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.
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.
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: