I first wrote about the Read Women 2014 campaign last February. My year spent reading only books authored by women was easy. I was surprised by how easy. At the beginning, I read a book or two that I had read before but I soon decided that I would only read new books so I could make my experience as broad as possible. I wasn’t as successful in only reading authors I had not read before but I don’t feel at all bad about that.
I read a wide array of styles: biography, mystery, noir, literary fiction, history, memoir, horror, suspense, creative non-fiction, young adult, short story collections- whew! I read e-books, new books, used books, paperbacks, hardbacks, and one audiobook. I read books set in Shanghai, Los Angeles, Oxford, Baltimore, London, Baghdad, Dublin, Boston, and scores of other locales. Action occurred on land, on sea, in the air, and in parallel worlds. Characters included men, women, girls, boys, criminals, lawyers, fugitives, soldiers, gangsters, world explorers, murderers, ghosts, police, doctors, artists, musicians, and ice skaters. Scenes took place in mansions, tents, concert halls, graveyards, ships, farms, nightclubs, crematoriums, schools, offices, orphanages, hospitals, shearing sheds, and lots of bars. And the time periods! All over the place from contemporary 21st century to Victorian England to World War I to the swinging ‘70s and dystopian futures.
Most of the books were at least okay. I really liked a lot, loved a few, didn’t finish a couple. The ones I didn’t finish I didn’t add to my list. That was hard for me- to not finish a book. But as I get older and realize I will never be able to read all the books I want to, I’m less inclined to waste time on ones that either bore me or are filled with errors. Some books I read for pure escapist fun when I need a break from real life, some I read to learn a little something, all I read because they interested me in some way.
Some books took me by surprise- one of the best World War I books I have read so far is Maisie Dobbs, a detective story not even set during the conflict but in the interwar period. Some books took me much longer to read than others- a massive historical account will naturally take more time than a breezy mystery- and I didn’t read as many books as I thought I would but still ended up with a respectable showing.
The authors were of various nationalities and ethnicities and religions. I didn’t do any research on them to determine these characteristics but some were evident from the subject matter or previous knowledge of the author. All the books except one were originally written in English, the exception being The Murder Farm, which was translated into English from its original German.
My biggest problem with my Read Women 2014 quest was the same one I face when reading without any limits- how to read all the books that I want to read. For every book I read on my list I would add three more. Conservatively. And while I was on my year of reading only female authors my list of books to read by men has grown to gargantuan proportions. My bookshelves, real and virtual, are filled with books by men and women I have yet to read even while I buy more or add more to my “to-read” list. Cutting out all male authors for a year did nothing to curb this tendency, I just added more and more books by women.
And here’s the crux of Read Women 2014- there is absolutely no valid reason to not read women authors. Really. If you cannot find any book by a woman that you want to read it’s because you’re not only not trying but actively resisting all the great books out there. Men often seem to be resistant to female authors, suspicious of romance novels and the odiously nicknamed “chick-lit.” I have not met a man who has read (or admits to having read) Jane Eyre. Their loss. No wonder George Eliot used a pen name. If S.E. Hinton had used Susan Hinton, The Outsiders probably would have been dismissed as a teenaged love story between wrong-side-of-the-tracks Ponyboy and rich girl Cherry. Guys would’ve thumbed their noses at the tragic Dallas and scoffed at the book as “one for girls.” So my point is, if you don’t read any (or few) female authors, you’re losing out. This isn’t to dismiss or diminish male authors in any way, but if you have a whole world to explore, why would you arbitrarily limit yourself to just one hemisphere? You have an entire world, damnit, go read!
Here’s my list of books in the order that I read them. Let me know what books you read this year.
Chances- Jackie Collins
Divergent- Veronica Roth
How to Create the Perfect Wife- Wendy Moore
Unbroken- Laura Hillenbrand
Haunting of Hill House- Shirley Jackson
Carthage- Joyce Carol Oates
Pavilion of Women- Pearl S. Buck
The Wicked Girls- Alex Marwood
Alena: A Novel- Rachel Pastan
Legwork- Katy Munger
Die a Little- Megan Abbot
Gertrude Bell: Queen of the Desert, Shaper of Nations- Georgina Howell
Night in Shanghai- Nicole Mones
A Whole New Ballgame- Caryn Rose
After I’m Gone- Laura Lippman
Liar’s Club- Mary Karr
You Should Have Known- Jean Hanff Korelitz
A Man Lay Dead- Ngaio Marsh
The Ghost of the Mary Celeste- Valerie Martin
The Three- Sarah Lotz
First Comes Love- Marion Winik
The Murder Farm- Andrea Maria Schenkel
America Walks Into a Bar: A Spirited History of Taverns and Saloons, Speakeasies and Grog Shops- Christine Sismondo
Complicit- Stephanie Kuehn
Blue Monday- Nicci French
All the Birds Singing- Evie Wyld
Bones of Contention- Jeanne Matthews
The Care and Management of Lies- Jacqueline Winspear
Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots- Deborah Feldman
Lighthouse Island- Paulette Jiles
Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives- Sarah Weinman (ed.)
Demon Camp- Jennifer Percy
Maisie Dobbs- Jacqueline Winspear
In the Woods- Tana French
Their Eyes Were Watching God- Zora Neale Hurston
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory- Caitlin Doughty
The Paying Guests- Sarah Waters
Monday Mourning- Kathy Reichs
Voyage of Strangers- Elizabeth Zelvin
Queenpin- Megan Abbott
The Knife Man- Wendy Moore
Everything I Never Told You- Celeste Ng
Gaudy Night- Dorothy Sayers
The Sculptress- Minette Walters