra Decker (9/10; finished 12/21/2014): It’s pretty much what the title promises: an introduction to asexuality, a sexual orientation that’s only now starting to be generally known. Because the author figures that not all readers will read the entire book, she includes the key bits in every chapter, so it gets a bit repetitive at times. But it’s in plain English, easy to understand, and interesting, so I can forgive a little repetition.

Reading women, part 2

Last year, I discovered a new (to me) author when Amazon put the Kindle edition of Fathomless on sale. Jackson Pearce’s retelling of “The Little Mermaid” is told in first person, alternating between Lo, the mermaid, and a human girl named Celia. I was impressed that Pearce had written not one, but two female characters. In fact, there’s only one male character who sticks around for more than a few lines: the prince-equivalent. A nice guy, but definitely a secondary character. Now I knew long before reading Fathomless that male authors can get female characters right. Guy Gavriel Kay is my favorite fiction author in great part because of his ability to create distinctive characters, both major and minor, both male and female. But good characterization skills are not the first thing I associate with male authors, so I was happy to think that I’d found another one. Then I got to the end of the book and the author bio, and learned that Jackson Pearce is a woman.* Oops.

Never assume.

Never assume.

Not all that long after this misunderstanding, a FB friend passed along The Year I Stopped Reading Men by Anna Szymanski. A few months later, the same friend led me to E. Catherine Tobler’s The Women We Don’t See. Both articles talk about not reading books by men or women for a year or more. After only reading women authors for a year, Szymanski became sensitized to how male authors, both historical and contemporary, portrayed female characters—usually unrealistically. At the time Tobler posted her article, her friend hadn’t yet broken his unintentional 2-year fast from women authors, so I don’t know if he had been made equally aware of some common feature of women’s writing.

These two articles got me thinking about how many male and female authors I’ve been reading. Beyond that, though, why do I read the books I read? When I tallied up the authors of each gender, I lumped fiction and nonfiction together. I’m not going to run another count right now to see if there’s a noticeable difference in the gender balance between the two, but I’m wondering: do men have as large a presence as they do now only because I read nonfiction? I’m guessing my tolerance for female characters who are mainly “male anxiety wrapped in a vagina” is almost as low as Szymanski’s. So if I read only fiction, I suspect I might be reading more women authors than I have been.

I’d like to think I choose my books based solely on book descriptions that sound intriguing. I really did think that was what I was doing, and that the author’s gender was only a secondary consideration at most. I know it isn’t true that only women writers can write believable female characters. I know there are female authors who can’t seem to do more than make utterly predictable two-dimensional characters. But obviously I haven’t been assuming that men writers as a group do better, or I wouldn’t have been so pleased by Pearce’s characterizations. After realizing that she was a woman, I still like Fathomless and want to read some of her other books, but I haven’t been giving her credit for centering her story on two girls the way I had when I thought “he’d” been comparatively radical. Nothing about Fathomless has changed, of course, just my perception of Jackson Pearce. So there I am, stereotyping authors, but so often those stereotypes prove true. Life is short: why spend time on books I may be able to predict I won’t like?

Okay, I’ve just made it more difficult than it already was to choose my next book. I suppose reading only nonfiction for the rest of my life really isn’t a practical solution. Besides, I haven’t even really begun to think about what different expectations I may have for male and female nonfiction authors.

—–

*Probably obvious from the get-go to anyone with the print edition.

Reading women, part 1

Last fall, a Facebook friend posted a link to The Year I Stopped Reading Men, an article by Anna Szymanski on what it’s like for her to read a book written by a man after spending a year only reading books by women. It was interesting, and some of us had a lively discussion about it, but between one thing and another, it drifted off to the back of my mind until that same friend posted a link to a similar article. In The Women We Don’t See, E. Catherine Tobler writes about her realization that a best books of 2013 roundup by a (male) friend of hers includes no books by women. At which point, I really began wondering about what I myself read and how I read it.

First, I needed to see what I’d been reading. So like Tobler, I counted how many authors of both genders I’d found over the past three years (and like Tobler, I skipped the anthologies). Fiction and nonfiction, I’ve been reading more stuff by women authors than by men.

authorsgender

Since I haven’t been consciously taking the author’s gender into consideration when deciding what to read next, apparently I find male and female authors both simply by reading what I want to read. (I’m guessing it’s not that simple. I’ve probably got unconscious preferences a-plenty, and I’m likely to be paying a lot more attention to an author’s gender from this point forward.) I can see from the comments to Tobler’s article that several people are aghast that her friend managed to not find any books by female authors he wanted to read for two years. I’m mostly bewildered, myself. Aren’t they just there? Don’t you just glance up and see them when you’re at the bookstore, or scanning the new books section at your library, or browsing online? Don’t your online booksellers recommend a few of them to you? Enough about Tobler’s friend: how did I find 52 female authors last year, anyway?

Well, that, at least, I could look into, not that I found an obvious pattern. Several of them were authors I was already familiar with, and I was reading more of their good stuff. One of my favorite authors had a new book out last year—had to read that, of course. There were new additions to two series I’ve been reading—didn’t want to fall behind. I read several writing books last year, and many of them were written by women. I discovered a few new authors via the Kindle Daily Deal and Amazon.com’s recommendations. One book was recommended by someone whose blog I read. I read a lot in the New Age Body, Mind, and Spirit genre and I suspect that has a higher percentage of women writers in it to begin with; ditto for knitting books, which I read a few of last year as well. But I’ve read more fantasy than anything else for the past two years, and there are plenty of men who write in that genre. I still found books by women.

Tobler asks good questions: How do female authors still go so very unnoticed? How is it their books aren’t getting in front of eyes that would enjoy them? How can we make it so they do? The commenters make good points: books by women are marketed differently than those by men; they have different covers; when people make recommendations, they recommend books by men. Maybe some of those things have worked in favor of the female authors I chose to read—perhaps the different marketing was what got my attention or I found the different cover to be more to my liking than if it had been the kind of cover male authors get (whatever that would be). It’s hard to tell anyone Do what I did! when you’re not sure what that was.

When you’re deciding whether or not to read a book, do you take the author’s gender into consideration?