I finally got around to watching the Pens and Prejudice episode of First Tuesday Book Club last night. It was a discussion about the perceived prejudice against woman authors. All during the show I had a comment by Germaine Greer in mind. She said male authors tend to write about how the world is, whereas female authors tend to write about how they wished the world was.
I often extrapolate Greer’s comment for science fiction into: male authors tend to write about how they think the future will be, whereas female authors tend to write about how they hope the future will be. I am yet to establish whether the original comment by Greer or my extrapolation is true, as I have not read that many books written by female authors. And I have to ask myself: why do I read very few books by female authors?
Jennifer Byrne on the show displayed some pie charts showing how the overwhelming number of books reviewed in newspapers and other publications are written by male authors. This may have some effect on me as a reader as about 15% of the books I buy are as a result of book reviews. But what about the rest?
I went through a stage of reading award-winning books, especially the Booker Prize. The panellists on Pens and Prejudice discussed the perceived prejudice many awards have against women. The Stella prize was established in Australia because of a perceived bias in the Miles Franklin Award, and there is the Orange prize for women’s writing in the UK. So maybe my bias towards male authors is influenced by the winners of awards being mostly male.
I thought one of the panellists had a good idea when he suggested an experiment where all the judges for an award are women, so we could see the gender balance of their short and long list selections.
A lot of the authors I currently read are as a result of my book buying habits of past decades where I bought a lot of books from garage sales and fetes. I selected the books primarily on whether their blurb interested me. I have always been particularly interested in apocalyptic and dystopian science fiction. Women wrote very few of the apocalyptic or dystopian novels that I picked up. So maybe women didn’t/don’t write that much dystopian fiction, preferring to write utopian visions of the future.
One of the books I picked up at a fete had a very disturbing dystopian future and had also won the Arthur C. Clarke award, that book was The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Attwood. She has since become one of my favourite authors, with her Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood novels. And I am very much looking forward to reading the third book in that series.
The Pens and Prejudice panellists discussed whether a female author could write a novel like Christos Tsiolakas’ The Slap or Jonathon Franzen’s The Corrections. Two books that I have read and very much enjoyed. I reckon Margaret Attwood could write a unique and very good version of The Slap.
I have recently read two very good science fiction novels by female authors: H.M Brown’s The Red Queen, and Kim Westwood’s The Courier’s New Bicycle. One is set in an apocalyptic future, the other in a dystopian future. So I will read female authors if I find they have written on a theme or topic I am interested in.
About 90, maybe 95, per cent of the books I have read have had male authors. Obviously part of this is because there are many more books published by male authors, but what about the rest of the disparity? Do most female authors just not write the type of book I am interested in?
Perhaps Greer is right.