Sunday Links for February 13, 2011

There’s been an outbreak of discussion on the internet lately of how women are generally ignored by the publishing industry, by critics, even by readers. Despite the apparent fact that women read more books than men, most reviews and interviews published are of men, for instance. I’m guilty of this myself: only 39 of the 107 books I read last year were clearly written by women (with just a few indeterminables because of the use of initials instead of names – is K.J. Parker male or female? No one seems to know). Why, in this day and age, is even a committed feminist like me reading so much written by men, and so little written by women?

The statistics are eye-opening for those who thought women were catching up. Vida: Women in Literary Arts made the statistics downright eye-popping with its pie charts showing the breakdown of authorship for articles, interviews and reviews in some of the best-known and most highly regarded periodicals. I was particularly shocked at the breakdown for The New York Review of Books, which I tend to hold in high esteem (and dream of writing for one day). If NYRoB has offered any explanation for its dismal statistics, I haven’t seen it. Ruth Franklin of The New Republic has attempted to offer a few excuses for the stark statistics (and The New Republic is one of the worst offenders, by far). She succeeds in pointing out that the statistics can’t entire be taken at face value, but all in all, she fails to make an entirely convincing case. Her last paragraph, for instance, reports that she is reading a biography written by a man about a woman author; does that go in the male or female column, she asks? Duh. It’s written by a man, and if you’re counting authors of the books you’re reading, it plainly goes in the male column. Is that really so difficult?

Laura Miller has a provocative response to Franklin in Salon: women are underrepresented, she contends, because men aren’t interested in what women have to say. Jason Pinter takes Miller to task, saying it’s not that easy in The Huffington Post.

Bookslut has an extended discussion between Jessa Crispin and Michael Schaub about the Vida statistics and what they really mean. Crispin, disheartened, points to the cultural factors that still preclude women from putting themselves forward, actively seeking out review assignments, pitching proposals for articles, and so on. She’s got a point; I see it in myself, not just as to my writing but also as to my legal career. We’re great when we’ve been invited to contribute, but not so great at pushing our way in.

My favorite reading material – epic fantasy – is written overwhelmingly by men, which may account for my own skewed reading statistics (and when you add comics/graphic novels to the mix, I really tilt to the male). Ruth Arnell wrote about this problem in a column for the Fantasy Literature blog this week, pointing out, among other things, that the heroes of epic fantasy are always heroes, never heroines. This holds true even when the writer is a woman, as is evident from Ursula K. LeGuin’s Earthsea Trilogy trilogy and Robin Hobb’s nested series of trilogies. Joel Shepherd’s quartet, A Trial of Blood and Steel (the first book in the series, Sasha, is reviewed here), is a refreshing change from this pattern, and Joe Abercrombie had a wonderful female protagonist in Best Served Cold (reviewed here) – but now we’re back to male authors.

N.K. Jemisin, the author of the much-praised The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, ponders whether epic fantasy can be feminized. What would that mean, exactly? Do read the comments – they make for a long and worthy discussion, for the most part.

We lost a wonderful young adult fantasist this month: Brian Jacques died. His books were some of the first I bought for my nephews some years ago. He will be missed.

Those best of the year posts are still being written. Jeff Vandermeer, writing for Locus, gives us his list of the best fantasy of 2010. My list of books I really must read immediately grows ever longer.

How about some silly to close out the week? SFSignal’s latest Mind Meld asks a bunch of writers about their favorite guilty pleasures. It’s great fun to read, and that’s even before you get to a commenter’s confession that L. Ron Hubbard’s Battlefield Earth: A Saga of the Year 3000 was one of his favorites.