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?