I use Goodreads, so when I learned that they’d done some number crunching to find out if there was any gender relationship between a reader’s gender and the gender of the authors whose novels they were reading: I was more than a bit curious. Goodreads’ interest kicked off after the #readwomen hashtag on Twitter gained momentum. When I discussed the matter with some friends over on Facebook, it became apparent that this number crunching by Goodreads, while taking in a huge sample of readers (its done better than most psychological studies and their population sample sizes), hadn’t accounted for a key issue.
What the numbers did suggest, however, was that men tended to read books by men and that women tended to read books by women.
Hello, genre fiction
Now, if you’re a science fiction, fantasy and/or horror fiction fan (like several of Hex’s contributors are, such as myself) you’ll often find yourself drawn to those types of genre fiction. The first place I head to when I’m waltzing into a Waterstones store is the SF/Fantasy shelves. I’m not saying that you can’t find female authors for any of those genres on the shelves, but that there tends to be more books by men in those genres (except for the raunchier side of horror) than by women. But I don’t tend to pay much attention to author gender when looking at book spines or fronts, I’m all about the blurb before deciding to buy.
But what I have previously noticed is that when it comes to book reviews for these genres, most sites and magazines seem to end up with reviews of books by men more so than women. It’s an issue that I have seen acknowledged by a few publications in recent years and they are working to address the situation, but these things have a way to go. In 2010, research by VIDA: Women in Literary Arts showed an alarming gender split in literary criticism in terms of the number of female authors being reviewed by publications. Meanwhile, I’ve seen the odd comment from publication editors pointing out that a lot of publishers seem to send in novels by men – especially on the SF and fantasy side of things.
While I don’t look at author names while in store, I do look for titles of books I’ve read a review for and these, due to the situation described above, tend to have been by male authors. Apart from the presence of J.K. Rowling, Robin Hobb and Stephenie Meyer on my books shelves, my huge book collection is mainly filled with SF, fantasy and horror written by men (Martin, Pratchett, Card, Dick, Abercrombie, King and many more).
None of this even accounts for the industry situations surrounding other genres. Chick lit has been, historically, mainly written by female authors, with a female audience in mind. While mystery/detective fiction has a great many female authors, including the great Agatha Christie and the recently departed P.D. James, but with a far more mixed audience in mind.
What I’d like to know…
Is what is the gender split between a) readers and genre and b) genre and authors? That would have been a far more interesting bit of research and, I believe, perfectly within Goodreads’ reach. I’m a woman who mainly reads fiction by men, not because I prefer fiction on the basis that it has been written by a man, but because work by male authors is what I tend to hear more about. And so I am calling time on this Goodreads’ research, which, for now, seems to have only aided the likes of the Daily Mail in helping to create a stereotypical bit of journalism for themselves (I’m not linking to their site, if you want to read it, please search for it, but then reconsider doing so).