Food for literary thought

BEFORE YOU READ THE REST OF THIS POST, close your eyes and think about your favorite authors. I’m talking your “go-to” writers, the ones you’ve read and possibly reread. Can you say, “I’ve read almost everything written by so-and-so?”

This morning, the moderator of one of my Goodreads Book Clubs asked this very question. (Thanks Deb at Bound Together.) Without having to think too hard, I immediately answered.

I have several adored authors. If I had to choose a few whose books consistently blow me away, I’d go with:

Toni Morrison whose latest book in coming out in May. I know she’s not for everyone, but I love her voice and the way magic and ghosts and folklore are just woven into every story.

Ann Patchett because she’s smart and her settings are incredible and she can really craft a sentence.

Geraldine Brooks for historical fiction. No need to say more.

Aimee Bender is a newbie for this kind of list. But her books and short stories take me to such interesting places that I can’t wait to see what she has in store next.

As I prepared to post my comment, I realized that I had chosen all female authors. Frankly I was surprised. If you had asked me yesterday whether I preferred male or female authors, I would have refused to answer such a ridiculous question.  Of course I also have male authors I follow closely – Colum McCann and Dennis Lehane come to mind immediately.

I want to believe I read blindly when it comes to an author’s gender. But I’ve read multiple articles in the past month on the gender gap in literature and they have me questioning my own literary assumptions.

In a wonderful New York Times article by Meg Wollitzer, On the Rules of Literary Fiction for Men and Women – NYTimes.com, she writes:

But the top tier of literary fiction — where the air is rich and the view is great and where a book enters the public imagination and the current conversation — tends to feel peculiarly, disproportionately male. Will the literary habits of a culture change as younger readers take over?

I certainly don’t classify as a “young reader,” but I do believe I buck the male dominated trend.

  • According to my Goodreads stats, 51 of the 88 books I read in 2011 were by women. (I realize this is only one year of reading so it doesn’t prove much, but it’s all I’ve got.)
  • 9 out of the 10 books on my “Best of 2011” list are by women. https://alenaslife.wordpress.com/2012/01/03/bestbooks2011/ Again, it’s one year of many, but those are the numbers.

I want to believe that none of this matters. I want to assume that the above-mentioned authors are not my favorite because they are women, but because they are fantastic writers. But it’s given me food for thought today.

Now think back on the authors you chose as your favorites. Are they all one gender? Or, did you have some of each? Does it matter?

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6 Comments

  1. Interesting. Michael Cunningham. Augusten Burroughs., but then there’s Elizabeth Berg and Anne Lamont. hmmmm. A good book is a good book. But over a lifetime I would guess that women have written the majority of my favorites. I might start paying attention now.

    Reply
    • I certainly don’t want to be hyper-conscious about gender issues, but I was surprised at my own preferences.

      Reply
  2. I have some of each.

    But I feel quite inadequate as a reader. My go-to guys are Dick Francis and Georgette Heyer.

    Reply
  3. Martin Booth wrote my favourite book ‘The Industry of Souls’ and Louis de Berniere’s ‘Bird Without Wings’ is a close second, the one male author I have read all his books is Niall Williams and I really love Per Peterson, especially ‘I Curse the River of Time’ though I have the sense that I read more fiction by women than men, I’m currently devouring Susan Hill’s books, I love Barabara Kingsolver, A.S. Byatt, I think its style definitely and I’m not sure gender comes into it, I think the style of book I like could equally be written by either male or female.

    Reply
    • Thanks for the thoughtful response. I’m with you on the style point and on Barbara Kingsolver. I have Per Peterson on my TBR but haven’t read anything yet. I’m looking forward to checking out more of your work on your blog.

      Reply

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