On Xs and Ys (Chromosomes, That Is)

I’ve been reading a lot lately about writing and gender, specifically discussions about women writing genre fiction.  These discussions usually center around questions like:

  • Do readers gravitate toward male writers of fantasy/sci-fi?
  • Why are women continually left off Best Of lists despite often winning an equal share of annual fantasy/sci-fi awards?
  • Are female authors taken less seriously?
  • Can readers really be gender-blind when choosing books?

I don’t have all the answers–it’s a pretty complex subject–but I definitely believe there is a bias and that’s a problem.

But I also was under the impression that my own library over the years has been skewed male.  In terms of sheer numbers, this is probably true and I think it largely has to do with the fact that books by male authors are more likely to get hyped/displayed prominently/etc.

However, as I thought back to the authors who have influenced me most, I came to realize that they are predominantly women.  I don’t think this says anything in particular about me or these authors, I just think it’s an interesting observation.

And who are those authors, you ask?

Let’s do this in approximate chronological order:

  • Lindsey Davis – Her Marcus Didius Falco mysteries were a staple on my bookshelf at an age when they were most definitely inappropriate for me.  She was the first author, as far as I remember, who I wanted to emulate.
  • Mary Renault – She wrote books about Alexander and Theseus; I didn’t stand a chance.  Her subject matter and her treatment of it transcended decades and have stayed with me.
  • Colleen McCullough – I swallowed her Masters of Rome series whole and asked for more.  Not only did she introduce me to Sulla, her representation of Julius Caesar is Caesar, and I will insist upon this most fiercely.
  • Margaret George – The Autobiography of Henry VIII: With Notes by his Fool, Will Somers is, for me, the epitome of brilliant historical fiction and it’s a bright light in an extremely saturated section of the bookstore (hello explosion of Tudor-era books).  Together, George and McCullough cast a shadow I am glad to stand in.

The books that have influenced me the most (perhaps I should say, that have stuck with me) make up a–mostly–different list, which I think is intriguing and also fitting.  After all, my writer brain and my reader brain are different beasts.  Here, we find that the men come out slightly ahead.  Again, I don’t think this has to mean anything, but I’d be interested to know what other people’s lists look like.

  • The Scarlet Pimpernel – Baroness Orczy
  • The Things They Carried – Tim O’Brien
  • Hamlet – William Shakespeare
  • The Iliad – Homer
  • The Silmarillion – J. R. R. Tolkien
  •  The Autobiography of Henry VIII: With Notes by his Fool, Will Somers – Margaret George

By the way, is this a short list?  I feel like it’s a very short list.  Should I have more books on this list?  Am I paranoid?  Perhaps that’s something to ponder in another post.

My qualms aside, this was a thought-provoking exercise.  Not in the least because picking the 4 authors was a lot easier than coming up with 6 titles.  Does it answer any questions about authors and gender?  Most certainly not.

C’mon, what were you expecting?




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