Does Our All-Female Book Club Favor Women Writers?

WomanReading
The artist’s wife reading at home on Sofievej by Paul Gustave Fischer

Goodreads looked at 20,000 men and 20,000 women to see who and what they were reading. Through their research of their members, they discovered that women prefer to read, and like books more, if they are written by women. 

I thought I would take a quick survey of our book selections over the past several years to see if this gender preference is reflected in our own group. With a quick count, I found that out of 109 books, 62—or 57%—are written by female authors. 100% of our members are women. So we definitely line up with Goodread’s results, though our percentages are less extreme.

Unless you look at our 2015 selections. A whopping nine out of our 11 book choices are written by female authors. 2014 was designated as the year of reading women. But during that year, only seven of our books were written by women (I’m counting Robert Galbraith as female). Maybe we were just a little slow to catch on? I don’t think that’s the case. When I review more previous years, it looks like our bias for women authors is trending up.

At our last book club meeting, I asked our members if they intentionally chose to read books by female authors. With only a few exceptions, most of us said that gender didn’t play a part in their book selections.

Allison B. said she doesn’t have a preference in general for male or female authors. But, she definitely targets female authors to suggest for our group’s annual book selections.

Our members were surprised when I pointed out the large number of women authors in our 2015 selections. They speculated that perhaps this has more to do with the type of books we prefer. We gravitate to character-driven fiction, especially involving strong female personalities. 

Lisa said, “I think that women just tend to write fiction on topics that I like. They spend more time on character development, relationships and dynamics in relationships. If a writer spends time on these subjects, I enjoy them no matter if they were written by a man or a woman. For example, “The Corrections” by Jonathan Franzen is a favorite contemporary novel.”

When tallying up my own Goodreads list of books, I found a smaller percentage of female authors. Only 59 out of the 125 books I list are women. This archive doesn't represent an accurate count of my lifetime of reading. Just what I remember reading or remember to catalog. But I did find the results interesting.

Perhaps it’s my love of science fiction that sways the results. According to this Slate article, “Only about a quarter of science fiction novels are written by women; for fantasy and combination novels, it’s closer to half.”

Another avid reader and friend of mine, Ruth said, “I never pay any attention to the gender of the author as I don’t I prefer one over the other.”

But, she brings up an excellent point when discussing male versus female authors, “I’ve become quite acutely aware that the literary community values male writers over female writers. When a woman writes about relationships and family, it’s Chick Lit. When a man does it,  it’s a 'tour de force exploring the universality of the human experience.’”

Despite what the Goodreads results suggest, and even though most readers are female; the majority of U.S. book reviews continue to focus on the male author according to the 2014 VIDA Count. VIDA is a research-driven organization that motivates the literary field to examine their favoritism toward male authors and reviewers. Each year the VIDA Count gathers data from top tier journals, publications, and presses. These numbers reveal how the issue of inequality continues for the woman writer.

An L.A. Times article represents an example of this pervasive inequality. Jennifer Egan beat the literary community’s golden boy Jonathan Franzen for the 2011 National Book Critic’s Circle Award for Fiction. Instead of highlighting the female winner, the article featured a photograph of Franzen and his book. Furthermore, the subhead leaves out Egan’s book title and, again, focuses on Franzen.

FranzenLoses

Readers were outraged, calling out the newspaper for its sexism. The paper eventually replaced Franzen’s portrait and book cover with that of Eagan’s.

EganWins 

So, in the headline for this post I posed the question, “Does Our All-Female Book Club Favor Women Writers?”  I now wonder if I should really change the question to our members and other female-dominated book clubs: 

“Why Our All-Female Book Club
SHOULD Favor Women Writers!”


Cruddy by Lynda Barry

About the Book

On a September night in 1971, a few days after getting busted for dropping acid, a sixteen-year-old curls up in the corner of her ratty bedroom and begins to write.

Roberta Rohbeson’s book starts out as a drug-fueled teenage rant that gradually fades into the story of two cross-country trips she made with her father five years earlier — a story she has kept to herself since she was found wandering the desert covered with blood.

Disguised as a boy she accompanied her father on his murderous jobs, during which she pretended to be a mute so as not to give away her voice. One of the more memorable tasks was disposing of dead mobsters in a slaughterhouse.


This is Where I Leave You Discussion Questions

The following discussion questions for This is Where I Leave You were created by our member Julie. We freely share our original discussion questions, but please consider including a credit and link to our website.

  1. On page 57, the Rabbi says, “Your father wasn’t a religious man. But toward the end, he regretted the absence of tradition in his life...” Judd didn’t think that sounded like his dad. Later, you discover the shiva was arranged by his mother. Why would an atheist choose to take part in a religious tradition? What kind of traditions does your family take part in when a loved one dies. Does religion play a role in them?
  2. According to Judd, “It just happened” would be the perfect epitaph for Phillip. And whenever he sees Phillip, Judd feels a “wave of loss and regret.” How does being the youngest sibling affect who Phillip is and his role in the family. Talk about the personalities of siblings in your family. Does birth order have an impact on who you become as an adult?
  3. Hillary Foxman is a famous psychiatrist and expert on parenting. Because of this Judd admits, “Predictably, my siblings and I were screwed up beyond repair.” Do you think Hillary was a good mother? How can an expert on parenting raise such an imperfect family?
  4. Talk about Paul's life-altering event. Why did he defend Judd? Why didn’t Judd defend himself? Do you think Paul was justified in blaming Judd?
  5. Alice, Jen, and Penny are three romances in Judd’s life. Talk about these relationships. Is Judd a hopeless romantic? Is loneliness unbearable for him? Does he define himself through his relationships?
  6. Judd says, “You need GPS to follow the sex lives of this family. I wonder if love is this twisted for everyone or if our family is uniquely talented at making such a mess of it.” Talk about the marriages, infidelities, and love lives of the Foxmans. Are they unique in their ability to screw up their loves?
  7. “Some families, like some couples, become toxic to each other after prolonged exposure.” Do you think Judd is right? Is seven days way too long to be with your family? Or is it because stressful circumstances, like the death of a parent, bring out the worst in people?
  8. Judd has a recurring nightmare involving a missing limb. What does this represent? Why did it keep repeating in one form or another?
  9. What do you think happens to Judd as he rides off in the car. Where does he go? What will he do?

 

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This is Where I Leave You discussion questions are licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.