Reading Year in Review, 2016

I read 46 books in 2016.

As I mentioned in my 2015 Goodreads year-in-review, I set a goal (inspired by writer Robert Wringham) to read at least 50% female authors in 2016. I had reviewed my 2015 Goodreads list and found that about 13 of my reading in that year with no active intervention was female-authored, with much of that being cookbooks.

Having just reviewed my 2016 reading list (which I define as books that I finished in 2016), I am proud to say that I hit exactly my goal of parity: 22 books by men, 22 books by women. (The two remaining books were somewhat ambiguous: the poetry collection Without Names, which included both male and female authors, and the script of “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” which was based on a story by J.K. Rowling but adapted by man John Tiffany.) I didn’t do a page count because I think the point is more about variety of books than time spent reading books, but for what it’s worth, I believe the page count would be significantly in favor of women, if only due to the 1000-page Tale of Genji.

My average rating for the female-authored books was slightly higher than that of the male-authored books (3.68 vs. 3.5), though I am too lazy to calculate a significance level for that difference-in-means–call it even, I think. However, I rated 5 books as 5-star, all of which were by women: - My Brilliant Friend, by Elena Ferrante (I’m assuming the pseudonymous Ferrante is a woman)
- Corruption in America, by Zephyr Teachout
- The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K. Le Guin
- The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander
- Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel

I did set one additional rule for myself over the course of the year: at most two books by any given female author. As I said, I think the spirit of the challenge relates to variety of books, so I didn’t want to fulfill it nominally by reading many books by a small number of favorite writers. At the same time, I wanted to let myself benefit from discovering authors I liked, which is why I set the limit at 2 rather than 1. The female authors I read 2 books of were:

  • Ursula K. Le Guin (not a new discovery, an old favorite)
  • Rebecca Solnit (first time reading her, and got to see her speak at the Bay Area Book Festival!)
  • Naomi Klein (first time reading her)

This means I read books by 19 different female authors last year.

It was a very interesting experience, which I’m glad I tried. It probably goes without saying that I did have to put some effort into it, given that my balance in 2015 was so lopsided. My strategy was a mix of making a point of reading some books/authors that I had vaguely had in mind to read for some time (Rebecca Solnit, Naomi Klein, Annie Leonard, Elena Ferrante) and just saying yes to more new books that I felt somewhat interested in (Sarah Bakewell, Yaa Gyasi, Mishell Baker). I did do a tally a few times during maybe the late middle of the year, but I wasn’t regularly keeping score, and honestly wasn’t sure how the final count would come out. (Actually I was surprised that it was even rather than favoring women.)

Overall, I don’t intend to continue setting parity as an explicit goal, but I did come away from the experience feeling that I could do it indefinitely if I wanted to. I didn’t feel like I had some limited waiting list of female authors that I drew down and couldn’t replenish, nor did I really ever feel like I put off reading a male-authored book that I would have preferred to read in favor of a female-authored book that I was less excited about. I’m glad this was my experience, since it reinforces my general sense of the value of affirmative-action approaches–the standard trope of “worse” replacing “better” isn’t really right, and it is more about expanding where you cast your net. I do hope to continue reminding myself to say yes to women authors as often as I can!