This blog started as a small project undertaken by me – a reader, a worrier, a woman, and a mother – to spend one year of my life reading only the works of women. Always eager to learn and, especially, to read more, I wanted a way to expand my reading horizon and to push myself creatively. The experiment has been a great success and has been my safe haven during an uncertain year.
Going forward I will continue to document my literary journey as I endeavor to become a ridiculously well-read human being. Part of that journey will include probing what I mean by “well-read”. Over the course of 2016, I reviewed countless lists, books about books, and literary prescriptions, always disappointed but never surprised by the lack of diversity represented among the “must-read” lists. Take for instance a classical canon like Clifton Fadiman’s “Lifetime Reading Plan”. Some folks argue that historical bias – misogyny since time immemorial – is the cause for its measly inclusion of women (7% of the recommended works were by women), since Fadiman had attempted to extend his list through the ancient written word. However, when Fadiman composed an addendum of modern and contemporary authors worth noting, women only made up 14% of the list. A stack of more prosaic “Read Before You Die” compendia ranged from 15% to a slightly less deplorable 33%, with most in the low 20s. Both the Booker and Pulitzer Prizes for literature come in around 30% female awardees. And so, the gender gap persists, despite the proven brilliance of innumerable women writers and the demonstrated dominance of women among readers. What can’t be calculated as easily from such lists is racial and ethnic representation, but I would wager my beloved book shelves that it is woefully inadequate and deeply slanted in favor of white men, particularly given the limitation that I live in the US and read in English.
Excuse me while I readjust my teetering soapbox… there. What all of this is meant to say is that I intend to continue to apply conscientious choice in my reading selections. Trusting publicity, critics, and historical selection is clearly not sufficient. As one of the sage characters of Ya’a Gyasi’s “Homegoing” instructed,
“‘We believe the one who has the power. He is the one who gets to write the story. So when you study history, you must always ask yourself, Whose story am I missing? Whose voice was suppressed so that this voice could come forth? Once you have figured that out, you must find that story too. From there, you begin to get a clearer, yet still imperfect, picture.'”
I am excited to continue to seek out the voices too often shouted down. More than ever, I feel a sense of purpose in focusing on, elevating, and sharing these voices.