Fall and Winter 2013

IN THE YEAR-END BOOKS SECTION of The Globe, Pasha Malla reflects on what he calls a “gender disparity” in the literary world, which spurred his year-long determination to read as many books by women as by men.  
       Rather than digging into whether or not such a disparity does broadly exist, I thought I’d merely tot up the books I’ve read this year, starting with the past four months, to see how I came out, gender-reading-wise, a subject I have so far paid no thought to when deciding what to read. 

— David Gilmour, Extraordinary
Jerry Levy, Urban Legend
Wayne Grady, Emancipation Day
Anton Chekhov, Selected Stories
Anton Chekhov, Forty Stories
Anton Chekhov, Selected Stories and Plays
Kazuo Ishiguru, An Artist of the Floating World 
Patrick Leigh Fermor, An Adventure.
(But with the last entry I am cheating — sort of — because this biography, though full of Fermor’s own writing, is in fact written by Artemis Cooper, a woman. Oh well.)

— Alice Munro, 7 Collections of short stories
Cynthia Flood, red girl, rat boy
— Jessica Kluthe, Rosina the Midwife
Brenda Schmidt, Flight Calls
Janie Chang, Three Souls
— June Hutton, Underground
— Mary Novak, Muse

SO — works by 5 men during the past four months (though there were three Chekhov collections).
       — works by 7 different women (and there were 7 separate books by Munro).
       — One biography about a male writer (and traveller) written by a woman, which I guess actually brings the “women” side up to 8.

       Probably more than I care to admit.
       But not much more?

MAYBE I SHOULD GO BACK over the rest of the year, before coming to a conclusion.

       Taking my entire year’s reading into account, I see that of the 57 books I read (see subject headings at the top of this site for earlier posts) 17 were by male authors and 31 were by women (bearing in mind the multiples of Chekhov and Munro). 

SO THERE IT IS. Only about half the books I read in the whole of 2013 were by men. That discovery surprised me, for without the head count I would have said that the weight of “gender enjoyment” was equal. Certainly two of the worst books I read in 2013 were “best sellers” by female authors — while some of my outstanding reading experiences were created by men.

BUT I’M NOT SURE that any of this matters much. I don’t think it will change the direction my next year’s reading takes, and I don’t intend to strive for gender balance. Though it’s been interesting to see the direction my wayward hand does seem to stray when skimming the shelves of my local indie bookstore.  

MEANWHILE the 2013 selections that stand out for me most memorably are: Suite Francaise, by Irène Némirovsky, a sweepingly Tolstoyan and truly remarkable novel — then And the Mountains Echoed, by Khaled Hoseini, which I plucked from the shelf at a moment when I was again looking for the easy solace of a “best seller”, but which turned out to be so much more than that — and those seven collections of stories by Alive Munro, which I turned to again and again and again, interspersed with the short stories of Chekhov. 

AND NOW that I have been lucky enough to receive, for Christmas, a thirteen volume set of Chekov’s stories translated by the (to my mind) inimitable Constance Garnett, one might say that the “men” are heading into the new year with a leading edge.
       But I couldn’t possibly comment.  

WHICH does lead me to ring out the old with a slightly off-topic rant:
       How much more deliciously watchable the British version of the TV series House of Cards is, than the recent (and ongoing) American version.  
       The late Ian Richardson’s portrayal of Francis Urquart, the upward-murdering British Conservative party Whip, is evil dished up with Shakespearean subtly and relish; Kevin Spacey’s “Frank Underwood” is a blunt hammer.