Thursday, January 05, 2017

That singular anomaly, the lady novelist

Thus endeth the experiment of reading only books by female authors for a year.  Do I win a prize?  This venture was endowed with a certain piquancy by the fact that, when faced with an extremely qualified (whatever else you may think of her) woman as a possible president, we (yes yes, electoral college, but I think the point stands) opted instead for the malevolent orange man-baby. I COULD’VE LIVED WITHOUT THE OBJECT LESSON, UNIVERSE!  Should I write a book called "my year of reading women?"  Probably not!  In the absolute best-case scenario, it would come across not so much as condescending as breathtakingly clueless.  And yet, I'm writing this blog post.  So it's probably too late to avoid anyway.

I decided to do this because it just felt awkward that ninety-eight percent of the books I read are generally by dudes. So the first question we must ask is:why is this the case? The explanation I would always give in the past is that, due to a long history of socioeconomic factors that have ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DO WITH INATE ABILITY JEEZ STOP PUTTING WORDS IN MY MOUTH, there are simply fewer books by female authors I’m interested in reading. And I still think there’s something to that. It does sound awfully damned self-serving and glib, though. I mean, obviously, I never encountered a situation where I thought “huh, should I read this book? Whoa—it’s by a dumb girl! Forget it!” But what role does unconscious sexism play? Wholly unclear. I think back to the college and grad-school lit courses I took, and, indeed, I find that the reading lists for those were more or less male too. Granted, I never took a course in specifically female writers, but none of the ones that I did were meant to be the opposite of that, either. So I can’t help thinking that if sexism is a factor here, it’s institutional as much as personal. But then...why are the institutions such? I mean, I’m pretty darned sure I never had a professor who wouldn’t have described themselves as “feminist” if asked. So what the ding dong dilly? Does it come back to the thing about the socioeconomic factors that I mentioned above? In which case, what responsibility does an institution have to fight back against sexism, and to what extent does it just need to accept that, well, this is the way things were, and you can’t not approach it on those terms? I have no good answers. Even the questions don’t seem to be up to much.

Well, so what good, exactly, does it do for me, or any other individual, to embark on an affirmative action program like this? I discovered some great novels, sure, but let’s face it: that would’ve happened anyway. You’re never going to read all the great books ever written, and really, what difference does it make if I—some random dude—do a thing like this? Well, I suppose it works on a similar principle as voting. It sounds uninspiring, but it’s obviously true: no matter what they tell you in civics class, it doesn’t make a difference it you, individually vote. It wouldn’t even if we had a sane electoral system. BUT, if you can create a critical mass of people to vote the way you do then, boom, shit gets done. Likewise, it makes zero difference for the world at large whom I read, but on some imperceptible level, if reading becomes more egalitarian, then more women will be encouraged to write, and there will be a larger stock of books for us to read—some of which are bound to be masterpieces. So there you go.

So the big question here is, what did I learn from the little exercise? And the answer is: nothing whatsoever! Seriously, it would be impossible to understate how much I learned. I’m not complaining; I discovered some good books that I probably wouldn’t have otherwise (though, again, in that case I would’ve discovered other good books), but what do you want me to say? I suppose maybe if you read the sets that include all books by men and all books by women, you maybe possibly could make some kind of cogent comparison and reach some conclusion or other about gender, but you sure can’t do that from my scattershot reading! Or almost anyone’s, probably. Individual writers have individual styles that are not determined—at least not in any direct, traceable way—by their genders. Is that a lesson I learned? I feel like I kind of knew that already.

The hell of it is, for better or worse, I feel like 2017 is once again going to be overwhelmingly masculine, if only on account of all the cool-looking stuff I discovered this year but couldn’t read because of my resolution. I wish I could say I were going to make a concerted effort to avoid this,’s not gonna happen. Sure, if pressed, I could undoubtedly keep this up for at least another year, but I dunno. The most I can say is that I'll do my best to be aware of female authors who might be interesting to me. I'm not going to make any concerted effort, though; glib though it may be, I feel like it's not untrue that the majority of writers I want to read are male.  Do I celebrate this state of affairs? Obviously not. But c'mon, man, why is it up to me to spearhead opposition the movement? We bloody well have enough to worry about as it is in these dark times.


Blogger Pan Miluś pontificated to the effect that...

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12:39 PM  
Blogger Pan Miluś pontificated to the effect that...

As a guy I think I can speak for all the women of the world, that it was very manly, manly thing you did back there GeoX reading all them lady books and spreading awareness on your blog. Here, accept this Invisible "Medal of Prize'ing Award’ness"! BRAVO!

(Pauses for loud clapping from the Oscar-gala-size audience full of women, that was always behind you)

As for women in literature –

Funny, as a kid the first author I recall, with who’s work I got in love with (as In, the first one I was aware – “Ow, these books are made by the same person and I enjoy them so I would be happy to read everything he/she wrote”) was Astrid Lidgren of Pipi Longstocking fame, and her work was as fun to read for boys and girls. One can argue her book have equal amount of male and female protagonist, yet she would write characters with so interesting personalities, as a kid you wouldn’t for a second stop “Yhe, But it’s a girl”… Huh! The more I think about it I also recall enjoying a lot “Heidi” and “The Secret Garden” – both very female-centric books, both female authors, not to mention “The Moomins” by Tove Jansson… Long, story short Lidgren was one of first authors I loved as a kid (age 7-10), so maybe it’s why I never made a big deal of what gender the author was…

…heck, if anything I had a period (which still resurface in a sense) where I was very interested in female centric books, however I didn’t look by the authors gender as much by lead characters. Not sure, why. Maybe on some subconscious level I found it exotic, since my more of a person who uses books as escape from His sucky reality, so it somewhat gave things interesting new perspective, which I would felt, probably even if you could re-write book changing the lead characters gender and it wouldn’t change a thing.

On one hand – yhe, you right. The male authors out-number female authors, at list if you would ask me to name all I know. You would think it’s the one field gander shouldn’t rely play a role.

THAN AGAIN – if you would just google search “TOP YOUNG ADULT FICTIO AUTHORS” (er… “Young Adult fiction” a term I hate as I find it silly but that’s another story) the 3/4 of names would pop-out are female. Love or hate their work, Stephanie Meyers, Cassandra Clare, Suzanne Collins (“Hunger Games”) and of course JK “Croesus” Rolwing are all authors who made themselves a big name and gigantic popularity around the globe and inspired new authors. Maybe the fact these authors work are the products of last few decades is a healthy sign of the changing times? Still at least in more geeky theritory the "All authors are amle" thing starts to vanish andi s much more equal.

OK! Enough of that! Bring on the dancing gals to finish this Award gala!!!

12:41 PM  

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