A Gender Divide?

There’s been a lot of discussion on twitter about a Guardian “poll” where readers suggested their favourite SF novels. People have been quick to point out that of the ~500 novels mentioned, a very small proportion were written by women. Let’s ignore the fact that the list was generated in the comments section of a single article in a single newspaper which, like all newspapers, has a very specific demographic and move straight onto my paranoia…

…that my own reading doesn’t contain a good balance between male and female authors. A quick look through my book shelves and library loan history has revealed the following list of recent reads:

  • Feed – Mira Grant
  • Feast of Souls – Celia Friedman
  • A Matter of Blood – Sarah Pinborough
  • A Madness of Angels – Kate Griffin
  • Lex Trent vs. the Gods – Alex Bell
  • Myth Understandings – Various (but all women)
  • Slights – Kaaron Warren
  • Boneshaker – Cherie Priest
  • The Poison Throne – Celine Kiernan
  • Temeraire – Naomi Novil
  • The Evil Seed – Joanne Harris
  • The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
  • The Thief – Megan Whalen Turner

Six of these I think are brilliant books (not the obvious ones). Deadline, the sequel to Feed, is on my read-as-soon-as-is-humanly-possible list. I’m also very keen to get my hands on a copy of Elspeth Cooper’s The Songs of the Earth, which I think is going to be very much my kind of thing. That said, this isn’t a very long list and some of these reads are drifting further and further into the past. Also, a quick look through my Amazon wishlist reveals 25 books by women out of a total of 147.

The idea that someone could go out of their way to avoid books based on an author’s gender is, frankly, preposterous. To ignore 50% of all books simply because of pre-conceived notions of gender is beyond ridiculous. And yet I seem to be doing it subconsciously.

The thing is though, when I pick a book, I don’t even think about the author. I pick a book based on the blurb, the cover (and sometimes reviews). If it sounds good then I read it. I find books through Amazon (products you may like!), browsing in Waterstones, book review blogs and recommendations from friends and family. So is this stream of information at fault? Do men get more marketing money than women?

And what to do about my own reading? I’m not sure there’s anything I can do. I read for pleasure and I don’t think I should change my habits just because of a perceived imbalance. Is it enough that I’m aware of the balance (or lack thereof)?