05.03.2023 | Thoughts on Books (Mostly)

In parts of the German Blogosphere – if that is even a term anyone uses anymore – on each 5th of the month people write recaps of their (working) day using the hashtag #WMDEDGT (= Was machst du eigentlich den ganzen Tag = What do you do all day). I had planned so many times to join in, but only this year put a reminder in my calendar app. And I’ve been jotting down notes in an notes app so far, but it’s such boring “Stay at home / indoors” Sunday, that I doubt I’ll post any of it, but go with a book post instead.

An overcrowding bookshelf
Most of my bookshelf

As you can see… I might have a problem 😉 About on third of these are books I haven’t read yet. And I still buy more each week. And that’s not even all the books. There is another row below the last one on this photos and I’ve got a small shelf in my bedroom, mostly for non-fiction books I did read. Then there also are the eBooks on my two devices. When I yesterday sort of moaned a bit on social media about my almost constant impulse to add to this collection, a kind friend commented that there are worse addictions than buying books. And she’s right, of course. But it still feels like it’s getting a bit out of hand.

On Thursday I went to see bestselling writer Jojo Moyes at an event at the LitCologne festival in Cologne. There was a chat / interview between a host and her and a German actress read parts of Jojo’s latest book “Someone Else’s Shoes”. Over the years I’ve read all of Jojo’s novels and enjoyed them all; some more than others. I’ve got two definite favourites and I’m glad I could get the 2nd one signed after the event as well. The first one I already got signed after at the Cologne festival in 2015.

When I was driving back home, I was replaying the event and thought about how I would tell others, like my co-workers, about it. Am I the only one doing that? Replaying something and thinking how to frame it best for an interesting anecdote? Is that weird? Anyway, in my ruminations I caught myself using the term “Women’s Literature” to describe Jojo’s genre and I immediately hated myself for it. Ok, hate is a strong word, but UGH! Many years ago I did use chick-lit” without thinking more about it. But over time I read and learned more about those loaded terms and I usually try to not touch those with a ten foot pole, as you say. Because why is a book with predominately female main characters, written by a woman considered “Women’s Literature”. But “Moby Dick” is considered one of the Great American novels even though it’s basically “Men’s Literature”: a book written by a man, featuring only men, doing typical male things. In the spirit of full disclosure, I haven’t read “Moby Dick”. I doubt I ever will. And I didn’t come up with that example. I read it in German non-fiction about this whole topic: FRAUEN LITERATUR” by Nicole Seifert, which I finally started reading after these late night ruminations in my car. I’ve only read the first 40 or so pages and it’s already making my blood boil a bit. Nicole Seifert examines why books written by women have been neglected since the beginning of time, basically. How writing women have been restricted to certain genres like children’s stories. How school curriculums feature mostly male writers. How several recent studies show that books written by women are less reviewed (newspaper, magazines, TV) and thus get less exposure and sell less, because exposure is important. So so so many things. And like I said, I’ve only read the first 40 pages yet. The book also touches on other marginalized groups (LGBTQ+, PoC) where the under-represantation is even worse.

Early on there is sort of a challenge to have a look at one’s own bookshelf / collection and check the male / female ratio. I did that cursory with my shelf and guess I’m at a 60% male /40% female ratio. But I did sort out a lot of books recently and admit that I probably kept more of female writers than of the males. I’ve got a few series with lots of books written by women.

I then had a look at my Goodreads page for 2023. Limited sample of course, but so far…

Currently reading – 2: 100% women. One fiction, One non-fiction.
Books read – 10: 40% women. Two biographies of men, two non-fictions written by men. I guess it will even out soon.
Fiction bought – 18: 66% women.
Non-fiction bought – 5: 60% women. Topics are climate action, mental health, feminism Which might skew the ratio in women’s favour a bit.
Books (fic / non-fic) added to “want to read – too many *g*: 77% women. And yes, it’s a embarrassing high number. I see book recommendations left and right on my social media and if I think they might be at least a bit interesting I add them to not forget them.

I’m definitely more interested in books by women. I know it’s probably down to the genre I’m interested in these days. It did change over the years, I admit it. I haven’t been much in the mood for thrillers or crime stories. Cosy crime, but that again seems to be written by more women than men. I’m more drawn to contemporary romance. Contemporary stories about families. Some historical with a focus on 19th/20th century. And I’m definitely more drawn to female leads than male leads. Easier to identify with, maybe? And it seems like men rarely write a book with a female lead.

Sometimes I think I should challenge myself more to read books from other – male – perspectives. But then I remind myself that most of all I’m reading for fun and my own entertainment. And that there are books in male voices I’m reading. Just not as many.

No real conclusion or epiphany for this post. Sorry if you were expecting that. I still think we need to change the way we think and talk about books written by women. A glance at the German bookselling charts seems to show that they sell more books than male writers and thus it’s all fine. But that’s the “popular culture” which often still is considered less than the “high culture”, discussed and reviewed in magazines, newspapers or on TV occasionally. At least that’s how I perceive it here in Germany. I also tried – without success – to find out which books by which authors are used in German / English classes in school. I do remember that back in my day we definitely discussed much more male authors than female. I hope that has changed. But to be honest… I doubt it.

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