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.
April: Story 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.
June: So 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.
July: Empress 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!
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.