#ReadWomen2014: Redux

copywright Joanna Walsh Back at the beginning of the year I wrote a post about #readwomen2014 which had caught my eye on Twitter. It was set up in an attempt to redress the lamentable imbalance between the coverage of books written by women as opposed to books written by men. As both an ex-reviews editor and a woman it’s something I feel strongly about and I welcomed such a constructive approach. I was interested to hear, a few weeks back, that it had prompted Goodreads to do a little research into how reading broke down by gender in 2014. There’s a nifty little infographic if you like that kind of thing but the long and the short of it is that of the 40,000 readers surveyed – 20,000 women and 20,000 men – 80% of women writers are read by women (so that’s 20% by men) while a male author’s readership is evenly split by gender. Given that the women read twice as many books as the men, it seems likely that they might be more adventurous but even so – that’s quite a divide. When asked what they thought of the books things looked a little different: women rated books by women as 4.0 out of 5 on average and books by men as 3.8, while men rated books by women as 3.9, but books by men as 3.8. There’s a message there, chaps: read more books by women.

Obviously these are committed readers, people who read a lot and are prepared to commit their thoughts to cyberspace, but it’s interesting. Going back to my bookselling days I remember being asked for books for men (books for women, not so much). It tended to be women dong the asking and on further enquiry they usually meant thrillers in the Tom Clancy mode. For myself, when I wrote the post I checked my 2013 reading ratio which turned out to be two-thirds by women. At the time of writing, it’s roughly the same for 2014. What about you? Are you influenced by the gender of a book’s author? What do you think of the idea of ‘men’s fiction’ and ‘women’s fiction’?

For a more detailed response to Goodreads findings you might like to visit this piece in the Guardian. Johanna Walsh, whose brainchild #readwomen 2014 was, has written about her year here. Soon time to add one to that hashtag…

21 thoughts on “#ReadWomen2014: Redux”

  1. You made me go and count my books by women vs. men authors for this past year and I discovered that 102 out of 181 books (to date – I’m currently reading 2 more by women) were written by women. That’s about 56% women, which feels decent and fair.

    1. It does, indeed! My own ratio is through no conscious effort – I’m more concerned about the coverage imbalance than an author’s gender- so perhaps it’s simply natural inclination.

      1. I didn’t make a conscious effort either – at least, not until this month! And it has to be said that in my preferred genre (crime) there do seem to be an awful lot of male authors. So I must have an instinctive preference too (although I tend not to look at the gender of the author so much).

    1. Almost certainly I would think, Poppy. Collections by big names seem to be reviewed but I rarely see anything else. #shortstories2015?

  2. I usually read about 75% women. Not sure where I’m at yet for 2014, but I feel as though I’ve read a lot of white males this year. Interestingly, this corresponds to me buying fewer books and using the library more.

  3. The results of the survey are really interesting – thanks for sharing! Your post has made me look at the books I’ve read this year: of the 44 I’ve read so far, 23 have been written by women. I haven’t made a particular effort to read more female authors, and I don’t consciously choose a book based on the author’s gender, so it’s quite interesting that it’s divided pretty evenly.

    1. You’re welcome, Gemma. I think I might look at this again next year as my own figures came out much the same as 2013. Like you, I tend to look at the synopsis rather than the gender of the author.

  4. I am always hugely interested in gender statistics. Myself, I love women writers, and I always tend to read significantly more by women than men, though I don’t consciously do this, I just follow my inclinations. This year, I think it’s been something like 80/20 in favour of women. And in hindsight that was again just the way the cookie crumbled – there were a lot of fantastic books by women out this year. If I’d received or been attracted by more books by men, I would gladly have read them.

    1. I tend to agree with your gender reading bias, although I read a few more men. I’d also like to see stats on authors – the number of books published written by women, and the number by men.

  5. I consciously try to read stories that cross cultures and have become more conscious of the difficulty in reading around the world, works published outside the UK/US and I know that for those who specifically like to read translated fiction there was a lot of discussion in August about Reading Women In Translation.

    It appears I already have a preference for women authors, last year 69% of my reads were by women and this year it is 64%. I think the two things for me are related, I know when I had trouble reading Richard Flanagan’s novel, I decided to pause and picked up Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth instead, because I wanted to have a woman’s perspective and reflection on war. I am interested in diversity and other cultures and the male authors I am attracted to, it is generally due to their reputation and use of language, I have my favourites, whereas for woman writers, it’s not just about language, it about an experience,m whether its fiction or non-fiction.

    It is interesting how similar my stats are for the past three years, although I’ve only read books from 14 countries this year compared to 22 last year!

    1. I understand what you mean about the female perspective, Claire. There are certain authors I shy away from such as Cormac McCarthy, for instance, who I would class alongside Hemingway in terms of his very male perspective, yet I have a woman friend who thinks he’s wonderful.

      Most impressed by the breadth of your reading! What was conclusion of the discussion about women in translation?

      1. Funny you mention Cormac McCarthy because he is a writer I really admire, he is the opposite of Hemingway in terms of style, though I’ve not read his most bleak or violent works, All the Pretty Horses was the first of his I read and I was just stunned by his use of language. I have read three of his books and will continue slowly, but its all about the language for me. Whereas Hemingway with his stripped down prose, removes too much of what is necessary to enhance the imagination of the reader and then his subjects, bull fighting, deep sea fishing, safaris. I prefer reading fiction about him and his wives and the company he kept. 🙂

        Yes, Cormac McCarthy is up there in my most esteemed male writers, I’m with your friend on that one 🙂

  6. Historically I’ve tended to read significantly more books by men than women. For instance, only 31% of the books I read last year were by women (and the same’s probably true of previous years).

    As a result of #ReadWomen2014, I’ve made a conscious effort to increase my reading of women writers this year. So I’ve been aiming for a roughly 50:50 split by women : men, and the same for books in the English language : translations. I’ll have to check my stats at the end of December, but I’ve been striving for balance in a couple of areas. All being well, I’d like to continue in the same vein although it’s not always easy to keep all these plates spinning. I love noir and hardboiled and that’s very heavily skewed towards males writers.

    1. I think you’re the first to comment who’s made a conscious decision to change the balance of their reading, Jacqui. Has it been a more or less enjoyable reading year for you as a result?

      1. I’d say this year I’ve read books from a broader range of different countries (due to the increase in translations). The thing that’s probably made the biggest difference to my reading experience, both this year and last, is the research. I read a lot more blogs and follow more bookish people than I use to, and I’ve accumulated a TBR of books and recommendations I’m fairly sure will suit my tastes. I’m also reading more modern classics and backlist titles than I ever used to – that’s made a big difference, too. So I’d say both 2013 and 2014 were very enjoyable, but in slightly different ways.

        1. I would agree with you about the breadth of well-informed opinion in the blogosphere. It’s much easier to pick up on recommendations when you follow a blog whose author you’ve come to trust.

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