June 17, 2011
I was at a signing last year when an older gentleman came up to my table while people were dispersing. During the Q&A I had mentioned Lois McMaster Bujold as one of my influences — the Vorkosigan saga is my model on how to write an ongoing series, and everything I know about writing a series I learned from her books. So this guy comes up to me and says, “You need to thank Lois, because she’s the reason I started reading your books.”
I said, “Oh?” wondering what the line of connection was between our books, because other than me learning how to write a series from them they don’t have much in common.
He said, “Yes. I never read books by women authors, then I read one of Bujold’s by accident because I thought her name was LOUIS. Before that, I refused to read any book by a woman. But hers was just so good!”
I stared at him, more than a little horrified, and I put on my friendliest smile when I said, “That’s terrible. You know that’s terrible that you wouldn’t read books by women, don’t you?”
Guy: “Sure, I know that now. Now I read lots of books by women!”
So, happy ending there. First, thank you Ms. Bujold for having just ambiguous enough a name that you converted at least one person to reading books by women.
Second, this is how gender disparity happens. This is how more male authors get reviewed than female authors, and how more men win book-related awards than women. Read Nicola Griffith discussing it here and here. We can argue about access and recognition, but the truth of the matter is there are people out there who flat out refuse to read writing by women, for whatever reason. (The gentleman above couldn’t articulate why he wouldn’t read books by women. Probably because he realized that was a really stupid stance to take.)
If you want to read more writing by women, I have some recommendations for you, in addition to Lois McMaster Bujold and Nicola Griffith: Robin McKinley, Patricia McKillip, Kage Baker, Holly Black, Ursula K. Le Guin, Kelly Link, Sylvia Plath, Connie Willis, C.J. Cherryh, Julie Czerneda, Sarah Zettel, Patricia Briggs, Ellen Kushner, Cherie Priest, Ekaterina Sedia, Catherynne Valente, Vonda McIntyre, Nancy Kress, Angela Carter, Jane Austen, Mary Shelley, Kate Chopin, Virginia Woolf, Flannery O’Connor, Christine de Pizan, Annie Lamott, Barbara Ehrenrecih, Vicki Leon… I’m sure you can think of a few, too.