Tuesday, December 20, 2011

What I'm reading in 2012, part I

It started when I read two books in a row that I like. One I enjoyed, one I really loved, which is why I'm not going to call them out by name. Both books featured mostly male casts of characters. In one, the only female character was the love interest. (Literally one other woman had any lines; her role was the equivalent of Clerk #3.) The other novel had three speaking roles - again the love interest, and the other two defined by their sexual relationships with male characters.

And I thought to myself, I'm tired of this.

I can't condemn any one book for failing the Bechdel test, or for being about Teh Menz. Sometimes you just want to write a book set in a monastery or a boys school. Sometimes I want to read those books.

The problem is, and this is the Cliff Notes version of Sociology 101, that individual choices are influenced by society, and when you add everything up, that finger-weight of pressure means a huge tilt in that direction. In the aggregate, fiction suffers from a serious case of The Smurfette Problem, aka the Princess Leia Problem, aka Trinity, aka Lt. Uhura ... you know, the there's a a bunch of dudes, and one dudette. Other times, there are lots of chicks - because all the main characters have love interests.

Of course, there are both men and women out there writing fiction with fantastic female characters. But there aren't enough of them (either writers or characters), and sometimes I find it a little wearying. I also wonder, how much of this is the authors I seek out? How much of it is the publishing industry? How much of it is society? How much of it is biology?

So, I wondered, what would it be like to read only female authors? How would the experience be different - how would gender be represented? What else would be different? Well, I thought I'd find out.

That's right: In 2012, I'm only going to read novels by women.

A few quick parameters: I do specify novels rather than "books" because my job requires me to keep up with academic literature regardless of the author's gender. And I haven't yet figured out if I'm going to be strict about short stories. I won't, for example, seek out a "year's best spy stories" anthology, but if Tor's free online story of the week is by a man, what then? I mean, hey, free!

In a way, this is just a stunt, no different from supersizing myself or living Biblically for a year, although not as likely to lead to a book deal. Reading all women doesn't necessarily mean feminist books (1970s-era bodice rippers, anyone?); better quality books; or even stronger, more realistic depictions of women. What will it mean? Stay tuned in 2012.


Mike Hicks said...

My wife's first novel is being released at the end of January - give it a try if you are up for a mystery


turducken said...

I don't read a lot of mysteries, but I'll give it a try!