22 March 2013

Hila's book challenge (updated)

If you don't already subscribe to Hila's blog, then do your heart and brains a favour: click on the link right now and add her to whichever RSS feed thingy you use, because not only does she write sensitively and eloquently, she also deals with important topics, including issues faced by women in today's supposedly evolved society.

May I ask you a question, just out of curiosity? Off the top of your head, what proportion of the books on your shelves were written by women? About fifty percent? A little more? A bit less?

Until last week, I was convinced that my bookshelves were fairly equally split between male and female authors. After all, most of my books are classics and crime novels, where women are, at least to my mind, fairly well represented. Then I read this post by Hila, which makes it all too plain that literature remains a male-dominated field and that, shockingly, the situation is only worsening. Is it a case of being blind to something that's glaringly obvious if only one is willing to take a close look? Apparently so.

Eager to know the true state of my bookshelves, I went through my Goodreads account to check how many of the books I currently own are by women. The results were startling: 195 out of 571, a meagre 34%! Well, I never!

As Hila explains, the statistics gathered by VIDA speak plainly: women in the literary arts are underhired and underpublished, relegated to minor roles, and assigned to "wholesome" or inoffensive genres ("chick lit", forsooth!).

Now that the problem has been stated, what are we going to do about it? Is there concrete action we can take? Hila's excellent idea was to issue a book challenge to anyone willing to take it up. Here's how she put it:
It's quite simple: Make a conscious decision to read more books by women, and write about them on your blog.
How easy is that? So here's my commitment: by the end of this year, I'll read or re-read the following, and write about them here. (This is only a preliminary list.)

Mansfield Park / Jane Austen
Anne, ou quand prime le spirituel / Simone de Beauvoir
Le Deuxième Sexe (tomes I and II) / Simone de Beauvoir
La Femme rompue / Simone de Beauvoir
Five Classic Murder Mysteries (omnibus) / Agatha Christie
Middlemarch / George Eliot
Romola / George Eliot
La Princesse de Clèves / Madame de La Fayette
North and South / Elizabeth Gaskell
South Riding / Winifred Holtby
La Capture du Mouron Rouge / Baroness Orczy
Mauprat / George Sand
Galileo's Daughter / Dava Sobel
Longitude / Dava Sobel
Lark Rise to Candleford / Flora Thompson
Mémoires d'Hadrien / Marguerite Yourcenar
L'Œuvre au noir / Marguerite Yourcenar

In addition to this reading challenge, also until the end of the year, I'll only purchase books — new or used — by women.

I think this is the perfect opportunity to discover new authors, revisit old favourites, finally get to those unread books you've never had time to pick up before, or give some a second chance — and tell others about them. So what do you say? Shall we join together to show our love of women in literature? Leave a comment on Hila's blog to express your interest! (If you need specific titles to get you started, Hila includes an extensive list in her post.)

UPDATE: Hila has named her initiative the Women Writers Reading Group and has summarized its purpose and rules here. She even created a badge to display on your blog!


  1. I'm pretty sure most of the books I've bought and read lately were written by women, although that includes a non-negligible proportion of cookbooks... And, I don't know if that makes a difference, the other ones are all non-fiction. I have a feeling that the imbalance must be at least as important in non-fiction as it is in fiction, and it probably shows on my books' wishlist. Still, it appears that my interests managed to put books written by women at the top of that list, so yay for that! I'll keep the gender issue in mind for my next purchases as well.

    I agree that only purchasing books by women would certainly contribute to expanding one's literary horizons, and I'm looking forward to seeing which new authors you'll discover along the way.

    1. Yay indeed! I think becoming aware of the place women occupy in literature and on our bookshelves is a good start. We can then make conscious decisions as to what we chose to read and, as you say, expand our literary horizons.

  2. Thank you for spreading the word Danielle!

    1. You're most welcome! This is a great initiative.


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