As of 20 May 2019 I have read 40 books for the year. Let’s take a look at some statistics:
- 7/40 or 17.5% were written by women
- 29/40 or 72.5% were translations
- 4/40 or 10% were by Nobel Prize winning writers
- 5/40 or 12.5% were fantasy novels
Before we discuss the elephant in the room, I will say that, broadly speaking, I am definitely pleased with the number of translations. I aim to keep that number high, and really it’s the fantasy novels that tend to drag it down, as they are very often written by people writing in English, very often by men, and very often by Americans. Not always, but it’s a clear difference to the majority of the literature that I read.
I started the year quite heavily focused on fantasy, which I have put down to wanting to ease into the year with some books that weren’t going to challenge me and which would ensure that I started the year strong in terms of page- and book-count. And I did, or near enough. But at the same time, I would like fantasy to challenge me more, to push me. I recognise that this is largely due to the kind of fantasy I tend to read – the fantasy of my youth, of nostalgia, of memory. Of my teenage years, when I had no taste whatsoever. Sometimes I wander down more interesting paths, but so far, not this year.
In terms of translation, I spent a good chunk of March reading Roberto Bolaño, because I love his work and I wanted to celebrate my birthday in some way. So that was the way. Curiously, I have not read a single work by W. G. Sebald this year, and only one by Enrique Vila-Matas. Very often these works dominate my year, and yet here we are, close to halfway, and not much to speak of.
Ok, so the elephant in the room. 17.5% of all books read this year so far being women is just not good enough. I haven’t put enough effort in here, and that’s really all there is to say. That number should be much higher, nearer to 50%, but it isn’t. I could explain it away by saying that I don’t own anywhere near as many books written by women as I do by men, but isn’t that also part of the problem?
(I will note that since writing this I have read one more book, and it was by a woman, but even still).
Consequently I’m going to make a great push over the next month or so to even those numbers out a little more. I have Rachel Cusk’s wonderful Outline Trilogy at hand, and while I’ve read the first two I haven’t yet read the third, and this is, I think, a fine time to read the full trilogy.
But I do fully recognise that I need to read more widely and regularly, and that I am neglecting a significant part of literature by doing so. I have the books. I have them – translated writers, prize-winning writers, big books, small books. I own them, they are there.
Time to act.