Reading Women in 2014

This week, analysis of 40,000 active Goodreads users (20,000 men and 20,000 women) revealed that readers prefer books by authors of the same gender. The results found that women rate books written by female authors more highly than those written by men and 90% of the 50 most read books by men were written by men.

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Surprising? Not really. But while polls like these are always going to be an interesting talking point, more detailed analysis could tell us so much more. It’s no surprise that thousands of men don’t rush out to buy the latest book in Sophie Kinsella’s Shopaholic series but I suspect other female authors such as Hilary Mantel attract a more diverse audience. Goodreads have said they will release more statistics about specific genres soon but categorising books will inevitably be subjective. The same issue applies to the ratings system with some users more likely to award five stars to a book they liked rather than loved. Some may have exaggerated or even lied about which books they have finished and how much they enjoyed them.

Moreover, there is little information available about the demographic of the participants in the poll and other important data such as exactly how many books they have read. The results focus on books published in 2014 rather than the general reading habits of Goodreads users from this year. It would also be interesting to know which books were more likely to be purchased than borrowed.  I could go on. Needless to say, the analysis of these results is somewhat limited by the absence of this data and numerous other factors.

The poll itself was inspired by The Year of Reading Women or #ReadWomen2014 campaign launched by author Joanna Walsh which aims to encourage more people to read books written by female authors. Like Walsh herself, I didn’t set out to read books exclusively by female authors in 2014, but looking at my reading from this year, it transpires that I’ve read a similar number of books by male and female authors across a reasonably broad selection of genres. From the 45 novels I have reviewed so far this year, 24 have been written by women (I’m including ‘The Silkworm‘ by Robert Galbraith aka J. K. Rowling as a female author by the way, even though Goodreads have counted Galbraith as a male author in their survey). Furthermore, three of the non-fiction books I’ve reviewed were written by men and I’ve read another three written by women.

Many Goodreads users have commented that they don’t pay any attention to the author’s gender when choosing a book. However, the survey reiterates that readers will inevitably drift towards books about subjects they find interesting or experiences they can relate to, hence male and female dominance across different genres both as readers and writers. Either way, a campaign which shows that not all female authors write chick lit and makes a valuable contribution towards redressing the gender balance on the usually male-dominated literary scene is ultimately a good thing.

Have you been reading more books by women this year? Whether you have or not, this list on Joanna Walsh’s blog is a good place to start for those looking for some inspiration.

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11 Comments

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11 responses to “Reading Women in 2014

  1. I definitely don’t intentionally read books by women exclusively, but the more I think about it the less I can think of books I have read by male authors. I mean, I read a Sparks book, but mostly because I was accosted to by my grandmother. Ha I think I will be making a point to read more books by male authors soon! I do have The Kite Runner on my list to read soon, as well as C. S. Lewis.

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  2. This reminds me a bit about the splits in my book group, which thankfully and interestingly, is 50/50 male female. I can find this a bit intimidating as the men have different tastes. The main difference I find is that the men seem to want their literature to be more direct, and to be *about* things while the women tend to be happier with books that noodle around with thoughts and explore feelings and causes. I’m thinking in particular of The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud, which the men absolutely hated, because of the passivity of the main character, and the women (most of us) liked.

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  3. kaggsysbookishramblings

    Interesting. I tend to distrust statistics and the blanket reading of chick-lit probably obscures things. Also, mainstream writing by men is often rated more highly than that by women which is just branded as, well, chick-lit in a derogatory fashion. Personally, I choose a book by whether I want to read it or think I’ll like it regardless of sex – and I *do* read a lot of classic women authors.

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    • Yes, different genre preferences is what really tips the balance and this has had an impact on the perception of literary fiction written by women too. It was very telling that about 95% of the audience at the Women’s Prize for Fiction events I’ve been to were female.

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  4. Interesting post. I’ve been keeping track of my reading this year on a page on my blog and it turns out that of the 48 books I’ve read so far this year, 29 have been by women, which is 60.4%. My two favourites though were The Poisonwood Bible by Kingsolver and The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber, so one of each!

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  5. Hmm, I went back three years, roughly I read 58% male and 42% female authors, but this will be skewed by the fact that I am researching Far East POWs.

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