My year of reading women didn’t start intentionally. I started making a pile of books I wanted to read during the year and I noticed that all the books I had piled were by women writers. I thought it may be fun to keep piling up women writers and to see if a year of reading women taught me anything. I expected it probably wouldn’t, but I kept on anyway.
As a proviso - I have read some men this year. Seven of the eighty-eight books I have read this year have been by men. Two were for the reading circle, two were for work, one was for a video and two because I just had to read them. Also, an additional three books were written by a woman but translated by a man (but they were the Magda Szabó books and I have no regrets).
So, what did I learn?
In some ways, my year of reading women re-enforced my feeling that genre defines a book far more than any other element. Women sci-fi novels were more like sci-fi than anything else, women biographers, women gothic novelists, women fantasy writers - genre always trumps gender.
There have been more female protagonists, which is no great surprise but that’s not to say that many of the books featured men as the main character as well. I suppose family has been a theme more prominent in the books I’ve read this year. Whether it’s been French women tearing apart a family in Someone at a Distance or a French girl proving the perfect daughter in A Daughter in a Fortnight; a cultish family in The Water Clue or the cosy family of Hitlers in Young Adolf - families were a key element. There were surrogate parents, found families, displaced families and feuding families.
Other odd links between books included people who could dream new pasts. There were numerous books that included uses of sympathetic magic that included magic sewing and a magic model town. A number of spinsters looked after their novelist fathers, and two characters were locked up for suspected witchcraft.
This was the year I finished my last Penelope Fitzgerald, exposed myself to more Austen and was introduced to two writers in particular. Magda Szabó entered my life in the delightful Abigail, which balanced school story charm and WWII resistance excitement. Her other novels were a little more bleak; Katalin Street was a complex and engaging look at nostalgia, shame and bitterness, The Door was about independence and pride and so was Iza’s Ballad to a certain extent. Most luckily, I broke my Virginia Woolf taboo, finding her surprisingly warm, with real and fully-developed characters.
I’ve really enjoyed my year of reading women but maybe because of my varied reading diet, it didn’t bring any amazing revelations. It did, however, lead me to a great many enjoyable books and I shall go through the top ten over the next couple of weeks.
It's funny, some people would be able to write a whole blog out of their experiences in reading a little differently, I barely managed a post.