This year is almost halfway over, and yet I’ve only read one (!!!) book by a male writer: EXIT WEST by Mohsin Hamid. Of course, this doesn’t count the assigned reading for my British literature class this past semester, which represented the sexist literary canon of the nineteenth century. I did buy some books by men, but I haven’t picked up any of them because a book by a female author always piqued my interest more. Even the advanced copies I’ve requested have been written by women, with two exceptions: A TERRIBLE COUNTRY by Keith Gessen and OHIO by Stephen Markley. The best part is the fact that it’s purely accidental; I didn’t plan on focusing on reading women writers this year, it just happened.
It’s difficult to capture why my reading has changed this way. In high school, I adored young adult writers like Sarah Dessen, Morgan Matson, Stephanie Perkins, Jennifer E. Smith, etc., but I enjoyed John Green just the same. My tastes definitely catered to the women writers but never intentionally. (I think the majority of authors in the young adult genre are women, but that’s a story for a different day.) As I matured into reading fiction and literary fiction, I started with Celeste Ng, Donna Tartt, and Hanya Yanagihara (some of the heaviest hitters, I know). I also read Anthony Doerr and Nathan Hill, but my excitement for new books was mostly for those written by women. I picked up Michael Chabon, George Saunders, and others for the immense praise and recognition their novels received, but I’m not sure I would’ve been that excited for them had they not been so revered by my bookish friends. And I certainly wasn’t excited before their releases, like the dozen or so early copies I’ve requested by women writers so far this year.
Of course, it’s important to mention I have absolutely nothing against male writers, or any kind of writer in that case. I’m currently reading THE HEART’S INVISIBLE FURIES by John Boyne and I’m absolutely loving it. To me, the writing and the story are the most important aspects of a book. However, I also think it’s time to support every type of writer imaginable, no matter the gender, race, religion, sexuality, etc. Because wouldn’t it be boring if every book we read was by a straight white man? If we don’t support diverse authors, then we’ve got multiple problems on our hands: (1) that literature is valued by how white a person is, (2) that not every reader will be able to identify with a book, and (3) that writers will see only white men succeeding in the book world, and they’ll stop writing if they don’t fit that description.
All of this brings to mind the #ReadMoreWomen campaign by Electric Lit, which aims to diversify our reading lists and start a conversation on our white-male ideals on literature. It mentions the sexism behind The New York Times’ “By the Book” column, which, if you aren’t familiar, is basically a series of mini interviews with writers. Most of the writers featured are men, but lately they’ve been trying to up their game and include more women (which is something you really shouldn’t have to work that hard to do). Recently, I read Lauren Groff’s By the Book, and I think her thoughts perfectly sum up the importance behind reading both male and female writers. Groff says,
“When male writers list books they love or have been influenced by- as in this very column, week after week- why does it almost always seem as though they have only read one or two women in their lives? It can’t be because men are inherently better writers than their female counterparts . . . And it isn’t because male writers are bad people. We know they’re not bad people. In fact, we love them. We love them because we have read them. Something invisible and pernicious seems to be preventing even good literary men from either reaching for books with women’s names on the spines, or from summoning women’s books to mind when asked to list their influences. I wonder what such a thing could possibly be.”
I’ll leave it at that.