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Lessons From a Month of Reading Only Books By Women

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Johann Thorsson

Staff Writer

Johann Thorsson is a native of Iceland, but spends much of his time in Bookland. He has lived in a few parts of the world but currently lives in Iceland with a pretty woman and a mischievous son who resembles Calvin (of Calvin and Hobbes fame) more each day. He has a complicated but ultimately useless degree in bioinformatics from a very pretty college in England. His favorite books are 1984, Flowers for Algernon and The English Patient. He hopes one day to call himself a writer without feeling like he's just fooling himself. Blog: Johann Thorsson - On Book and Writing Twitter: @johannthors

It was made on a whim at the very beginning of August. While browsing in a bookstore, I ended up with three books in my hand; two were by women and one was by a man. But then I made the decision; this month, I’m only buying and reading books by women.

And I stuck with it, like a diet. I say “diet” because I did have to consciously stick to the regimen of reading only women. I didn’t realize it at the time, but there seems to be a default switch in my head that goes to white male authors, and I think/fear that it may also be this way for others (How else do you explain the permanent space Patterson/King/Grisham/Child/Brown seem to have at the top of bestseller lists?).

Here are three favorites from my only-books-by-women month:

Broken MonstersBroken Monsters by Lauren Beukes

I picked it as my favorite for August, and not without reason. It is a disturbing read, with graphic descriptions of a mad killer’s murder victims. Beukes does a good job of blending modern technology into the book, in the way that teenagers talk to each other today (or so I imagine). There is more than a little bit of Stephen King in Beukes’ writing and I’m willing to bet her next book will be blurbed “The Heir to Stephen King’s Throne.”




carried awayCarried Away, A Selection of Stories by Alice Munro

Alice Munro winning the Nobel prize in literature finally reminded me to read some of her stories. And like so many others that read a Munro story, my main thought was “Why haven’t I read Munro before?”

Her stories, the ones I’ve read so far at least, are about women going through a period of change in their lives. The writing is excellent and it is easy to see where all the praise comes from (even for me, a guy who mostly reads fantasy and horror).




jagannathJagannath by Karin Tidbeck

Jagannath is a collection of stories by soon-to-be-quite-well-known Swedish author Karin Tidbeck. The stories are all are dark and Scandinavian. Tidbeck’s own worries that her English wasn’t good enough are unfounded; there is nothing to suggest that these stories are not written by a native English speaker. I’ll let a bit of Elizabeth Hand’s introduction sell you the book:

“I can’t think of when I last read a collection that blew me away the way that Jagannath has, or one that’s left me somewhat at a loss to describe just how strange and beautiful and haunting these tales are.”

So…. what did I learn from a month dedicated to reading only books and stories by women?

1. More of us should dedicate a month to reading books by women.

By “us,” I mean those of us whose default book setting is “white guys.” Far more books are published by men than by women, perhaps because publishers feel that books by men are a safer bet. We can affect this by making a choice when it comes to the books we buy, since how we chose to spend our money is the most effective weapon we have. I certainly aim to be more conscious from now on.*

2. There is no difference in the quality of books between the genders.

Seriously. This is not the reason women sell less than men. This is not a revelation by any means but I still feel it worth mentioning. The grittiness of Beukes’ book, the sheer quality of Munro’s prose and the otherworldly feel to Tidbeck’s stories are a good example. The success of women at the Hugos this year (best novel, best novelette, best editor, best fan writer…) further drives this point home.

* After sliding right back into white-guys-only mode for three books, I now have an all-women line-up for the next five. 


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