Posted by: biblioglobal | February 5, 2015

Looking back: Reading (Global) Women in 2014

About a year ago, I posted A Year of Reading (Global) Women with two lists of books. One list of books I had read and loved by women around the world, one for each month, and another list of books by women around the world that I was looking forward to reading.

At the time I wasn’t intending to make that second list into a reading schedule, but I looked at that list and found that I really did want to read all those books. In the end, I read all but one of the 12 books in 2014, starting with The Mountain and ending with Infidel in December.

Today I’m revisiting that list, with links to the books I’ve written about and some commentary on books that didn’t get their own post (mostly because I wasn’t ‘counting’ them for a country.

January: The Mountain by Drusilla Modjeska (Australia/Papua New Guinea)- One of my favorite books of the year.

February: Tropical Fish: Tales from Entebbe by Doreen Baingana (Uganda)- I didn’t enjoy this one as much as many others did. It might just have been bad timing for reading it.

March: Tutor of History by Manjushree Thapa (Nepal)- It turns out I had many misconceptions about the country of Nepal.

AprilStory of Zahra by Hanan Al-Shaykh (Lebanon)- I didn’t like this book at all, but I ended up learning from the experience of reading and writing about it.

May: Lyrics Alley by Leila Aboulela (Sudan)- This was another favorite.

JuneSo Long a Letter by Mariama Ba (Senegal)- A book in the form of a long letter about two friends who make different choices when their husbands decide to take second wives.

JulyEmpress Dowager Cixi by Jung Chang (China)- There’s some controversy about whether Jung Chang takes her admiration of Cixi too far, but there’s no doubt the Empress Dowager is a fascinating woman. (And I had never had any idea that there had been an empress ruling China in the late 1800s to early 1900s.)

August: Absent by Betool Khedairi (Iraq)- The one book on the list I didn’t get read. So close!

September: Lunatic in my Head by Anjum Hasan (India)- I stared to write some of my thoughts here and then decided I wanted to give this book its own post. Coming soon (hopefully)! [Edit: Now posted]

November: The Color Master by Aimee Bender (U.S.A.)- Aimee Bender likes to write stories with odd premises. I enjoyed this, but my favorite of hers is still An Invisible Sign of my Own.

December: Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali (Somalia/Netherlands)- I thought about including this as my book for Somalia, but I have other Somali books I want to read. Much as I thought it was good and interesting, I also didn’t feel like writing about it. Plus half of it is really about the Netherlands.

It’s just in the past couple of years that I have started keeping a list of all the books that I read. One thing that I find very interesting is that in both 2013 and 2014, I was making a deliberate effort to read books by women, whether reading from this list, or participating in Global Women of Color or Women in Translation Month. I felt like I was reading many more books by women than by men. When I added it up at the end of the year though, only 49% of the books I read in 2013 and 53% of the books I read in 2014 were by women. My reading is quite evenly divided between men and women, even when I am actively seeking out books by women.

Even as someone who pays attention to gender representation, I find that my perception is skewed. When I read books by an equal number of men and women, it felt like I was reading substantially more books by women than by men. I’ve noticed a similar pattern looking through other lists of award nominees or invited speakers. I’ve glanced through such lists and thought, ‘yes, women and men are roughly equally represented on this list’. But then if I actually count, the list is actually about 30% women and 70% men. I think this would be an interesting subject for psychological research!

My plan for myself this year is to not make any special effort to read books by women and see what the gender split is at the end of the year. Will it still come out nearly 50-50? Or will I find that I read more men than women if I’m not paying attention? Obviously, it’s not a very good experiment because I can’t make myself unaware of it and I might bias it myself with my book choices. I’m still curious to see how it will come out though. I will just try as much as I can to read the books I feel like reading without paying attention to gender. I will also set up my book list to hide the books that I have read so far. That way I won’t really be able to tell what the ratio is until I look at it at the end of the year.

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Responses

  1. I find that, if I am not actively trying to read more of a certain gender or the other, my gender breakup is usually around 50, plus or minus some. I usually pick books from my TBR which tends to be skewed in favor of female authors. I haven’t read any of those authors in your list but I am TRB-ing quite a few. Thanks for sharing!

    • That’s interesting that your reading ends up pretty balanced. I’m quite curious to see how mine will turn out, but I have a while to wait…

      I hope that you enjoy some of the books on the list!

  2. […] added Lunatic in my Head by Anjum Hasan to my Year of Reading (Global) Women list based on a recommendation from SouthAsiaBookBlog, because it is set in a part of India that I […]

  3. None of the books you mentioned I have read or have in my to read list, but it’s not surprising.

    I find reading by sex as “smart” as reading by sexual orientation of writer. Both ways you leave out a lot of great books.

    I can tell you that I read without bias, but it’s not 50/50 nor 33/33/33 (don’t forget “T”). I don’t care about sex, just about the plot/topic that interests me. When I deliberately was giving ladies (ok, especially those new names for me) more exposure, it came along with the drop in my marks. 3/4 of my 1 stars books in GR in 2014 ended to be written by ladies. In 2013 I read only 1 one star book (Dracula).

    In 2014, 24% of books I read (tho some were coauthored) were written by ladies. So far this year, it’s been 27% since I stopped entirely caring about writer’s sex. 😉 Exactly 5 out of 10 books that I plan to read in May is written by ladies. If I’d count the statistics with them, ladies would be over 33%.

    So, read anything you want, whatever appeals to you. The sex of a person isn’t that important.

    Cheers.

    • I take a different perspective. There is a lot of evidence that books by women receive less literary attention than books by men (fewer big-name awards, less likely to be reviewed). The good news is that that is starting to change. In the meantime, if I didn’t pay attention to the gender of the authors I read, the bias in literary attention could also bias my own reading. By making a conscious effort to read inclusively, I try to make my reading less biased. Similarly, I am trying to read beyond the US/UK books that otherwise would be the most likely to come to my attention. I haven’t found that these efforts detract from my reading, rather they enhance it.

      • Where is that evidence? In USA stats? I couldn’t care less about USA stats. USA is not reflecting the whole world. Actually I hardly care about reviewers and magazines on books. Just looking at the sex of writers isn’t enough. How much attention get books by transgendered people or with transgendered characters? Or by/about disabled people? (I’m quite sure the only disabled writer most people could point to would be “Stephen Hawking”. How many books with LGBT issues got to the top list or was even “noticed” by those reviewers from stats? How about books by Muslim writers that are writing about regular happy life, even just a romance? How many of those books ever got reviewed? Why don’t you think that promoting “different groups” isn’t that important? Or how much attention actually get writers from outside USA in USA? Or how many non-white people not living in USA/former colonial empires/writing in not-the-colonial-languages got it to the top (except few names) and got wide recognition? Obviously there are good books/writers that deserve the review and they get none. There is a lot of problems with what gets selected for the reviews, and “lack of women” is not that big of a problem. Lack of diversity is a problem.

        I don’t include the gender, and I don’t have biased reading. I don’t care if Frank Herbert is a guy if what he writes (The Dune) is exactly what I want to read. If the book was written by Francesca Herbert, I’d read it anyway. You try reading beyond USA/UK, I read beyond that, without trying.

        Person A: reads mostly women. Person B: reads mostly men. Person A: reads mostly romance. Person B: reads on various topics. Who is biased?

        Challenge: read 12 books set in chosen locations around the world. Person C: reading books of 5 authors, mostly women, mostly foreign to the given place. Person D: reads different authors, mostly local authors, mostly men. Is person D bad because the male to female could be 80/20?

        Who is biased? The most open reader is the less biased is their reading. The more diversity of books, the better. Nobody should care about sex. I will choose a book written by a man that got me interested not a book by a lady which to read I have to “drop my requirements”.

        When I went to the shop having a big selection on fantasy/sf books, both new and old (cheap books), I asked for “sf/written by woman/real adult character/new author (so not Le Guin). You know what I got? Either I choose fantasy or I choose a man’s book. I was thinking about Polish political fiction (close future/soldiers) or a lady’s (ex-marines) sf in space with a girl expelled from military academy. Ok, I thought, I’ll give the chance to the lady, even if this violated the requirement I care a lot about (I’m too old to read most stories with characters sometimes even half my age). The result? Those books were “awarded” 1 star in my GR. Consciously reading more ladies than I already read just means I have to lower my standards. Because if I’d be interested in the book a lady wrote, I’d chose it.

    • I should clarify that I’m not trying to tell you what you should read. I am explaining why I care about the gender of the authors I read. I would certainly never argue that other groups are not also important. There are absolutely many other groups of people whose voices are under-represented and I have also gotten a great deal of value from reading their work. In particular, reading books by transgendered authors has really helped me to understand what one of my friends was going through.

      As for data, since we’re talking about books from many countries, I’ll give a link to an analysis of books in English translation: http://biblibio.blogspot.com/2014/05/women-in-translation-one-with-charts.html. The blog focuses on gender, but the translation data certainly do reveal other sorts of biases as well. I find it shocking, for example, how few books are translated from Indian languages.


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