I finished Friday’s review of Helen Dunmore’s superb new novel The Lie with a longstanding gripe of mine: despite her extraordinary talent and versatility – she’s an award-winning poet, a children’s author, and her fiction ranges from profound and thoughtful novels such as The Siege to psychological thrillers such as Burning Bright – I have never seen Dunmore rated alongside the male cannon of her generation, several of whom she can write the socks off. She’s far from the only women writer not given her due: an American survey of review coverage conducted annually since 2010 highlights major disparities between the sexes for both the US and the UK. It’s particularly troubling as the book trade is dominated by women: many more women work in bookselling than men, publishing employs a large number of women with two at the top of the tree until last year – Gail Rebuck stepped down as CEO of Random House UK and Victoria Barnsley left her position as CEO of HarperCollins UK abruptly. My experience as a bookseller was that far more women than men bought books too. Why, then, are many women writers not getting the recognition that they deserve?
This isn’t going to be a rant – pleasurable as those often are it’s far, far better to address the problem and try to do something about it than simply shout loudly and angrily until no one is listening – nor am I going to bamboozle you with statistics, although if you click on the link in the paragraph above you can find out what they are. I want, instead, to draw your attention to an interesting and inventive Twitter initiative aimed at raising the profile of women writers, highlighted by The Guardian who have paid a good deal of attention to this issue. Joanna Walsh’s #readwomen2014 seems to be gaining a lot of interest from both men and women. Walsh celebrated the beginning of the year by presenting bookmark-shaped New Year’s cards on which she’d drawn several of her favourite women authors with lists of books on the back. A few friends suggested she Tweet the lists and a hash tag was born. On a smaller scale, but well worth a visit, is The Writes of Women dedicated to reviewing women writers and set up a year ago by a fellow book blogger dismayed at the revelation of the pitiful amount of coverage given to books by women in 2012. As for my own reading, a quick survey of 2013 suggests two-thirds of the books I read are by women. How about you? What do you think about the coverage given to women writers? Why do you think that male writers are more reviewed and get more recognition than women writers? How do you feel about it? Does the sex of an author matter to you, or are you gender blind when it comes to reading?