Books about women don't win big awards: some data
July 29, 2015 1:33 PM   Subscribe

"When women win literary awards for fiction it’s usually for writing from a male perspective and/or about men. The more prestigious the award, the more likely the subject of the narrative will be male. I analysed the last 15 years’ results for half a dozen book-length fiction awards: Pulitzer Prize, Man Booker Prize, National Book Award, National Book Critics’ Circle Award, Hugo Award, and Newbery Medal." Nicola Griffith notes the absence of stories about women from prize-winning novels--even when those novels are written by women. The Seattle Review of Books adds an interview with Griffith on the writing and aftermath of her original blog post.
posted by sciatrix (92 comments total) 45 users marked this as a favorite
 
Except for the Newberry Medal, there are no books by men about women and girls. Occasionally something by men about both (women and men), but not many. I shouldn't be surprised, but I was impressed by how the graphs bring the statistics to life. [If only the colors were further apart. The two blues and red/magenta were tough.]
posted by Measured Out my Life in Coffeespoons at 1:44 PM on July 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


I love Nicola Griffith. In fact, I am rereading Hild right now (because I'm going to the north of England next month, yay!), and this is my opportunity to plug that book, because it is awesome. It is about women, and women's business, and how women's business is both separate and integrated with men's business, with public life, with politics and war and trade and religion and institutions. It's also about war and nationhood and gods and agriculture and which way the rooks fly in the autumn. So good.

I am mildly amazed she has not received dozens of death threats, though, like so many other women do when daring to be feminist in public. Huh.
posted by suelac at 1:45 PM on July 29, 2015 [12 favorites]


Normally I'm just like: well color me not surprised and then I click on another link to read.

But today is one of those rare days where I profoundly get it. Our culture just doesn't want to hear women speak. Or worse, that Tina Fey quote.

That just makes me so so sad.

.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 1:54 PM on July 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'd love to see how this compares to the shortlists -- are the shortlists just as bad, better, worse? Maybe I will try to put that together.

Also the colouring for these charts is so stupid. About men/boys should have been in one colour, about women/girls a second, about both a third, unsure a fourth, and then "by women/by men" should have been light and dark versions of those. It's almost impossible to see anything from these.
posted by jeather at 2:15 PM on July 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


I went to the Caldecott/Newbery/Wilder award banquet this year and noted that all three of the medal winners were men; all three were also non-white.
posted by vunder at 2:21 PM on July 29, 2015


I read an interview with Pat Barker (author of several of my favorite novels, including The Century's Daughter, which is mostly about women and which also has a viewpoint gay character who is complexly depicted) where she said that she started out writing about women and no one paid attention so she switched to writing about men. And sure enough, it's her WWI trilogy which got all the awards. (They're excellent books, don't get me wrong; but one can write excellent books about women - even women in WWI.)

And of course, Hilary Mantel has a lot of books, but it's the ones about Thomas Cromwell that win the awards. If you want to be properly harrowed, frankly, you should read Beyond Black.
posted by Frowner at 2:34 PM on July 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


Just a quick note that the interview was with the Seattle Review of Books and not the Seattle Times.

(disclosure: friend of co-founders & code-participant.)
posted by sarajflemming at 2:34 PM on July 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


Shit, my bad--mods, would you fix the OP?
posted by sciatrix at 2:36 PM on July 29, 2015


An ex-boyfriend of mine once attempted to explain this type of discrepancy by stating that books written by women are generally just less interesting than books written by men, because women tend to write about the domestic sphere, which is "inherently" less interesting than the non-domestic sphere.

I told him he was full of shit, and that he was not acknowledging his internalized sexist beliefs by defining the domestic sphere as uninteresting. He refused to admit that he was biased. Yeah, there's a reason (well, multiple reasons) we are not together anymore.

Out of curiosity, I've just taken a look at Canada's Governor General book awards for fiction (English language) and did some tallying of the male/female author distribution for the last 20 years, from 1995-2014:
  • 101 nominees--51 female, 50 male (not evenly distributed; for example, in 1996, there were 5 women nominated and one man; in 2006, all 5 nominees were men)
  • 20 winners--8 female, 12 male
I was actually surprised at the relatively even split of nominees, and that the split between winners was as close as it was (still more male winners though). However, the most interesting analysis was indeed about the subject matter or narrative point of view of the most recent 20 prize winners:
  • Narrative primarily about or from POV of women (by female or male author): 5
  • Narrative primarily about or from POV of men: 9
  • The remaining 6 books were either collections of short stories with different narrators/subjects or had alternating narrative POV.
So, only 5 out of the last 20 winning books were primarily about, or from the point of view of, women. I am sure if I had taken the time to go back further than 20 years (the awards began in 1936) the situation would be even more dismal, but it's depressing that even in the supposedly equal and more progressive last two decades, it's this unequal.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 2:40 PM on July 29, 2015 [6 favorites]


Sixteen of the Booker Prize winners have been women - one thing I noticed when I read through the list a couple of years ago was that the men tended to have brighter careers.
posted by betweenthebars at 2:47 PM on July 29, 2015


books written by women are generally just less interesting than books written by men

Has everyone seen this storify by Amal El-Mohtar?
The variety among 5 stories written by women are comparable to varieties in burger toppings. Because if a woman wrote it, it's a burger. "Problems in [women's] lives"--witch's curse, marital problems, artistic exploitation, sexual harassment, ghosts--are basically burgers. Because those things are sufficiently similar, being experienced by women, that they're essentially the same as onion rings vs ketchup.
posted by jeather at 2:47 PM on July 29, 2015 [13 favorites]


[Fixed!]
posted by cortex (staff) at 2:49 PM on July 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


Has everyone seen this storify by Amal El-Mohtar?

And that reviewer? Was a woman. (Lois Tilton, apparently.) The patriarchy is coming from inside the house!
posted by suelac at 2:51 PM on July 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


An ex-boyfriend of mine once attempted to explain this type of discrepancy by stating that books written by women are generally just less interesting than books written by men, because women tend to write about the domestic sphere, which is "inherently" less interesting than the non-domestic sphere.
Sigh. This made me think of the old saw "All politics is local", to which I must add "All writing is domestic", because when you strip away all the pretense, fighting aliens is just like fighting with spouses/siblings/in-laws/next-door-neighbors, except you don't have to deal with your antagonists as 'people'. The writing that most men do (including the Award Winning Stuff) is lazy.
posted by oneswellfoop at 2:53 PM on July 29, 2015 [5 favorites]


The writing that most men do (including the Award Winning Stuff) is lazy.

This is stupid.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 3:02 PM on July 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


Sigh. This made me think of the old saw "All politics is local", to which I must add "All writing is domestic", because when you strip away all the pretense, fighting aliens is just like fighting with spouses/siblings/in-laws/next-door-neighbors, except you don't have to deal with your antagonists as 'people'.

One of the dizzying moments in A la recherche du temps perdu (a strong contender for the best novel ever written) is when Marcel, as a somewhat weary older man, is trying to navigate the chaos of WWI Paris and he realizes that the emotions he has been meticulously cataloging and examining (love, jealousy, hate, rivalry, longing, and so on) in the tight community of his friends and family (and in the luxurious hothouse of his own heart) are seen in vast distorted reflection in the relations between nations. The almost claustrophobic "domestic sphere" of the first 90% of the novel suddenly expands to a global scale.

I'd argue that, when a good writer is writing about the "domestic sphere," they are also writing about the entire universe.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:03 PM on July 29, 2015 [22 favorites]


Jeather, I'd have a lot more sympathy for Amal El-Mohtar's annoyance if I didn't fairly regularly read women proudly stating that they don't read male authors.

A lot of readers, of both sexes, tend to discriminate based on the author's sex.
posted by bswinburn at 3:03 PM on July 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


False equivalency, as always, is a thing.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:05 PM on July 29, 2015 [31 favorites]


bswinburn: Jeather, I'd have a lot more sympathy for Amal El-Mohtar's annoyance if I didn't fairly regularly read women proudly stating that they don't read male authors.

There was a Facebook meme that went around my friend-group, where people would list their 10 favorite authors. Generally, while women had lists with mixed genders, men had lists that 9 male authors and one woman author they read as children.

In my experience most male readers overwhelmingly read books by men, 9 out of 10 books sounds about right to me. The reason almost no man ever says that he only reads books by men, is that if he did, he probably wouldn't notice.
posted by Kattullus at 3:10 PM on July 29, 2015 [28 favorites]


Oh, and some years ago I started noticing in books I'm reading that the gender split of characters is often egregious. Many books could have their settings changed to an offshore oil platform without having to worry about the gender split being unrealistic.
posted by Kattullus at 3:13 PM on July 29, 2015 [9 favorites]


The Agatha Award (for cozy mysteries) is dominated by women, and the all-purpose detective fiction award, The Edgar, is dominated by men. The Dagger Awards, also general purpose crime writing, seem to have a bit better parity between the sexes. The romance fiction award, The RITA, is unsurprisingly dominated by women. I'm unsure of any hard stats, or stats on perspectives for those awards, that's just based on a quick skim of lists over the past few years.

Interestingly, J.K. Rowling publishes under a male pseudonym for her (very good) detective fiction, apart from her first attempt with The Cuckoo's Calling. She also writes predominantly from her male POV figure, Comoran Strike. Strike does have a female assistant who is well rounded, however.
posted by codacorolla at 3:14 PM on July 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


(speaking of "literary" books here, not genre ones. Though the following clichés do happen in genre books too obviously).

I read mostly women authors because I got tired of that one scene. You know. The one where the attractive woman looks at herself in the mirror while the author describes her various attributes.

See also: scene where tired old white professor guy is seduced by hot undergrad. Got tired of that too.

Very few women writers put those scenes in, but they do have plenty of men in their books, generally speaking. They are usually treated with a fair amount of respect and depth.
posted by emjaybee at 3:19 PM on July 29, 2015 [38 favorites]


See also: scene where tired old white professor guy is seduced by hot undergrad. Got tired of that too.

I've never gotten how the establishment often sneers about "genre" but showers these types of books with literary prizes, when they're the equivalent of cliched vampire romance novels for the aging white male literati crowd. In a just world, if you write a thinly-veiled english-professor-sleeps-with-the-nubile-young-coed self-insert novel, no matter how good the rest of the book is, it would automatically have a cover drawn by Rob Liefeld and get shelved alongside Sword of Truth.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 3:43 PM on July 29, 2015 [52 favorites]


Currently reading: Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir. Yay, me.
posted by Justinian at 3:46 PM on July 29, 2015


I just browsed the past winners of the Pulitzer (which is, in my big dumb opinion, too often an abysmal choice - this year's winner, All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, I found to be really quite terrible):

1910s: 0 women out of 2
1920s: 5 women out of 9
1930s: 6 women out of 10
1940s: 1 woman out of 8
1950s: 0 women out of 8
1960s: 3 women out of 9
1970s: 2 women out of 7
1980s: 4 women out of 10
1990s: 3 women out of 10
2000s: 4 women out of 10
2010s: 2 women out of 5

After the 1980s, it's also possibly to count the finalists.

In my quick overview, I think many of the books by women would qualify as "both" in the Nicola Griffith analysis, even when they do fairly well portray the lives of women (see, for example, Edith Wharton). This may be because real women's lives have rarely been truly centered around just themselves and other women, so a serious writer writing about women's lives seems like it can rarely appear similar to that of, say, Thomas Cromwell (whose life, to be fair, is very heavily influenced by historical women).
posted by vunder at 4:00 PM on July 29, 2015


Jeather, I'd have a lot more sympathy for Amal El-Mohtar's annoyance if I didn't fairly regularly read women proudly stating that they don't read male authors.

A lot of readers, of both sexes, tend to discriminate based on the author's sex.


Was this even a thing before the recent movement (in the past 1-2 years) suggesting women read fewer or no men? I don't have a problem with women (or anyone, really) doing this as a corrective against the type of problem noted in the OP. What we read isn't just what we read, it's what we recommend to others. The literary voices that get promoted (including by us, the reading public!) tend to be overwhelmingly male. I just spent half the year reading a single book by a man, and every time someone asked me what I was reading, it was the same book by the same man... when I could have been promoting a bunch of less well known women authors.
posted by matcha action at 4:01 PM on July 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


I think my fiction reading splits pretty close to 50/50 between men and women. Like emjaybee, I find those scenes I associate in particular with the Great Male Narcissist canon and literary model, and for that matter the canon itself, generally pompous and tedious and delusional... which is not to say I have a feminist conscience about it or anything like that, just it does not speak to me. I agree though, that "women's" lit is deprecated at a fairly deep level. As an adolescent, I had a secret cache of Babysitter's Club books. It was bad enough being a reader.
posted by batfish at 4:14 PM on July 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


hurdy gurdy girl: "An ex-boyfriend of mine once attempted to explain this type of discrepancy by stating that books written by women are generally just less interesting than books written by men, because women tend to write about the domestic sphere, which is "inherently" less interesting than the non-domestic sphere. "

Not that long ago here on MeFi we were discussing this w/r/t movies, and someone said "It's not actually that interesting [that more movies are made about submarines than midwifery clinics]. In submarines, the characters are literally in a bubble, the lives of the employees are at risk, and their actions can have effects on many people external to the bubble, and outside communication is difficult/rare. Kind of perfect for storytelling. Midwives rarely die on the job, and while lives are in their hands, it's a onesie-twosie thing. And they get to go home at night." And everyone was like OMG WTF CALL THE MIDWIFE MUCH?

(KathrynT said: "The midwife who performs extralegal abortions in a place where that's forbidden! " and THAT movie starred Tobey Maguire and Michael Caine because even movies about lady things are actually about men and their ethical dilemmas. Which movie, incidentally, barely passes the Bechdel test: there is one conversation between two women who briefly (less than 2 minutes) discuss the pregnancy, who the father is, and why she can't get an abortion. IN AN ABORTION MOVIE. AN ABORTION MOVIE ABOUT DUDES HAVING FEELS ABOUT ABORTION. Where women are totally secondary characters who exist solely so men can have ethical dilemmas about their uteri.)

Plus also, Jane Austen, so suck it, men who find women's writing uninteresting.

I reiterate my top internet dating advice for dudes: Put on your OK Cupid profile that you are currently reading "Little Women" and add, "So far Jo's my favorite." I contend you will increase your interest from heterosexual women 1000%. You can even say, "My mother/sister/niece suggested it, and I'm loving it so far!" so it doesn't seem like you just pick up girly books for no reason. The number of smart women who will be interested in a man who reads lady books is SUBSTANTIALLY INFINITE. Caveat: You must actually read Little Women so you can explain why Jo is your favorite.

PS -- I didn't like Hild. I feel bad about it, but I just didn't.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:18 PM on July 29, 2015 [40 favorites]


Just don't put that Amy is your favorite, because Amy is not anyone's favorite. And never say that you identify with Beth. I had a friend once tell me that she identified with Beth, and I spent like a month trying to figure out what could possibly be wrong with her.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 4:30 PM on July 29, 2015 [16 favorites]


I've never gotten how the establishment often sneers about "genre" but showers these types of books with literary prizes, when they're the equivalent of cliched vampire romance novels for the aging white male literati crowd.

Books about white, middle-aged professors aren't showered with prizes. Alison Lurie's Foreign Affairs won some awards back in the 1980s, but that wasn't male professor/student, it was professor/American. There's also The Corrections by the much beloved (by birds, not by the internet) Franzen, which did not win the Pulitzer, but did win the Oprah Award of Best-sellerdom. Sometimes I wonder if people who do not read literary fiction think that John Updike and Philip Roth are still alive and/or writing books. No one reads Updike anymore, unless they are trapped in a beach house without wifi and Couples is the only dirty book in the bookcase.
posted by betweenthebars at 4:37 PM on July 29, 2015


OK quick check on the last 5 books I read:

Burnt Paper Sky by Gilly MacMillan

Bittersweet by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore

A Bloodsmore Romance by Joyce Carol Oates

A Trap for Cinderella by Sabastien Japrisot

The Dust That Falls From Dreams by Louis de Bernieres

Three women, two men and that is about par for the course for me. I find that while my husband and I often read the same books (we started Bloodsmoor together and he continued on while I dropped out) the books that he reads without me are invariably men: Saul Bellow, Paul Auster, Adam Levin. The books I read without him are men and women writing about men and women. I'm usually put-off by men writing about men.

Frequently women writing about women puts me off as well. What I don't read is anything in a pink jacket that features a shopping bag or a beach chair because those are usually horrible books about shallow, gossiping girls who are caricatures of human beings. Unfortunately, sometimes well-written books with memorable characters in fascinating situations are labeled as Chick Lit because the situations are not "middle-aged man, naval gazing" but rather "middle aged women tackling life's problems.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 4:39 PM on July 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


Little Women refutes all of this so handily it's not even funny.
posted by Doleful Creature at 5:14 PM on July 29, 2015


I often wonder how much the aversion to reading stories about women gets baked in at an early age. We must have hundreds of kids books in our house that we've picked up over the years. Our of curiosity, I grabbed a stack of 20 books off my 5 year old's bookshelf and counted the number of characters that were male, female or of unspecified gender; when it was possible to identify main characters, I listed the gender of the main characters too.

Of the 20 books, 14 had an identifiable male main character but only 4 had an identifiable female main character. Even with a tiny sample of N=20, that comes up as statistically significant (test of equality of proportions, p=.004). It's no better when you look at the distribution of characters in general. The average number of male characters was 2.15 per book (std dev = 2.03) and the average number of female characters was 1.10 per book (std dev = 1.38). The data violate normality, so I really shouldn't use a t-test, but I did anyway and the paired samples test comes up significant as well, though only just (p=.02).

The thing that's so depressing is that I only needed 20 books to get statistically significant results. The effect size is so enormous that it's impossible to believe that kids don't learn it from the very beginning. All I have to do is read one story to my kid every night for three weeks, and they'll have enough statistical evidence to acquire the cultural norm that stories are things that we tell about men, not women. Maybe it's no surprise that adults still believe the same thing.
posted by langtonsant at 5:15 PM on July 29, 2015 [25 favorites]


... this conversation makes me sad, because there always comes a point where people start talking about the types of books women write that they don't read or that they think are horrible, and... ugh. Assuming, of course, that there bad books written by women (and that some/many of them can be identified as a type) it still doesn't matter.

Because we're talking about shortlists of under a hundred, or sometimes under a dozen fucking books. It doesn't matter if there are 7 billion books that are about whatever thing you don't like reading about, and all 7 billion are written by women. Because there are definitely at least 6 books that aren't like that, and the whole point of the article is that those 6 aren't getting the awards as often as the ones from a man's point of view are.

If there were only one woman in the entire world who was writing good books from a woman's perspective, it STILL wouldn't matter if every other book by a woman about a woman were utter garbage, IF that singular woman didn't win a single award. It would still be a travesty. Talking about what types of books women write, or the bad types that some women write is a distraction from the point.
posted by shmegegge at 5:17 PM on July 29, 2015 [12 favorites]


PS -- I didn't like Hild. I feel bad about it, but I just didn't.

Whatevs. My beautiful cake is not your beautiful cake, that's all.
posted by suelac at 5:26 PM on July 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


I would be happy to hear suggestions about male authors who can write decent female characters and have no Roth or Updike or Franzen-type hangups. I have limited amounts of time to read for fun, and very few reviewers will clue you in on whether a male author's book has those qualities. So I tend to stick to women out of expediency as much as out of feminist solidarity.
posted by emjaybee at 5:36 PM on July 29, 2015


Books about white, middle-aged professors aren't showered with prizes. Alison Lurie's Foreign Affairs won some awards back in the 1980s, but that wasn't male professor/student, it was professor/American. There's also The Corrections by the much beloved (by birds, not by the internet) Franzen, which did not win the Pulitzer, but did win the Oprah Award of Best-sellerdom. Sometimes I wonder if people who do not read literary fiction think that John Updike and Philip Roth are still alive and/or writing books. No one reads Updike anymore, unless they are trapped in a beach house without wifi and Couples is the only dirty book in the bookcase.

The most egregious example I had in mind was JM Coetzee's Disgrace, which won the Booker Prize in 1999 and also helped its author with the Nobel Prize in Literature. I'll admit "showered with prizes" was hyperbole, since most examples (some of which you've mentioned) were simply widely praised and didn't contribute to a Nobel, but it's a trope that I find especially tiresome.

I'm not sure how I pulled that example out of my pretty little head, since as you've astutely guessed, I "do not read literary fiction." I must have earned a degree in contemporary literature by sleeping with a professor, I guess!
posted by Solon and Thanks at 5:40 PM on July 29, 2015 [13 favorites]


If you want to be properly harrowed, frankly, you should read Beyond Black.

Oh lord, quoted for truth. That was the book that turned me into a huge Mantel fan.
posted by jokeefe at 5:48 PM on July 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


emjaybee: "I would be happy to hear suggestions about male authors who can write decent female characters and have no Roth or Updike or Franzen-type hangups."

I don't know about no hangups, but when I read Memoirs of a Geisha I had to google the author to ensure it wasn't a pseudonym for a woman because he wrote such great women. I literally did not believe the byline at first; he wrote a woman like a woman would understand herself in her own head, which is unusual for male writers. Tolstoy. Maybe Ibsen. Roald Dahl's female children.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:16 PM on July 29, 2015 [6 favorites]


emjaybee: I would be happy to hear suggestions about male authors who can write decent female characters and have no Roth or Updike or Franzen-type hangups. I have limited amounts of time to read for fun, and very few reviewers will clue you in on whether a male author's book has those qualities. So I tend to stick to women out of expediency as much as out of feminist solidarity.

I recently read Brian Morton's Florence Gordon and thought it was fantastic. The protagonist is a 75 year old retired professor and feminist writer. From the opening pages: "Florence Gordon was trying to write a memoir, but she had two strikes against her: She was old and she was an intellectual. And who on earth, she sometimes wondered, would want to read a book about an old intellectual? Maybe it was three strikes, because not only was she an intellectual, she was a feminist. Which meant that if she ever managed to finish this book, reviewers would inevitably dismiss it as 'strident' and 'shrill.'"

The novel shifts between the POV of Florence, her granddaughter, her daughter-in-law, and her son. I thought it was very well written and was impressed by Morton's ability to write female characters. The characters of the granddaughter and daughter-in-law are equally well done (as is the son). It was so refreshing to read from the point of view of intelligent, lively women who have strong relationships with other women.

I also thought Joseph Boyden did an excellent job with his female narrator, Annie, in Through Black Spruce. I often assign this novel for a literature class and students frequently remark that they're surprised a male writer could capture a woman's voice so well.

If I had been told either of these books was written by a woman, I would have believed it.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 6:25 PM on July 29, 2015 [6 favorites]


I admit to being a little bummed that this thread about women's writing being overlooked has turned into a thread about what male authors to read. This is part of the problem! Let's recommend some award-worthy women instead! Let's talk about what women write great men. I was really impressed with Hanya Yanagihara's A Little Life, but I am a lady so don't know how accurate her portrayals were.
posted by leesh at 6:47 PM on July 29, 2015 [10 favorites]


Or, hell, let's not talk about men at all, for a change. Let's talk about women writing great women. N.K. Jemisin has a new one coming out next week that is pretty amazing in its portrayal of powerful women in a world that is either sci-fi-related or post-apocalyptic, I honestly wasn't sure.
posted by leesh at 6:50 PM on July 29, 2015 [9 favorites]


Roddy Doyle's The Woman Who Walked into Doors and Paula Spencer are both about the same woman, and they're both first person novels from her point of view. I thought Doyle had won a prize for one of them, but no, it was his novel about a boy instead. Even when he was shortlisted for the Booker, it was for the final Barrytown trilogy volume about a man. Definitely no Updike/Roth hangups there.

If you want to be properly harrowed, frankly, you should read Beyond Black.

Added to my list: I love Mantel.
posted by gladly at 6:50 PM on July 29, 2015


I had a friend once tell me that she identified with Beth, and I spent like a month trying to figure out what could possibly be wrong with her.

Scarlet fever?
posted by a fiendish thingy at 6:50 PM on July 29, 2015 [10 favorites]


Fair point, leesh.

I would say, however, that I'm equally interested in the point brought up by the article that it's not just lack of female writers, but also that books by men and women both are rarely about women and their lived experience. I find it's distressingly rare for a woman/women to be at the centre of a novel, even though I mostly read female authors.

Women are recognized for writing about men and their experiences; men are recognized for writing about men and their experiences. I wish more recognition were given for writing about women's lives.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 7:07 PM on July 29, 2015 [5 favorites]


If you're interested in a woman writing masterfully from different points of view, you might read Marilynne Robinson's 3 novels set among the same characters: Gilead (first person male), Home (close third person, female, but mostly about another male character), and Lila (close third person, female, very interior). Gilead won the Pulitzer in 2005.
posted by vunder at 7:07 PM on July 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


Amy is my favorite. Meg & Beth are both total snores.
posted by dame at 7:09 PM on July 29, 2015


And also I basically gave up on my childhood hopes to be a writer (well, postponed till I get old) because the dudeliness of lit fiction in college & after pretty well convinced me it wasn't gonna do for me. Everything was just men objectifying women, mourning their WASPy fathers or trying to be anti heroes. Barf.
posted by dame at 7:12 PM on July 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


Oh also also, I recommend Shorecliff, by Ursula De Young.
posted by dame at 7:13 PM on July 29, 2015


Way back in 1985 the Booker prize winner was a New Zealand writer, Keri Hulme, with her wonderful book, The Bone People.

I've just this past week re-read it, so I'm a bit excited about it. It's about, and told through the eyes of three people: a woman, a man, and a young boy. They are all complex and intriguing characters, and the story is by turns hilarious, horrifying, tragic and inspiring. Beautiful book. Bit wild and unpredictable.

(It might be the only book I've read with an asexual character, written by an author who also identifies as asexual)
posted by mythical anthropomorphic amphibian at 7:20 PM on July 29, 2015 [6 favorites]


Or, hell, let's not talk about men at all, for a change. Let's talk about women writing great women.

Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan novels (series of four) about the lifelong friendship between two women.
posted by FelliniBlank at 7:21 PM on July 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


I read mostly genre fiction and at this point women authors make up about half of the books I'm reading. And, of those, probably half have protagonists who are women.

What I've found over the last six or so years as my reading moved toward women authors and women protagonists, is that I am now slightly on-my-guard when I read male authors, and especially with female characters. Although I've been a feminist for most of my life and have been aware of a lot of the things we talk about in this context -- the male gaze and the like -- being a man myself it's still mostly stuff that I've had to learn about deliberately and understand explicitly, it's not my lived experience. And so because of that, there was a lot of stuff I just wasn't noticing from authors who are men. But now that half the books I read are written by women, I really do notice this stuff. And it's very annoying.

What I find really amazing and dismaying is that I recall my father saying when I was a child that he didn't read books by women because they can't write believable male characters. Which is totally wrong! I mean, yeah, there's some lived-experience-visceral stuff that I notice that women authors sometimes don't quite understand; but, by and large, what I notice is that women authors have strong understanding of both the male and female experience while men are notably deficient with characters who are women. My dad was exactly wrong. But he didn't realize it for the obvious reasons.

I've not yet read anything by Griffith, and Hild doesn't really pique my interest. But I've got her three "Aud Torvingen" novels on my Kindle and intend to read them fairly soon.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 7:21 PM on July 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


Laline Paull, The Bees

Magda Szabo, The Door
posted by FelliniBlank at 7:28 PM on July 29, 2015


As a woman who dates men, I started keeping mental track of the number of female writers or singers that men listed as favorites in their OKC profiles. It turned out that maybe ten percent mentioned even one female writer or singer. So, straight men on OKC: you don't even have to mention reading Little Women to stand out.

Honestly, it's really discouraging how little interest men who want to date women have in the lives and experiences of women.
posted by mcduff at 7:28 PM on July 29, 2015 [16 favorites]


This is not to dispute the claim that men often write poorly psychologically observed women, but I think it's worth saying too that there's an awful lot things that this formulation doesn't even really make sense for. I say this because I was trying to think of recent reads where men wrote women well, and two of the most recent I read were David Markson's Wittgenstein's Mistress and Paul Auster's In The Country of Last Things, both very Pomo-y post-apocalyptically staged metafictions with female protagonists. I enjoyed both. But, the more I think about it, the question of whether the women are well rendered as women is just not the right lens for either book. That the protagonists are women is like a postulate that colors everything, but, I think, there is just no finer-grained thing to achieve or not, and I think this might be true for a lot of things. I mean, is Gregor Samsa's mother well rendered as a woman? Is his father well rendered as a man? Seems like the wrong kind of question.
posted by batfish at 7:53 PM on July 29, 2015


I'm sure this is included in the data, but just putting a plug in here for Ancillary Justice, written by a woman, everyone in the book is referred to with the pronoun she, and it won numerous awards. I could use a lot more award-winning books like this in my life.
posted by SpacemanStix at 8:16 PM on July 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


I say this because I was trying to think of recent reads where men wrote women well, and two of the most recent I read were David Markson's Wittgenstein's Mistress and Paul Auster's In The Country of Last Things, both very Pomo-y post-apocalyptically staged metafictions with female protagonists.

It just show to go ya - I thought the woman protagonist of In the Country of Last Things was a total porno straight male fantasy, not plausible at all. She's always thinking about how sexy she is, for one thing.
posted by Frowner at 8:19 PM on July 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


Jeather, I'd have a lot more sympathy for Amal El-Mohtar's annoyance if I didn't fairly regularly read women proudly stating that they don't read male authors.

Right, what about the men.

I don't think, as a whole, women are unwilling to read books by men. They want to read books where women are also characters and where women are taken seriously. In general, this is more likely to happen in a book written by a woman, but I can see it changing.

The thing that people are doing -- only books by women and POC in 2015 -- is because a lot of people look at their shelves and don't see a balance, it isn't a forever plan. (I'm sure for some people it is.)

But to say "well, I'd sympathise with the argument that books by women aren't all essentially the same but some other women refuse to read books by men" sounds like you're looking for a reason not to sympathise.
posted by jeather at 8:30 PM on July 29, 2015 [19 favorites]


She was always thinking about how sexy she is? Really? I don't remember that at all, but I'll take your word for it, and I must say I definitely didn't react to anything in the book with arousal or even pick up on that I was supposed to. Still, as to plausibility, which is a separate thing, is the guy building tiny ships-in-bottles out of mouse bones "plausible"?

To be clear, I'm not saying "un-realism" (or whatever) precludes "male gaze" (or whatever) (see John Barth), and maybe my reading of ITCOLT is obtuse, but I do think the question is not as clearly applicable when you start getting out of a kind of modernist realist template.

Here's another one: Garcia Marquez's women are often sexily fantasizeable as hell symbolic objects, but are they failures to adequately render women? I think, for starters, that is just a much less obviously right question than for Updike or Phillip Roth or something
posted by batfish at 8:41 PM on July 29, 2015


Colm Toibin's recent Testament of Mary comes to mind as a very intimately detailed, closely observed, psychologically 'real' literary portrait of a female character (indeed, it gives depth and complexity to one of THE classic one-dimensional female characters of western myth).

I recall, a few years ago, Lisa Moore's February coming under attack for being 'too feminine' (by one of our right-wing media cranks who admitted to not even having read the book!) because it was about, you know, an ordinary woman's life. It's a common complaint about Canadian literary fiction from certain stupid corners - it's too "female." Whatever, that didn't stop February from being listed for the Booker and winning Canada Reads.
posted by erlking at 9:15 PM on July 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure that "adequately rendering women" is really the criteria for success we're talking about here. I think we're talking about stories told about women's lives, and I think it can still happen in modernist literature.
posted by vunder at 9:20 PM on July 29, 2015


Let's talk about what women write great men.

Edith Wharton!
posted by escabeche at 9:32 PM on July 29, 2015


. I think we're talking about stories told about women's lives, and I think it can still happen in modernist literature.

See, for instance, Mrs. Dalloway. Which reminds me: wouldn't The Hours be an example of an award-winning book by a man about women?
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 9:32 PM on July 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


That is a somewhat different thing, vunder. I guess I was just pivoting off of comments to the effect that men broadly don't write women well, implying not just a writing about not women's lives but a mis-portrayal of women as such, trying to think of contrary examples, and, in those candidate cases, wondering aloud whether the mis-portrayal problem could even really become active.

I guess there are many conversations you might have here...

I'm not sure what you're sayiing about modernist literature. I would suppose it has successes and failures with respect to both your problem and mine.
posted by batfish at 9:42 PM on July 29, 2015


Let's talk about what women write great men.
Edith Wharton!

I noticed that she won the Pulitzer for Age of Innocence (male central character) rather than, say, House of Mirth.

That said, in the 20s and 30s women won 11 (of 19) Pulitzers. They won fewer in the next 5 decades, and fewer in the past 25 years as well.
posted by vunder at 9:46 PM on July 29, 2015


All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, I found to be really quite terrible
n.b. this opinion is wrongsauce, I am reading it now and it is fucking great

posted by Kwine at 9:47 PM on July 29, 2015


Dunno. If I follow, you said the question of portraying women didn't seem appropriate or relevant to certain types of modernist literature you had read recently, you pivoted a few times to Kafka and Marquez, but in the examples you gave (of those I am familiar with), I think the answer is that those are not stories that deal with women's lives, but other modernist stories can and do. Innovation in form does not change that often men's stories are treated as human condition stories, while women's stories are treated as women's stories.

I'm not dissing Kafka or Marquez. I love those guys! I'm also not as picky about women's vs men's stories in my reading as I am about other elements of craft and style. I also tend not to agree with consensus (however tenuous) about which men write women poorly vs well. Further, I'm not convinced that Nicola Griffith's 3 category approach makes complete sense. for example, she includes Olive Kitteridge as "both" because there is some male POV, but I'm not sure that captures the spirit of the effort. Franzen (not in NG's analysis) also includes female POV in Corrections and Freedom, but that doesn't make them "both" in my mind either.

Anyway, I just think asking questions like "is Gregor Samza's mother adequately portrayed" goes beyond a pivot. It seems beside the point of what is discussed here.
posted by vunder at 10:10 PM on July 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


Adding to the list. Two of my favorite scifi authors - Ursula Le Guin, and Octavia Butler - are women. Many of Octavia's female characters are very well written imo. The last book I read that made me weep because of the power of its words and the terrifying beauty of its vision was Leslie Marmon Silko's Ceremony (read it last year).

That said, I am a man who tends to read books written by men :-/
posted by nikoniko at 11:25 PM on July 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


Maybe we're talking past each other. The novels I first mentioned (Auster and Markson) are not "modernist" novels. Kafka obviously is "modernism" in one clear sense, but also penumbral to various post-modernisms. My thought was that, moving into more vaporous forms of the novel, the question of well-rendered female characters seems sort of inert in some ways, maybe because character itself... I was struck by that since the two examples that came immediately to mind of good novels by men with female protagonists were in that "vaporous" category. My point about Gregor Samsa's mother was precisely that it seems like an orthogonal question whether she is well realized as a female character. It was an example of how it might generally go for some broad class of male renderings of women, I thought. So it seems like we agree about that.

What set me down the path was emjaybee's comment:

"I would be happy to hear suggestions about male authors who can write decent female characters and have no Roth or Updike or Franzen-type hangups."

I immediately thought of Wittgenstein's Mistress since I have just recently finished it, and it's great. It is written entirely as a monologue inside one woman's head, who is the only character in the novel and apparently the only person on earth. I first thought, hey, here is a great example, but then I thought, although... the question of whether she's a decent/plausible female character as such just really doesn't enter into it. That's all. Hope that clarifies where I was coming from.
posted by batfish at 11:28 PM on July 29, 2015


All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, I found to be really quite terrible
n.b. this opinion is wrongsauce, I am reading it now and it is fucking great


Or rightsauce-- tastes vary. I disliked it mightily and found it an excellent example of why I often view the Pulitzer prize winners with a jaundiced eye.

Women who write great female characters-- I just finished and loved All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews.
posted by frumiousb at 12:56 AM on July 30, 2015


Isn't the whole point of the Man Booker Prize that is given to the man who's best at booking?

The rest of the prizes, though, have no excuse other than our society's sad constant unconscious (at best) sexism. I've thought about all of my favorite books from women authors, and the only one I can think of that has only a woman protagonist is Clan Of The Cave Bear.
posted by Plutor at 2:31 AM on July 30, 2015


Because we're talking about shortlists of under a hundred, or sometimes under a dozen fucking books. It doesn't matter if there are 7 billion books that are about whatever thing you don't like reading about, and all 7 billion are written by women. Because there are definitely at least 6 books that aren't like that, and the whole point of the article is that those 6 aren't getting the awards as often as the ones from a man's point of view are.

Which is a good point to bring some bloody science into it: The Approximate Probability of an All-Male Top-10 List, courtesy of SL Huang:
If a field is 50% male, the likelihood that a Top-10 list will be entirely male is .098%.

If a field is 60% male, the likelihood that a Top-10 list will be entirely male is .60%.

If a field is 70% male, the likelihood that a Top-10 list will be entirely male is 2.8%.

If a field is 75% male, the likelihood that a Top-10 list will be entirely male is 5.6%.

If a field is 80% male, the likelihood that a Top-10 list will be entirely male is 11%.

If a field is 90% male, the likelihood that a Top-10 list will be entirely male is 35%.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:34 AM on July 30, 2015 [5 favorites]


But I've got her three "Aud Torvingen" novels on my Kindle and intend to read them fairly soon.

Those are brilliant and heartbreaking and made of awesome sauce and everybody should read them but go into them blind or you won't get their full impact.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:49 AM on July 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


Isn't the whole point of the Man Booker Prize that is given to the man who's best at booking?

Surely to the person who books men?
posted by Pink Frost at 4:01 AM on July 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


She was always thinking about how sexy she is? Really? I don't remember that at all, but I'll take your word for it, and I must say I definitely didn't react to anything in the book with arousal or even pick up on that I was supposed to. Still, as to plausibility, which is a separate thing, is the guy building tiny ships-in-bottles out of mouse bones "plausible"?

I really liked the setting of that book, but it was spoiled for me by these things:

1. Anna's self-descriptions about how she just loved to wear fishnet stockings and be sexy - they read as merely conjuring up images of her for the male reader, rather than as a woman's reflections on her body and sexuality.

2. The rape subplot - frankly, I think that male writers need to not write about rape as the primary danger/conflict for women because they do it so badly. If we hadn't had so much about how sexy Anna is, it might not have been so terrible, but the whole "that woman is just so sexy, everyone wants to assault her" narrative is so gross.

3. The scene in the library where we're assured that Anna is, yes, making sure to shave her legs before she has sex with Writer Stand-In. I would not particularly have been thinking "gee, is she going to have sex with hairy legs", what with this being a post-apocalypse setting. Again, it read very much like Auster was trying to reassure the male reader that the sex was just as sexy as it possibly could be. It's not that women don't worry about appearance and lipstick and leg-shaving even in terrible settings; it's that Anna is written so unrealistically that when she thinks about it, it's extremely male-gaze.

4. The sexy, sexy lesbianism aspect - like, of course Anna is really with Writer Stand-In, but Asylum lady is just so sexy, what are you going to do? Plus Woman Feelings, etc. Again, really male gaze.

There were moments when I could really believe in Anna - sometimes she reminded me of a woman I knew who had grown up during the collapse of the Soviet system who was very aware of and ruthless about the power and danger of her appearance, but when it got all male gaze, that was totally broken down.

The story would have been so much better if Anna were average looking, or in her forties, or if we just didn't know that she was super, super sexy. The plot could have stayed almost identical, because - as Auster is perhaps unaware - average and middle-aged women still get sexually assaulted, fall in love, have sex, are attractive to people, etc. Also, frankly, while some women may spend a lot of time thinking in unconflicted ways that they just have to be real about how sexy they are and how much they enjoy putting on the fishnets and clouding men's minds, it's not common and I think you have to do a lot of work to construct that type of character - whereas it seems to be the default man-writes-about-women mode. It's like men think "the only women who are worth writing about are the women I would really, really like to fuck - and of course, those women must spend a lot of time thinking about their fuckability, because that's what I spend my time thinking about".
posted by Frowner at 7:18 AM on July 30, 2015 [9 favorites]


I guess what I'm saying is that a character can be sort of pro-actively unrealistic - building ship models out of mouse bones, for instance - but if that character contradicts what we actually know of people, the author needs to do a lot more work to make that work.

It's like the joke about how if someone tells you that they saw the ghost of Gladstone talking to the ghost of Queen Victoria, you can be agnostic about it, but if someone tells you that when Gladstone met Queen Victoria he slapped her on the back and offered her a cigar, you know that they're lying.
posted by Frowner at 7:31 AM on July 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


Also, the part where Anna doesn't appear to worry about getting pregnant and has lots of unprotected sex in the midst of the apocalypse - that seems a bit more realistic, because people do fool things all the time, but it was difficult for me to believe that she wasn't terrified when she was pregnant. "I will be giving birth in the midst of the apocalypse" would give most women pause. If that were the only not-that-real thing, I wouldn't have noticed it, but since it went along with all the other stuff, it really jumped out at me.
posted by Frowner at 7:34 AM on July 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


I mostly don't read white male authors and haven't for at least 15 years. But it isn't political really. White men dominate the entire culture. We are constantly being shown their inner worlds and I just got bored of it/them. I'm sure some of them have some unexplored or nuanced thoughts, but what are the odds? It's just more interesting and provides a broader perspective on the range of human experience to read books by POCs and women. I get more out of it. I think mauthors for the most part aren't worth my time. When you think about it... With all their privilege it would be a real struggle to have something important to say, or to have an interesting analysis or window into human existence.
posted by goneill at 7:50 AM on July 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


Add Menolly as a favorite character: as an adolescent I read Anne McCaffrey's Dragonsong and was deeply shaped by Menolly's struggle and her inner thoughts.
posted by mfoight at 9:33 AM on July 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


Fair enough, Frowner. I can only plead that I read some of the stuff that you read as kind of "sexy pillow fight" stuff as...something else...sometimes a kind of attempted magical/ceremonial conjuring of the prelapsarian world through fetish objects kind of thing...the mouse guy is doing that too, I think...but in any case thoroughly dismal and unsexy. Moreover, I didn't even get that any of it was supposed to be sexy. The sexing seemed more akin to the dismal sexing of 1984 or something. That said, I won't battle on that one character, and your list is persuasive.
posted by batfish at 10:01 AM on July 30, 2015


Well, that's a rather stark difference!

*puts Newbery Medal on list of reasons to consider a book*
posted by heatherann at 10:25 AM on July 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


Oh, so I've been tracking every book I read this year, and I've read just over 100 since January 1, so Imma break down a little bit of it and see what's interesting:

Of the literary fiction I've read (12 books), 4 have been by men: Miller, Koch, Waugh, Tarkington; and 8 by women: Adiche, Griffith, Rowell, Ng, Essbaum, Mantel, Kidd, King. I can't say for sure why I didn't read particular books, but definitely when I look at current literary fiction on offer from male authors, I am more likely to think, "I feel like I've read this story six times already." Two of the male authors are dead (Waugh, Tarkington), while all the female authors are current. The other two male authors (Miller and Koch) were writing for Norwegian and Dutch audiences. So that's kind-of interesting to me -- apparently I find a diversity of interesting things contemporary women authors writing in English have to say to me in literary fiction, but with men I've been more drawn to proven classics or men writing in other countries.

Crime, historical, juvenile, and mystery fiction are half and half; romance (6) is all female authors. SFF (35) is fairly heavily weighted towards women but that's partly because I read two long female-authored multi-book series. Individual authors I read, male (6): Scalzi, Mieville, Perotta, Eddings, Pratchett, Weir; female (12): Leckie, Bujold, Buroker, Sherwood Smith, Hale, Olson, Itaranta, Bear, Hartman, Pierce, Byrne, LeFevers. For buzzy or well-regarded SFF my lists (over time) are pretty balanced, but I am MUCH more likely to read YA SFF by women and MUCH more likely to read trashy SFF by women.

Diving into non-fiction, I read 8 memoirs, 6 of which were by women, 1 by a man, and 1 by a man and woman. Four science books ("Emperor of All Maladies" and "Spillover" sorts of things), three by men and one by a woman. 6 histories, 3 by men and 3 by women. 8 in the loosely-defined "essay" category, 6 by men and 2 by women. Poetry is a tie between men, women, and ancient unknown authorship.

All in all, I've read 32 books by men, and 66 by women. Pretty balanced in non-fiction, but in fiction I appear mostly interested in literary fiction written by men for foreign markets, proven classics by men, and high-quality SFF by men. I'm not very interested in literary fiction written by men for the US market, or by trashy/pulpy books by men, or by anything men are writing in the YA market (do they write anything in the YA market?). I read much more widely from women in the literary realm, but my high-quality SFF reading is more balanced. My "beach read" type books (trashy/pulpy/etc.) is almost entirely by women, mostly in the areas of formulaic SFF, romance novels (trashy or otherwise), downmarket literary fiction (including chick lit), and YA.

So reflecting on this, which hasn't been any particular project to seek out particular books, just to attack my to-read pile, keep up with my book club, and read other things that interest me, I do think that literary fiction by men for the English-language market doesn't interest me that much anymore; the last few "short lists" I've looked over for major prizes (I always do, and my book club often chooses our reads from those shortlists), I've been like, "Eh, I feel like I already read this book six times," and that has been echoed by my book club, "It was really similar to that Eugenidies book we did a couple years ago" or "the plot summary makes it sound just like that Franzen from last year" or "This is like the fourth immigrant-experience-in-America book where the hero comes of age by having sex with an all-American girl, snore." In terms of high-quality (non-genre) fiction, I'm finding interesting perspectives and worthwhile reads a) from women; b) from men writing for non-English-language markets (I've read four novels by men this year written in Dutch, Norwegian, Danish, and Romanian, in translation in English); and c) in proven classics (by men and women).

My lazy/easy reading tends heavily towards women writers, but I can tell you for sure that I prefer reading lazy tropes by women to lazy tropes by men, as there's a lot more "her heart pounded at the understanding look in his eyes as he promised to help her overcome anti-women prejudice in the flying corps" and a lot less "she walked by, with her boobs boobing around, and I said to Joe, Hey, I bet I could hit that, let's go fly airplanes at things and think about boobs." Not that I object to the second (in pulpy fiction); just that I prefer my lazy tropes pitched to my personal sexuality so the boobs boobing around doesn't do it for me. I prefer shy supportive men with strong arms giving significant looks to our heroine until she's forced to make out with his face.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:47 AM on July 30, 2015 [9 favorites]


Thinking about how the Newbery medal stands out -- it's an award for children' literature, and childhood is just different literarily, isn't it? Childhood is when girls get taken seriously as readers. For me there's a little bit of a stereotype, that a smart girl will be very into reading fiction, but a smart boy will be more into reading nonfiction or doing DIY stuff. (That's somewhat based on personal experience as a librarian, but I think it's very culturally mediated.) Teenage girls don't get taken seriously as readers, and often adult women don't, either -- or at least, when I think of 'women readers' as a category, I'm more likely to think of romance novels and gossipy book clubs than Alice Munro. (Nothing against romance novels! But they certainly aren't given the same amount of cultural prestige.)

The Printz Award is the American Library Association's award for young adult fiction (Newbery covers up to age 14; Printz is 12+; yes, there's some overlap there.) And it's striking to me how male recent winners have been; the last woman to win was Libba Bray in 2010, for a book narrated by a boy. To be fair, there were some very good girl-narrated books in the years leading up to that, Jellicoe Road and The White Darkness...

I'm really interested in this question now. Why is it that girls can get taken more seriously as readers than women? Is it because you get those couple of years when girls (if they're lucky) can exist in a relatively ungendered space, before people start to assume that romance and domesticity will become the primary concerns?
posted by Jeanne at 11:08 AM on July 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


(I am trying to talk about cultural messages rather than my own personal perceptions, and I think I got a little away from what I meant to say; it's complicated because I read a lot, and I read serious literature at least some of the time, but I don't take myself very seriously as a reader, either. Because I'm doing that thing where I can't consider myself to be a serious reader unless I've read EVERYTHING IMPORTANT, which is an impostor-syndrome thing that I'd guess affects women more than men.)
posted by Jeanne at 11:15 AM on July 30, 2015


Here's another one: Garcia Marquez's women are often sexily fantasizeable as hell symbolic objects, but are they failures to adequately render women?

I will say that reading One Hundred Years of Solitude right after Fall on Your Knees did not particularly endear me to Garcia Marquez's portrayal of women: rarely becoming the POV, but existing in a semi-forgotten state.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 1:40 PM on July 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


Let me know if I'm way off base, but does anyone remember John Varley's Gaia trilogy from the late 70s/early 80s? The principal characters are female, and not until the second book do we get a sympathetic male POV character. I remember wondering for a long time if Varley was really a woman, as it seemed to me he did a good job of portraying female characters.
posted by lhauser at 7:18 PM on July 30, 2015


When I was a little girl, I absolutely refused to read any books about boys. I did not want to hear about boys. I did want to read about horses, so my father, who did the reading aloud in our household, changed the genders of Black Beauty and The Black Stallion so that I would be happy.

This has lead to a lifetime of disappointment, but I feel it's better to be disappointed by a lack of female characters in adult literature than to simply accept it as the norm.
posted by chaiminda at 5:11 AM on July 31, 2015 [4 favorites]


"Those are brilliant and heartbreaking and made of awesome sauce and everybody should read them but go into them blind or you won't get their full impact."

I just finished The Blue Place and it is indeed made of awesome sauce. So good. Immediately starting on Stay.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:31 PM on August 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


I have just finished reading The Blue Place because of this thread, and I'll echo what Ivan Fyodorovich has just said. Awesome sauce every where (which sounds odd). It is such a good book.
posted by Fence at 9:21 AM on August 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


I also read Stay and Always last week. I enjoyed and admired Stay as much or more than I did The Blue Place, but I have mixed feelings about Always. While I did read an unrelated book between the last two, I found reading all three Torvingen novels in close succession to be an emotionally exhausting experience. Mostly in a good way, but even so.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 11:10 AM on August 10, 2015


You know, all this talk of Niccola Griffith reminded me - she used to participate in a feminist SF email list that I was on (and was very charming and friendly) and around the time The Blue Place came out, she apparently got a lot of inquiries from interested women readers about whether that was her on the cover, if so was she single, etc. Of course, since actual author headshots showed her to be a handsome woman a bit in the manner of the protagonist this wasn't as wildly strange as it might have been (and certainly there's worse things than lots of queer women telling you that you seem good looking and would you like to go out some time?) but it did strike me as one of those things that people generally don't ask male writers.
posted by Frowner at 11:45 AM on August 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Oh! I have Ammonite by Niccola Griffith. But I haven't read it yet. That's a good reminder. It'll be a while until I get to it since I just started reading The Tale of Genji. I'm a slow reader, so I think I probably won't finish that before my son is eighteen.

Though, actually, I was partly inspired to start reading it by a friend who has a couple of young children. He started reading long books when he realized that no matter how long the book he was starting, his kid would probably not have learned to focus his eyes before he finished.
posted by Kattullus at 4:29 AM on August 11, 2015


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