Let’s review the most significant conclusions from Part I:
- I read a lot of women
- I don’t read a lot of nonwhite authors
- I don’t read a lot of books with LGBTQ+ authors or characters
And let’s also recall the following chart, which demonstrates my clear and obvious preference for female characters written by female authors:
Of the 110 books I read last year, 85 were written by women and 25 were written by men. However, once I account for series books written by the same author, I am left with 76 individual authors, of whom 51 are female (67%) and 24 are male (33%).
Considering that I make a deliberate effort to seek out work by female authors, I’m not at all surprised to see that they make up a majority percentage of my reading material. In fact, I almost expected the percentage of female authors to be higher. I can think of one possible reason why that was not the case…
The Hugo Awards
This year I voted in the Hugo Awards for the first time. For those who might not know, the Hugo Awards are science fiction and fantasy awards (for novels, short fiction, movies, etc.) voted on by the members of WorldCon. The Hugos provide all voters with a packet (contingent upon publisher participation) with the nominated works. I made it my goal to read all of the nominated works, or at least as many as I could possibly stomach (that clarification necessary given the Rabid/Sad Puppy fiasco). Slating meant that there was a lot of frankly mediocre-to-poor work on the ballot which I would not otherwise have read (thus skewing my average review score), as well as adding a whole heck of a lot of men to my reading list. Of the fiction on the Hugo ballot, the ones already on my radar, which I intended to read, were mostly written by women. The works written by men were, for the most part, not things that I would otherwise have planned on reading. Therefore my “natural” percentage of female authors might actually be slightly higher.
Interestingly, while I read several books written by men in the past year, all of them were written by different authors. That is, I read 25 books written by 25 different men – whereas I read 85 books by 51 female authors. Also, in considering which authors I regularly read, which long series I am currently following, and which authors I would describe as “favorites”…they’re all women. So anecdotally I can say that while I do read books by men, and enjoy them, the authors that I really patronize are women.
I should note that several (many?) of the male-authored books that I read and liked this year were book one in a series — so I wonder if this was just a random quirk and if the stats would be different if I ran them over my whole library. (…I kinda really want to do this now)
Differences between Male and Female Authors
I also find myself curious about if there’s any statistically significant difference in how I rate books by male authors and books by female authors — but that would require T-tests, and 1. that’s more stats than I’m interested in doing right now and 2. I’m not sure I have a big enough dataset to support it. Something to try if (when) I do this on the full library.
I’ve heard a lot (in the general, “everybody knows” sort of way) that men tend to write male characters and women tend to write both male and female characters. (I’ve also heard that men are worse at writing female characters, which while not true of every author I actually think is generally true, and I’m getting off topic so if you want to hear why poke me on twitter or something). Given my marked selection preference for female characters, I can’t really test that hypothesis with my dataset. I would need a random selection of books to do that…(Is this going to turn into a series? I feel like this is turning into a series). Regardless, if it is true that would be another reason for my percentage of female authors read to be high.
Room for Improvement
Unsurprisingly, have high percentages of women authors (who I seek out deliberately) and low percentages of nonwhite and LGBTQ+ authors (who I don’t make any particular effort to read). With LGBTQ+ in particular there is a methodological problem there — not everyone is public about their sexual orientation and/or gender identity, so. But some are, and I can still make more of an effort to look for books by those authors. I’ve heard great things about Foz Meadow’s An Accident of Stars, which I have on hold at the library and am looking forward to reading in the new year. And just today someone on twitter shared a list of upcoming work by trans authors, some of which certainly piqued my interest.
I definitely need to do a better job of finding nonwhite authors to add to my rotation. N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season was one of the best books I read this year, and I am desperate to get my hands on the sequel (9 of 43 holds at the library, fml). But I’m absolutely certain there are lots of great authors to find.
Next Steps for 2017
Read more nonwhite authors. Read more LGBTQ+ authors. Ask the hivemind on Twitter for recommendations, or seek some diverse”best of”/recommendation lists.
Keep reading lots of women.
Possibly run some more stats projects with more data…
Most importantly, in general just keep thinking critically about what books I read and how I choose them. It’s not that there’s some rule that my book choices must reflect real-world demographics (though I do think there is inherent value in diversity); but whatever the demographics of my reading choices are, I need to own them as just that: choices.
“I only read good books” defers responsibility. It means that you’re giving up at least part of your ability to choose — books don’t exist in a vacuum. They exist in a publishing industry that is systematically biased. So: if you want to combat it, do. If you don’t, don’t — but understand what you are doing.
These are my reading goals for the new year; I encourage all of you to join me. Or at least actively choose not to.