A tumblr post started it. One unassuming sentence: “Would anyone be willing to join me in my journey to read only female authors during the month of December?”
It seemed like a good thing, something to make me a more intelligent reader, an aware being in an oblivious crowd. I browsed my unread books, picking out female names on spines and covers. I made a list of five books to begin with.
And, on 30 November, I read the entirety of Neverwhere.
When people asked about the rush, I said, “Because Neil Gaiman is not a woman, and tomorrow is December.” I explained about reading only women authors—eagerly, then uncomfortably, because when people asked why, I had no answer.
There were feminist answers—Gender equality!
There were selfish answers—People like socially aware people!
There were buzzword answers—Intentionality!
…but they all felt wrong. As I perused my bookshelves, I found myself thinking, “Oh, that’s by a man? I never noticed,” or, “I don’t know if that’s a guy name or a girl name.” And then, finally, “…does it even matter?”
And then I decided that it does.
Not because I’m outraged over discrimination; not because I want to even out the field by throwing fangirl points toward women; not because I own a lot of male authors—but because I had no idea which authors I own.
Each book is a manifestation of its writer. The wise things Gandalf said are really wise things Tolkien said. Anne’s imagination was Montgomery’s. Books are the expression of a writer’s identity—their memories, their desires, their philosophies. Knowing who wrote a book is integral to a deeper understanding.
Of course, you can love a book without knowing the author, but you miss a whole world of meaning.You miss that Jane Austen wrote as a woman in a time when women weren’t supposed to write, or that Patricia Park wrote Re Jane from her own multicultural experience, or that Stephen King wrote his most successful novels from within the grip of depression and addiction.
This isn’t to say that every writer’s demographic is central to the meaning of every book. There are a hundred differences between us, and a hundred unifying details, and each of use is more than a single descriptor. More than a gender or a nationality or a skin colour. We’re individuals, and every tiny difference that makes a person unique—all of those form a writer.
So today I started in on Cheryl Strayed’s Wild—a memoir, a personal journey, an introspection of exquisite, poetic rawness—a perfect beginning to my quest to understand the authors I read. And for the rest of the month, I’ll be reading only women authors, with the knowledge that they are women, and that in some way, to a greater or lesser degree, in a way I can and yet cannot understand, that identity undergirds every word on every page.