Are you a sexist reader? Is it important to read an equal mixture of female and male authors? Is your bookcase groaning with tomes from male writers? Or does gender not play any part in the type of books you like to read?
These are important questions in the publishing world, according to organisation Vida: Women in Literary Arts, who conduct an annual round-up of exactly what percentage of new books being published are by women – and the results are surprising. It seems for every Jackie Collins or Ali Smith, there are many, many more male writers being printed.
Blogger Joanna Walsh issued a challenge for readers – #readwomen2014 – to consume more works by female authors, and Lizzy Dening has taken up the baton to read only works by women for the following year. Here's how our Reading Lady got on in June...
A bout of flu means I’ve flown through four novels this month, and happily the curse of May seems to have lifted – this time there were plenty of aces in the pack! Here are the titles I've had my nose firmly wedged into this month...
The Miniaturist, by Jessie Burton
I’m not usually one for historical fiction, but as this combined a future holiday destination (I’m off to Amsterdam next week!) with my childhood passion for dolls’ houses, I decided to give it a whirl – and I’m so glad I did. It follows young Nella as she arrives in Amsterdam to live with a much older and mega rich trader. Married life, it turns out, isn’t much cop and she’s largely isolated and bored. That is, until her hubby buys her a (two-parts awesome to one-part creepy) wedding present – a miniature replica of their home. Nella employs a mysterious miniaturist to furnish it, but is unnerved when events which occur in the tiny house are echoed in real life. I genuinely had no idea until the last page of how this story would end – and woe betide anyone who interrupted my reading. My favourite book of 2014 so far.
Reasons She Goes To The Woods, by Deborah Kay Davies
An usually structured book, Reasons She Goes To The Woods is broken into single page short stories (meaning the left-hand page is always blank – so it’s a quick read) which link together to provide a snapshot of a childhood. They follow Pearl, a rough, tough little girl who has a traumatic home life with a mentally ill mother and a father who she adores to an unsettling degree. It’s dark, beautifully descriptive and rather haunting. I was left with an uneasy feeling in my stomach whenever I picked it up. It’s great to find a book which has this sort of power, but it’s not conducive to a good night’s sleep – maybe one for daytime reading!
Big Brother, by Lionel Shriver
The author of We Need to Talk About Kevin is back, and tackling another uncomfortable issue. This time, instead of high school killings, it’s obesity which falls under her unflinching gaze. Specifically, what happens when adored older brother Edison comes to visit Pandora and her family after a few years’ absence, and she can no longer recognise him. It’s not just a few pounds; it’s the difference between taking up one seat or two during a flight. What follows is an account of just how awkward we find it to say the ‘f’ word (no, not that one) and how the elephant in the room can sometimes be a bit too literal for comfort. Pandora struggles to know how involved she should get with her brother’s health, especially when any meddling comes at a cost to her own sanity and family ties, and her decisions will keep you on tenterhooks throughout.
Friendship, by Emily Gould
Friendship is an interesting novel for anyone – including me – who is staring down the barrel of the ‘turning 30’ gun. Somewhat bleak (although often funny) it follows struggling bohemians Amy and Bev, who both live in New York, have minimal cash and whose ‘life plans’ are fluid – a scenario anyone living in London will recognise. When Bev falls pregnant after a one night stand, the pair find themselves at odds for the first time, and the book explores whether friendships forged in your twenties are still relevant as you head past the big 3-0.
This is a great summer read – easy to pick up, with enough plot to carry you through effortlessly. My main criticism is that Bev and Amy (whose p.o.v. we follow alternately) feel a bit too similar. Obviously they are bffs, so they’re never going to be wildly different, but actually their problems (pregnancy aside) felt much of a muchness, and their voices more or less interchangeable. It might have worked just as well from one character’s viewpoint.