I completely failed the Australian Women Writers Challenge this year. I did not read one book by an Australian Woman in 2013. I didn’t avoid books written by Australian women but nothing grabbed me, nothing made me want to pick up a book and stay with it. I did try a few but nothing by a female Australian writer appealed to my reading tastes or mood throughout the year.
Overall I read fewer books by female authors in 2013 than 2012. In 2013 I read 70 books, 5 more that 2012. 52.5 were by male authors, 17.5 were by female authors (The Tilted World was dual authored by a husband and wife). Of the 70 books I read, 10 were by Australian authors, 2 less than 2012. 25% of my reading was by female authors down from 29% in 2012.
So why did I fail? I will readily admit I could have tried harder to read more Australian women writers but there are so many books out there and so many different reasons why you chose to read a particular book at a particular time. One of the issues that I think did play a part was how books are marketed and yes I am a bookseller who does some of the marketing but publishers do have to sell to me too.
One of the reasons initiatives like the Australian Women Writers Challenge and The Stella Prize was started was because of the lack of review coverage and recognition by literary awards of books by Australian female writers. However I think that while some books are marketed along gender lines this problem will not go away. Marketing affects reviewers and prize judges just as much as it does readers.
Not all books are marketed along gender lines but there are many good books that a publisher will choose to aim at a specific gender which does create a barrier towards readers of the non-targeted gender. Gender-ed marketing is most notably done through cover design. The cover is the first impression a book buyer has of a book and while we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover it does have so much influence on the first opinion of a book. A book cover can communicate many things to a reader. It can signify genre, subject, tone and can skew towards one gender or the other. (And stickers from Women’s magazines on the covers only exacerbate the problem.)
But in saying all this it is still ultimately my choice what I read. I would like my reading to be more gender balanced and I would like to read more Australian books. But ultimately I am going to read what grabs me regardless of gender and nationality.
I won’t be doing the Australian Women Writers Challenge in 2014 but I will continue to keep track of my reading to see how, where and why it changes.