Gendered reading

2013 has been a busy year for me and so I have written less. The first bunch of months were spent cramming academic monograph after academic monograph into my brain in preparation for my comprehensive exams and the next bunch were spent flailing about in search of a dissertation topic. I have, though, read twenty-three books off my non-academic reading list. The authors of these books span three centuries, represent ten nationalities, wrote in seven different languages, and include five nobel laureates.[1] Not one of those books was written by a woman.

Nor is this a new development. There are a few books by women that have a special place in my heart–Mists of Avalon, The Sunne in Splendour, to name two–but these tend to be the exceptions. None of the books on my list of top books, up to 30 at my next update, were written by a woman and even the ones by women that I like aren’t that close to the list.[2]

When I noticed this trend earlier this year I looked for lists of great books by women I could add to my list. I did find some books to add, but two things jumped out. First, there were much longer lists of books written by men and, second, many of the books by women looked entirely unappealing to me. I am sure that some of them are really well written, but excellent prose only goes so far. I have no real answer as to why more books by women don’t appeal to me. Even speculating about genre or intended audience or subject matter as a turnoff for me comes from a place of spectacular ignorance.[3]

My current favorite authors are George Orwell, Ernest Hemingway, Orhan Pamuk, David Foster Wallace, and Kazantzakis, and my favorite books includes a number of other books that are satirical, rough and raw, and often have a political bent. I also have a soft spot for fantasy and historical fiction, though I don’t usually judge them on the same score card as literature. Too, I generally dislike most sentimental novels.[4]

The list is a literary gentleman’s club, but not intentionally so. I have never once turned away a book for fear of cooties or a perceived threat to my manhood. All I ask is that a book entertain and engage me. At this point I could continue to speculate on what I don’t read more books by female authors, but let me instead put out a request. At the bottom of this post is a list of books by female authors currently in my queue. Given my reading proclivities, what books by female authors should I add to the list? Are there any of the ones on my list that should bubble to the top?

In addition, I am interested to know if other people have encountered a similar gendered reading slate–or if others see some reason why it might crop up.

The List:
The Flamthrowers, Rachel Kushner
Burial Rites, Hannah Kent
The Interestings, Meg Wolitzer
Almost English, Charlotte Mendolson
Unexploded, Alison Macleod
Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte
Jenny, Sigrid Undset
A Gentle Hell, Autumn Christian
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Anita Loos

I am also aware of and will get around to reading Ursula K. Le Guin and Margaret Atwood and finishing the books by Colleen McCullough, Sharon Kay Penman, and Mary Renault at some point.

[1] One of my reading goals is to read something by all the Nobel laureates.

[2] I should also note that here I am only talking about Literature, some of my favorite academic books are written by women.

[3] A friend once commented to me that I like my authors to be somewhat cracked and damaged, so maybe the female authors are too stable as people to keep my attention.

[4] Insert joke about men not having emotions here.

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