Thursday, April 02, 2015

A Look Back at 2014: Or, Reading and Gender

This is a long overdue article, and one which I meant to write in early to mid January.  Of course, my son was born three weeks early and he has sapped all sorts of mental energy.  You'll note that I continue to use him as an excuse for things. I'm not sure exactly how long I can pull that off, but I'll keep trying.

In July I wrote an article about gender, and what I read.  I read, on average, perhaps 120 books each year.  Even with the kid, I'm on track to at least do that again this year (though, my video game playing has significantly decreased).  As mentioned in the previous article, over the last six years the percentage of books I have read in a given year which were written by women ranged from 26% and 45%. I noted at the time that the 45% was my progress so far in 2014 and that most years I was somewhere in the 30% bracket.

So, for all the years I have paid attention to the issue of gender, and what I read, I have done a rather crappy job at changing my personal status quo.

Let's actually look at what I did in 2014.  The first number represents the count of books written by women, the second is the total books read during that month.

January: 4/14
February: 8/13
March: 7/14
April: 3/6
May: 6/16
June: 3/9
July: 5/10
August: 3/10
September: 4/8
October: 4/9
November: 8/14
December: 7/12
2014: 62/135 (45.92%)

In the end, I stuck right around the same 45% I was at in July, though had I not tanked August I could have been a lot closer to a 50/50 balance. So, given my history of really only reading female authored books three out of every ten times, it's a huge improvement.  It's not perfect, but there is no perfect number. 

There is no perfect number.  The reason I'm tracking this is that a number of years ago I ran across several conversations people about what they were reading, and what does it say if you are only reading books written by men?  Hopefully, it means that most of those books you are reading are damn awesome and entertaining and you get full value out of them.  As you should.

I noted in July that

I only know about what I know about.  Until I had read Elizabeth Bear, I never knew just how much I would love her writing and how she consistently writes novels that blow me away.  Until I just read Katherine Addison after years of being aware of Sarah Monette (her real name) but never reading Monette's books, I would never have known just how good The Goblin Emperor was.  Insert any writer you want there.  Until I read Carrie Vaughn, I turned away from the thought of the modern urban fantasy / paranormal romance with werewolves and vampires.  The list can go on (and on) with any number of writers in any genre, male or female, because so often you just don't know until you give a book a go.

That's an important point that still stands.  I'm not trying to hit a quota, but I've had a goodly number of women on my "to read" list for a decade without ever picking their books up.  Same with those by men (sorry, Peter Hamilton and Alastair Reynolds, I just keep not picking your books up even though I want to).  This is about broadening and about discovering awesome writers I really should have been reading all along. C. J. Cherryh?  Yeah, she's friggin fantastic but I never read her until 2009 after more than a decade of her being on my radar. 

I'm still looking for new shiny things to read, and while I said that I'm not trying to hit a quota, I am consciously trying to read more women.  Not because I think doing so is somehow "good for me" or that I'm going to score points with people whose opinions I value, but because there are a wealth of awesome stories out there and if I'm only reading men, I'm missing out on a lot.  I'm going to read more of everything. Scott Lynch, Peter Brett, Brian McClellan: I'm reading all of you this year. Kate Elliott, Katherine Kerr, Robin Hobb: I'm also reading all of you this year. 

As a side note for where I'm at in 2015 so far, for the first time ever I have read more women than men. I remark on it because of all those years the percentage swung dramatically the other way.  This year, it swings in a different direction. Because reading is a conscious choice and there are plenty of books and authors who I know are going to be my favorites and that I'm going to love with a passion.  I just have to read them. 

As a further side point: I remember being in high school and my father telling me that he made the town librarian fairly mad because she would recommend him books and he told her that he didn't like books written by women. I was shocked and a little upset at the time. Our librarian, who happened to be a woman, was an awesome lady and the best librarian a fledgling geek could have - and she recommended fantastic books written by both men and women. But I never understood cutting off half the population just like that. I also didn't understand how he could tell the difference, except by a name on the cover.  Still don't.  I didn't get into the fight with him because it wasn't worth it, but it was something that I've remember with a "nope, not going to be like that" firmly planted in my head.  I'm going to read it all. 


Renay said...

Holy moly. I find 45% an amazing ratio given the fact that I used to know the ratios of people around me offline (before I learned to stop asking, ha ha). That's really great, so congrats! I know that the habit of reaching for whatever is hard to break. I'm also really impressed with your reading totals. I could probably read that many books, but I read a lot of fanfic, too.

Your to-read list is similar to mine! I have Cherryh on my list (I tried Cyteen last year but was in a bad place for it), I've barely dented what I lovingly call Mt. Elliott, I'm behind on Lynch, and I've never touched Reynolds or Banks. THERE'S TOO MUCH STUFF. Then this year the books being published in 2015 I wanted to try topped 50 before the year even started (sob).

Congrats on your 2015 ratio, too! :D I went to look at my numbers for this year. If I measure by item, I have 42 women and 52 men. But if I go by unique author, it's 26 women to 19 men. Since I'm reading One Piece and a bunch of comics with male artists (who I count as part of the creative team) it's skewing my numbers wildly. But I'm pretty happy with them overall, especially since with One Piece, Oda is Japanese. :)

Kate Elliott said...

Joe, I still use my kids as an excuse and they're in their mid-20s. You can milk this for years.

Joe said...

Thanks! I was satisfied with the 45% last year because it was still a marked increase over previous years. But despite blogging about it and talking about it and thinking about it, it wasn't until the very end of the year that I hit any month over 50%.

I looooved Cyteen and am generally a big fan of whatever Cherryh I read (though, I didn't quite connect with Downbelow Station). I've never read Banks, but I have five Reynolds novels at home. I've read 2. I'm somewhere in the middle of Hamilton's Commonwealth Saga, but it's been years since I read any of it. I'm only two books into Elliott, The Burning Stone will be in the next couple of months.

I do only track prose books. I read a bunch of comics (I'm in the middle of a Marvel superhero kick, which surprised me), but I don't look at what's going on there. I'm limited to what my library has and there are some newer female authored books I want to read, but I'd like there to be more collections before I hit book 1. Specifically I'm looking forward to getting to McConnick's Bitch Planet and her Captain Marvel and Pretty Deadly books.

Joe said...

Kate: Oh, thank you! I'll at least run this through high school, I think.

Renay said...

I count comics because otherwise it would be dudes as far as the eye could see, and it helps remind me to keep an eye out for comics written and drawn by women (to either buy eventually or have the library request), too. But is it a TON of work, I will admit.

Are you going to read Ms. Marvel? #PEERPRESSURE (Unless you have, in which case disregard this overt attempt to bully you into doing so using the social capital of our relationship).

Joe said...

I'm a little concerned with the amount of dudes on my comic reading list, and I hesitate to admit that I seldom look at who the artist is unless I'm looking to blog about the comic (which is seldom).

Even before the Hugo announcement, I was absolutely going to read Ms Marvel. It might just have been a year out because of where I'm at in my Marvel reading (which is, slowly working its way to what is being published today). Now it'll be much sooner, though I want to clear the decks of what I have at home a bit before I do so.

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