A New Ol’ Girls Club

The blogger Biblibio posted a call to arms in this December 9th post Where In the World Are Women Writers?  and the follow-up Women in translation – responses.  After informally crunching the numbers he/she came to the conclusion that less than 30% of the literature translated into English is written by women.  After reviewing my reading history I came up with results that were startlingly similar.   Leading to the obvious question:  What the hell is going on?!

I can’t speak for the publishing world as a whole, but I can unequivocally state that I do not seek out male over female authors.  Keeping that in mind I went back and tried to determine how the books I read this last year first came to my attention.  The result was a mixed bag of publishers, podcasters, book critics, bloggers, booksellers and Goodreads.  In other words, useless.

But, just when I was getting my indignation on in defense of the feminine gender, it was brought to my attention by a recent episode of the BBC Radio 4 Open Book Podcast that the majority of literary prizes in English for 2012-2013 were won by women authors.  Alice Monro (Nobel), Hilary Mantel (too many to list), Lydia Davis (Man Booker International), Eleanor Catton (Man Booker), Angela Jackson (Edinburgh Festival First Book)… you can see the entire list on the Open Book website.  In fact, women have made a strong showing overall on the long and short lists of all the major English language literary prizes this past year.

Obviously, this doesn’t in any way refute or reverse Biblibio’s findings.  Yet it does reinforce my belief that this disparity is not happening intentionally.  Publishers care about selling books and publishing good literature (hopefully not in that order).  It’s doubtful that they have any investment (emotional or otherwise) in an author’s gender.  My hope is that what we are dealing with is residual gender bias from the 20th century… a habit easily kicked if readers are willing to make the effort.  And more importantly, if those of us who review are willing to get the word out.  Because if they sell publishers will take notice.

Case in point:  who knew that the Scandinavians were so into crime (or, let’s face it, could name the 3 Scandinavian countries off the top of their head?) before The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo?

Now, I realize that in some circles “quotas” is a dirty word.  But they have frequently been proven effective.  So I propose this informal challenge to fellow readers, bloggers and reviewers:  in 2014 challenge yourself to read a set number of books in translation written by women – and then review them.  The review part is key.  Whether on a blog, as a contributor to a traditional media outlet or on Goodreads it’s important to give these authors a little marketing nudge.

Hmmm… this could merit a hashtag.  Something I’m terrible at.  Anyone?

This year my personal goal is to read and review 52 books – one per week.  Half by women.  I intend to alternate – every book by a male author will be followed by a female author, and vice versa.  With a modicum of planning this shouldn’t be difficult to implement.

Until I started actively seeking books in translation I had no idea of the incredible literature from around the world I’d been missing out on.  Now I look at my bookshelves and see authors whose names, three years ago,  I didn’t know.  I can’t wait to see who gets added in the year ahead.

The Review: Book-ish News You May Have Missed

Reading can be a solitary habit and I’m in an interactive kind of mood today.  With that in mind –  here’s a set of links to things that require some giving & receiving.  Enjoy!

    • The Readers Podcast, hosted by the UK litbloggers Savidge Reads and GavReads, is compiling a long list for The International Readers Book Awards 2011.  Due to some technical difficulties with the website they’ve decided to extend the deadline until Tuesday, December 20th.  ANYONE IN THE WORLD can nominate a book (that’s been published in 2011 in hardback or paperback format) and there are multiple categories to choose from.   Including:  Best Character, Best Opening Line, Best First Novel and, of course, Best Book of the Year.  Follow the link to fill out the longlisted nomination form.  And I strongly encourage you to download an episode of The Readers while you’re there (they’re on iTunes as well).
    • Kimbofo of Reading Matters has designated January 2012  Australian Literature Month – complete with a challenge.  The rules are simple:  read an Australian book and celebrate the writers from the land down under (and NO!  New Zealand books do NOT count!  I’m still blushing over that faux pas).  If you blog – not a requirement – Kim has created a set of 5 badges to use in your posts.  Each one features a different Australian native animal.  And, finally, if you’re unsure what to read I recommend visiting Lisa at ANZ Litlovers.  I guarantee she’ll set you on the right track.
    • Closet political junkie?  Levi Asher over at Litkicks has been hosting an ongoing discussion about the Occupy and Tea Party Movements.  Whichever side of the debate you fall on – or if you find yourself performing a balancing act on razor-wire between the two – you’ll be welcomed.  Your opinions (as long as you keep it polite) will be heard.  And let’s be honest. That’s more than most of us got over Thanksgiving dinner with family.
    • Speaking of politics:  it seems that there’s a new Republican front-runner!  Lori at TNBBC is hosting a giveaway of TAFT 2012, a novel by Jason Heller published by Quirk Books.  Follow the link to learn about the book, view the trailer and to enter to win the fantastic prize pack that includes a campaign pin and poster!  (I’m such a geek).  5 winners, U.S. residents only and the opportunity to join a group discussion with the author on GoodReads in January.  All entries need to be in by December 21st.
    • If we’re handing out points for creativity:  Quirk seems to be ahead of the curve in keeping print books relevant in the wake of the e-book revolution.  How do they do it?  By making the physical object as unique and desirable as the text it contains.  Case in point:  their upcoming January release The Thorn And the Blossom:  A Two-Sided Love Story by Theodora Goss.

This novel is beautifully illustrated, comes with a slipcover and without a spine.  It’s what is known as an accordion book.  In Goss’ incarnation each side opens up to the same story told from a different perspective, each perspective containing new revelations.  (A shame this wasn’t out in time for the holiday because it would make the perfect stocking stuffer).  Watch this space for my upcoming review.

    • And last, but not least, check out this tweet from last week:

https://twitter.com/#!/BookedinChico/status/147484567438245889

Are you as excited about a new Toni Morrison book as I am???

Please feel free to use the comments to post any contests, challenges, awards and exchanges that you’re hosting, taking part in or just geeking-out on.  ‘Tis the season for sharing!

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