Reading with Author Blinders On

Remember that kerfuffle last summer over certain female authors complaining that certain male authors got more publicity than them? Or, in fact, that in major news outlets, male authors are consistently favored over female authors? Remember last week when said kerfuffle made a re-appearance?

I'm not out to voice opinions on one side of said kerfuffle or the other. I think both sides have merit, and I think one of the beauties of social media and the blogging network is that everyone gets to have--and voice--an opinion. (I do wish we could all play nice, however, as said kerfuffle sometimes gets hackles raised.)

While I am no major literary news outlet, said kerfuffle got me thinking about my own reading preferences. Do I read more male authors than female? I'd never really thought about it. Turns out I do: in 2011, I read 43 books written by male authors compared to just 29 written by females.

In order to know that number, I had to create the worlds nerdiest spreadsheet to tally my reading statistics. (In case you're interested, I also read 49 print books and 3 e-books and listened to 21 audio. I started 8 books that I did not finish, and 7 of the books on my list this year were re-reads.) The fact that I had to look at cold hard statistics in order to glean the fact that I trend toward male writers says one very important thing to me: that these decisions were not conscious. At no point in time did I stop and think to myself, "That book is written by a female. I should read it." (Or the inverse, of course).

Naturally, when I read a book like Gilead, which was written by a woman but narrated by an aging male priest, or Letter to My Daughter, which was written by a man but narrated by a mother, I often comment on the skill of the author in pulling off so completely a voice so foreign from their own experience. But these are observations on completed books, rather than deciding factors in what to read.

I select books by the cover, by word-of-mouth, by subject, by back-cover blurb, by captivation of the first chapter, or by opening the book at random and selecting 10 pages to read. I read books that are recommended to me, whether by fellow bloggers or by friends and family, books that are given to me, and books that are loaned to me. Rarely, if ever, does the gender of an author play a part in my decision to read a book. I think about my next read in terms of the language it will present, the subjects and themes I will encounter, the setting and the experience of reading it. These things, of course, are shaped by the author, but examples like Gilead and Letter to My Daughter are written proof that the author's gender and own life experience are not limitations for a book. The book, ultimately, stands on its own, apart from the author that created it.

I know I may be alone in this sentiment. I know there are bloggers out there who make a point to read more female writers, or non-white authors, or authors who are not from the United States, in order to keep their reading well-rounded. I commend that dedication. Really, with such a wealth of literature to choose from, selecting books by a set of specifications is challenging (just look at the long list of books that didn't meet my 2011 reading goals and you'll see what I mean).

So what about you? Do you read based on author attributes? Do you have reading goals or participate in challenges to meet these goals? Am I the only one who reads with author blinders on, or are there others out there like me?

With that, I'm off to spend Sunday morning with a new book. I haven't yet decided what it will be, but I will be picking based on the book, not the gender of the author that wrote it. At least consciously--I'll leave it to Freud to analyze what all of this says about my subconscious.


  1. I read more male authors then female - in fact significantly more. And you're not the only one to make a nerdy spreadsheet, I did too... complete with pie charts.

    I'm glad you are another that reads more male authors then women, I was starting to feel slightly alone. I don't read a book based on the author's gender, skin colour or sexuality. I read it because it sounds interesting or it's been recommended.

    However, I do recognise in myself that I am suspicious of female authors. I was looking through the bookshop the other week and the only books I picked up were by men - the few I picked up by women (of authors I didn't already know) I put down due to not being interested in them.

    The cover does play a big part - and it does really annoy me that female authors are often given the most dreadful (IMO) covers that I am personally, not attracted to. I am also sure that the book descriptions are also different - different emphasis on plot points for instance, different more whimsical tone.

    This does in part bother me - should I be more pro-active about this? Should I put aside my disgust for pink, pastel, wishy washy covers? Should I be angry that the publishing industry segregates women into non-literary genres, whereas if a man were to write a book on the same subject - it'd probably be seen as much better?

    I'm just a bit confused. I want to read a wider range of books - for myself as a reader but not for wider political reasons or because I'm a female.

  2. I did the same thing, too--tallying my reading habits, that is. And, of course, I realized that I read many more novels by men than women. But I'm not alright with that, and I have decided to make a more concerted effort to pick up books by women--and certainly they don't all fit under the pick, pastel, wishy-washy covers marketing people end up giving them. Actually, last summer I read a great article by a Toronto writer (Stacey May Fowles) on how difficult it is for women writers to avoid that unimportant-looking pink cover (

    There are so many under-read but amazingly talented female authors out there, and this summer I made the conscious decision as a book blogger to promote them more than I had been. That doesn't mean I don't still read a lot written by men, but I'm just trying to balance the scales a bit more. I think the fact that the gender-bias in our reading is so unconscious might be part of the problem. It might seem silly to make a spreadsheet, but it's important.

  3. I read largely for premise and what "calls to me" at that moment. Whatever that means. I used to find that my reading leaned heavily toward male authors. It's become more split in the last few years -- not because I've tried to accomplish this feat, it's just a mood thing apparently.

  4. Like you said: there are readers who try to read more books by women, there are readers who try to read more books by non-whites, and there are readers who try to read more internationally. I'm almost one of the latter (mostly because I read in more than one language), rarely paying attention to the gender of the author I read. But running the stats shows me that about 40% of the books I read are by women, so I'm not concerned - not yet. There are a lot of things to say on the gender issue, but I don't think the percentage of books read by women vs. men should necessarily be first place (particularly not when there isn't that wide a margin).

    I don't read by goals of any kind because I'm incapable of reading by goals. Even when it's one book ahead of time. I can vaguely say, "I want to read that book sometime soon" but it means nothing... So I guess there are a few of us out there.

  5. Fiona - Great point about the covers. And I'm with you on the confused state. I've identified this trend in my own reading, but I'm not necessarily sure yet how it will shape future reading, if at all. I tend to read on a whim (unless a book is assigned for review), and I've done poorly with my self-set goals to-date.

  6. Liz - You're right, a large part of the problem is that it is unconscious. Thanks for the link about the cover design, too. As much as we say we don't judge a book by its cover... everyone does, to some extent. The cover is a message telling readers what the book is and what it is about, however subtly.

    Andi & Bibliobio - I'm clearly not very good at the goals thing, either. My list this year is as much off-goal as on-goal. I read on a whim (with the exception of reviews due by a certain date), depending on my mood, what's on my shelf/in my hand, etc.


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