You will understand my title even if you don’t know what a hashtag is (a twitter thing) or have never heard that 2014 is the year of reading women. It started when Joanna Walsh, writer and illustrator, decided to call 2014 ‘the year of reading women’ and sent Christmas cards listing 250 names to encourage recipients if not to read women exclusively at least to look up some of the named writers. From this #readwomen2014 grew. She wrote on the Guardian blog about it: Will #readwomen2014 change our sexist reading habits?
I’m not one of those who have decided to only read women writers, but I do want to do my bit to encourage people to read women, especially in the face of fewer women getting published, fewer women’s books being reviewed, and fewer women reviewers. (See the VIDA statistics for the record of different publications, aka the hall of shame). And there are days at a certain literary festival where there are no women featured at all. We need #readwomen2014.
Some reviewers, prompted by #readwomen2014 decided to read, and therefore review, only books by women in 2014. An American journal, Critical Flame, decided to go one step further and dedicate 2014 to women writers and writers of colour. This kind of action challenges the idea that white males set the standard and are the default position for how the world is to be seen in fiction: through the male consciousness. It encourages diversity.
It’s an attractive idea – expanding reading horizons. You could look at the gender balance of your recent reading*. Or of the books on your shelves. Or of the books in your local library. You could ask yourself how any imbalance has come about? How much is it to do with how you find out about books?
Last week I heard about a newly established mixed reading group, who picked their books for the first year, and not one of them was by a woman. And no one present had noticed.
So in the spirit of #readwomen2014, and because this is my 100th blogpost, and because the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction 2014 will be announced this week, I am using my blog to wholeheartedly recommend reading more fiction by women (and, yes, to split an infinitive or two!). So here’s some suggestions from Bookword blog, with links to the posts.
Everything on my older women in fiction theme is by women. You can find these by clicking on the category link on the right. My review of Margaret Laurence The Stone Angel has been consistently one of my most read posts for over a year.
Elizabeth Bowen – In the Heat of the Day.
Claire Cameron – The Bear (longlisted for the Bailey’s Prize).
Ruth Ozeki – Tale for the Time Being.
Jean Rhys – Good Morning, Midnight.
Ann Tyler – almost anything by her, and I reviewed The Accidental Tourist.
Carolyn Heilbrun – Writing a Woman’s Life for some non-fiction.
Foreign fiction by women should not be ignored either. Try The Mussel Feast by Birgit Vanderbeke, translated by Jamie Bulloch. It has just been given a special mention at this year’s Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.
And Tove Jansson – The Summer Book.
*I checked my reading record over 12 months and it is 70/30 in favour of women. Perhaps I need to read more male writers.
More about #readwomen2014 in Guardian article by Alison Flood.
And for an excoriating post about the label ‘women’s fiction’ see Joanne Harris’s blog Capitalize This.
So: will your next book be written by a woman? Tell us one of your recommended reads by a woman.
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