Tuesday, May 3, 2011

I Like Stories About Women by Women, The End

So I need to confess something. I prefer female authors.

I've really tried to be open minded about this and read more male authors. And there are definitely some male authors I love. But the books on my shelves are overwhelmingly by female writers. I'm far more interested in stories about women. There are some exceptions. I did love Harry Potter.

I've tried to figure out why this might be. I think it might be because I'm a woman! And I also think it might be because I'm more likely to find in books stories that explore all facets of a woman's life than on television or in film. In fact, who knows? That may be the very reason women's fiction is so popular.

I'm getting tired of being told that books that might be written in a fun conversational tone or that are about women and their relationships are somehow LESS. The most recent offender was Jennifer Egan, winner of the Pulitizer Prize.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, she said this,

My focus is less on the need for women to trumpet their own achievements than to shoot high and achieve a lot. What I want to see is young, ambitious writers. And there are tons of them. Look at The Tiger’s Wife. There was that scandal with the Harvard student who was found to have plagiarized. But she had plagiarized very derivative, banal stuff. This is your big first move? These are your models?... My advice for young female writers would be to shoot high and not cower.

It's not just that she insults some well known and talented authors, here, it's that she assumes women aren't trying hard enough. If you write what is classified as women's fiction, it must be because you're willing to settle for something less than greatness. This offends me as a reader, because I happen to enjoy those books, and I happen to find value in them. It offends me as a woman, because it assumes the problem is with female authors themselves, not the industry and not the critical establishment.

It's not easy to write comedy in a way that slices to the truth of the human condition, but also makes you laugh. It's hard to write relationships in such a way that the reader feels the clanging bell of truth in their hearts.

I value a well crafted book and I think there's a lot of importance in recognizing craft. But there's even more importance, to me as a human being, to find books with heart, that address my life, and that bring me pleasure. Why am I reading if not to change, understand, grow, feel rage, hope, love, and wonder? Why should only one kind of book be deemed worthy?

So now I've outed myself. I'm more likely to pick up a book if it's by a woman. I look for female characters to help me understand my own life and also glimpse other lives. I often think female characters get better treatment in books than in other forms of media.

I want to know about you. Do you have a preference? Have you tried to combat it? Or do you honestly just not notice? How do you feel about Egan's remarks?


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