Do I Need To Do The Opposite Of A Literary Penis Embargo?

Two parallel stacks of books on blue background Have you ever sat down and really examined your reading list? How many books do you read that are written by women? How many are written by men? Are the two numbers close? What happens when you break it down by the kind of book - for example literary fiction versus genre fiction? Does the pendulum then sway to one direction?

Blogger Jodi Chromey has me thinking about this because of her post "The Great Literary Penis Embargo of 2010." It stemmed, in part, from the Franzenfreud debate that happened earlier this year. It made her aware of how male her reading pile was.

As an avid reader I make a definite effort to make sure my book list has an equal number of women as men. It’s not as easy as it sounds, especially when you want to read all the books everyone is talking about and all those books are written by men. As I write this my on deck reading pile is leering at me from the coffee table. Over there you’ll find a Peter, a Rosecrans, a Jonathan, two Kevins, a Tom, and one lone Laurie.

I have to admit that don't read a lot of literary fiction so I almost feel a bit removed from the literary fiction debate but Chromey's post did have me wondering about my reading habits. I don't make an effort to seek out female authors but when I look at my spreadsheet of what I read this year it absolutely tilts in the female direction. As did 2009, 2008 and 2007, which is as far back as my tracking goes. If I dig a bit deeper, and break it down a bit more there are a few places where I do seem to have a male bias.

Not all of my non-fiction tilts towards male authors. Most of the autobiographies and food memoirs I read are written by women. The World War I and World War II books I read are close though. Male and female authors are much closer in number than I though. That surprised me because I try to make an effort to read books about women and their roles in those wars and I expected it to skew towards female authors as a result.

Middle grade literature surprised me as well. (Middle grade is hard for me to classify as much of what I'm putting in here works for children and teens but I don't think is necessarily aimed at either so I'm slapping a middle grade label on it, which may not be entirely right.) I didn't realize that the bulk of what I read within that category was written by men let alone three men in particular - Gordon Korman, Rick Riordan and Trenton Lee Stewart.

It needs to be said that in many areas I have a definite female bias. Romance is one. It's true that there are far more female romance authors than there are males but there are men out there writing it. Why don't I seek it out and read it? I don't read a lot of mysteries and thrillers but the ones I do read are almost all written by women. Ditto the historical fiction. Should I seek out more of those written by men?

My young adult literature column does favour female authors but there is a healthy representation of men, until I break it down to YA fiction and YA fantasy. Almost all of the fantasy is written by women. It's same with the smattering of sci-fi and dystopian fiction I read - the women reign supreme on my list.

So I'm left wondering if maybe I need to do the opposite of a literary penis embargo. Should I seek out male romance and young adult fantasy authors? Or does it matter?

What is your reading list telling you?

Photo credit: Horia Varlan