You’re here on Headstuff having a poke around, so I’m going to assume that you love to read and learn about new things. May I ask you something personal? Why do you read? And what criteria do you use to select the books you read?
All readers have habits – we’d go mad without them. You might rely on genre, book award shortlists, Oprah’s book club, Guardian reviews or Goodreads. You might follow the bestseller trends, whatever is on sale or what’s recommended by your librarian.
Every year hundreds of thousands of books are published (excluding self-published titles). In the UK in 2012, almost 150,000 new titles were released. Without our internal guides and self-established criteria we would have no way of navigating our way through them. But habits can be limiting and can mean that we inadvertently exclude books that we could really love.
It’s all too easy to get stuck in a literary rut. I discovered I was trapped in my own rut when I heard that many people were declaring 2014 “the year of reading women”. Hm, I thought. Maybe I should get on board with that. For many years, I’ve mostly only read ‘classics’ and because ‘classics’ come from a particular time and from a particular part of the world I have found that, although I am very widely read, that wideness only captures a certain literary tradition of white men from 1600 – 1900.
It’s not that I’d been consciously avoiding women writers, but the only women who made it into the classics were Virginia Woolf, Katherine Mansfield, a handful of Brontes, Jane Austen and Mary Shelley. That’s pretty well the sum total of women writers I’d read up until about six months ago.
Without even realising it I’d spent 25 years as a sexist, racist reader.
So I ask you again – why do you read? And what criteria are you using to choose your books?
I’ve decided to take the Reading Women 2014 challenge. This year I’m reading 26 books written by women, one for each letter of the alphabet. So far I’ve read Kate Atkinson, Michelle de Kretser, Penelope Fitzgerald and Willa Cather, among others – authors, I’m ashamed to admit, I had literally never heard of before. As a result, I’m reading modern books, books which have been shortlisted for book prizes, whose authors are still alive – this is a new and daunting experience for me. Maybe next I’ll challenge myself to read African fiction, YA, crime, or poetry.
Because just like you, I love to read and I read to learn about the world. Your comfort zone deceives and limits you. Getting out of your comfort zone means discovering a whole new world out there that you never knew existed. One with women and everything.