Does Our All-Female Book Club Favor Women Writers?

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.


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: 

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

Eugenics: Further Reading

Eugenics, praised as a “modern” human genetics movement, played an important role in the pre-World War II history of the United States. As an American, I learned the horrors of Hitler trying to create the perfect human race. What I didn't learn, was that America, supported the idea of "bettering" the human race through forced sterilizations that focused on the poor, mentally-ill, and minorities.

Here's a few selections for further reading on the subject of eugenics:


War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America's Campaign to Create a Master Race
by Edwin Black

War Against the Weak is the gripping chronicle documenting how American corporate philanthropies launched a national campaign of ethnic cleansing in the United States, helped found and fund the Nazi eugenics of Hitler and Mengele—and then created the modern movement of “human genetics.” Some 60,000 Americans were sterilized under laws in 27 states.

In the Name of Eugenics: Genetics and the Uses of Human Heredity by Daniel Kevles

Daniel Kevles traces the study and practice of eugenics—the science of “improving” the human species by exploiting theories of heredity—from its inception in the late nineteenth century to its most recent manifestation within the field of genetic engineering. It is rich in narrative, anecdote, attention to human detail, and stories of competition among scientists who have dominated the field.

Margaret Sanger's Eugenic Legacy: The Control of Female Fertility by Angela Franks

Margaret Sanger, the American birth-control and population-control advocate who founded Planned Parenthood, stands like a giant among her contemporaries. With her dominating yet winning personality, she helped generate shifts of opinion on issues that were not even publicly discussed prior to her activism, while her leadership was arguably the single most important factor in achieving social and legislative victories that set the parameters for today’s political discussion of family-planning funding, population-control aid, and even sex education. This work addresses Sanger’s ideas concerning birth control, eugenics, population control, and sterilization against the backdrop of the larger eugenic context.

To stir the boiling pot of controversy even further (see Margaret Sanger above), I am including an interesting book on the history of contraception:

Devices and Desires: A History of Contraceptives in America by Andrea Tone

In Devices and Desires, Andrea Tone breaks new ground by showing what it was really like to buy, produce, and use contraceptives during a century of profound social and technological change. A down-and-out sausage-casing worker by day who turned surplus animal intestines into a million-dollar condom enterprise at night; inventors who fashioned cervical caps out of watch springs; and a mother of six who kissed photographs of the inventor of the Pill—these are just a few of the individuals who make up this riveting story.

Now if you have too many books to read, you may prefer to watch one of my favorite movies on perfecting humans through genetics:

Gattaca (1997) starring Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman

Confidently conceived and brilliantly executed, Gattaca had a somewhat low profile release in 1997, but audiences and critics hailed the film's originality. It’s since been recognized as one of the most intelligent science fiction films of the 1990s. Writer-director Andrew Niccol, the talented New Zealander who also wrote the acclaimed Jim Carrey vehicle The Truman Show, depicts a near-future society in which one’s personal and professional destiny is determined by one’s genes. In this society, “Valids” (genetically engineered) qualify for positions at prestigious corporations, such as Gattaca, which grooms its most qualified employees for space exploration. “In-Valids” (naturally born), such as the film’s protagonist, Vincent (Ethan Hawke), are deemed genetically flawed and subsequently fated to low-level occupations in a genetically caste society. With the help of a disabled “Valid” (Jude Law), Vincent subverts his society’s social and biological barriers to pursue his dream of space travel; any random mistake—and an ongoing murder investigation at Gattaca—could reveal his plot. Part thriller, part futuristic drama and cautionary tale, Gattaca establishes its social structure so convincingly that the entire scenario is chillingly believable. With Uma Thurman as the woman who loves Vincent and identifies with his struggle, Gattaca is both stylish and smart, while Jude Law’s performance lends the film a note of tragic and heartfelt humanity. —Jeff Shannon, Amazon review

Stuff That Makes you go Huh?

Uh oh, you are really rushed for time and can't fit in a book or a movie…I hope you have time to read a blog post from Stuff Mom Never Told You titled Better Babies Contests: Eugenics Goes to the Fair

Yearly Book Club Selections

During our January Book Club we determine our yearly book selections. Please bring one book suggestion to the meeting. With this limitation, our members are forced to narrow their choices down to a favorite so we aren't overwhelmed by too many options. If you can't find a suggestion... don't stress, some people will bring two because they can't decide!

Curious how other book clubs choose their books? Here's what some do:

Sarah's Book Club: We used to vote on our books but we got really bad books for about 6 months. Then we said to a woman, on whose birthday the book club fell, to pick the next book.  After that we let individuals choose in order of their birthdays. We did that for a year or two. Then we started letting whoever was hosting the next month choose the next book, so we discuss the book of her choice at her house. This has been very successful.

Our book club consists of ladies that live on our block or used to live on our block. (2 have moved to other neighborhoods but come back for BC.) We rotate around the block for hostessing so everyone does it once a year.

Katie's Book Club: Our book selection process is very informal. At our September gathering, we all come with suggestions for the upcoming year. After sharing our suggestions, we collectively narrow it down so that we have a good variety of books (at least one classic, a memoir, fiction and non-fiction, different cultures and countries, etc.).

Our book group consists mostly of women on the block. We meet once a month, with the exception of July and August (although we do have a summer read). During December we do dinner as a group and in January we see a movie together.

Mom's Book Club: Heather's mother is in a fairly large book club of about 20 members who have, over time, evolved their selection method into a very efficient process for them.

They meet on Labor Day for a brunch and discuss their book selections. For a few years, most books were chosen from resources like bestseller lists, but they found many of these books were too odd for their tastes. So they decided to switch to books that had been either read by a member or recommended by a personal acquaintance.

During the brunch, a fellow member brings her laptop and printer and prints off the synopsis of the books that are up for vote so everyone can review the info before voting. Also, to help speed things along, some women email the synopsis of their chosen books to everyone prior to the meeting. The members write down their top 11 choices; the votes are tallied and the top 11 books are chosen for the year. Voila!

Charmaine's Book Club: We get together to choose all of our books for the year (10 books, we take off a couple of months). Everyone brings book ideas, we've had to limit this to five books per person or we would be there all night. We have pre-set categories like- Youth, Historical fiction, Mystery, Biography, Award Winner, Classic, you get the idea. We each write down the categories and list the book suggestions in the appropriate category and then we vote on each category.

Next, we need host homes and dates, we try to do something like the third Tues. of every month. Then someone types up all this data and sends out the schedule to everyone. It is quite a detailed list with each book title, author and a short blurb as well as the hostess, date, address and phone number. It is very helpful for knowing what book is next and what it is about because after that night of choosing, it all becomes a blur.

I would not say this is the easiest method, it is only for the truly serious book club! Warning: it can get ugly!

If you are in a book club and would like to tell us how you select your books, please feel free to leave a comment.