Annabel's House of Books

Noli domo egredi, nisi librum habes – Never leave home without a book.

Category: Reading & Reviewing habits (page 1 of 9)

Reading habits: Male vs Female Authors

Elle wrote a thought-provoking post a few days ago titled Am I a Sexist Reviewer? about how she actually reads a fairly even split of female:male authors, but doesn’t blog about all the novels by men, as she finds more to talk about in general in novels by women.

It got me thinking about the balance between the sexes in my own reading. That was easy to check thanks to my huge spreadsheet – time for a quick chart…

Authors

Note: 2012 was skewed by having hosted Beryl Bainbridge Reading Week.

*NB, before I go on to ramble about the subject, I want to apologise for any sweeping generalisations I may make below!*

I like to think that I choose the books I read in a gender-neutral way – choosing mainly by perceived content. Even if I consciously opt to pick a particular author, I don’t select them because they are male or female, I strongly believe that the author’s sex doesn’t come into it.Yet, I usually read more books by men than women, and often considerably more by men in a year. Am I subconsciously favouring male authors?

As a teenager, I read as voraciously as I still do now. I devoured fiction including a lot of novels by Georgette Heyer, Jean Plaidy et al, but what I enjoyed most were thrillers; Alastair MacLean, Hammond Innes and Desmond Bagley in particular, how I loved these manly adventures with token women. At the same time at school, I discovered SF through Brave New World, Day of the Triffids, 1984 and their ilk.  In fact the only book I can recall by a female author that we read in class was To Kill a Mockingbird.

I make no secret of the fact that I’m nothing more than a reading enthusiast. I have no literary qualifications beyond English Language O-level. My senior school at the time (1970s) had a progressive attitude towards English Literature. We still read lots of it, mostly classics, modern classics and plenty of Shakespeare, but didn’t over-analyse it in that way that off-puts many teenagers – we didn’t do the English Lit O-level, freeing us to find what we each liked reading the best. I chose Maths and Sciences for A-Level so never went further studying English, bar a journalism option in 6th form general studies.

I went on to study an applied science at a university college with twelve male students to each female one at the time. I was the only girl engineer in the factory in my first job and was the first female scientist on the team in my second, so I’ve always been happy operating in a male-dominated world – seeing myself not as a token woman, but rather as helping to break the mould (although I have exhibited some ladette tendencies on occasion, *ahem*). It’s more unnatural for me now working in a school with more women than men on the staff!

Am I set in my ways?

I still tend to pick a novel promising a good adventure; lots of intrigue; a black comedy; or something techy over domestic dramas. Give me dystopian societies, spies, quests, science (but not necessarily SF) and literary thrillers etc. These are all types of plot-driven novels that have tended to be dominated by male authors (although that is changing, as is the balance of male over female protagonists?), and these form a large part of my reading.

Conversely, when I do take a punt on a domestic drama or novel of family life, I often find myself picking an older one from my TBR and I admit it does make a refreshing change, although I won’t deny that they can be harder for me to write about. Although I can live without reading any more Anita Brookner novels – I was entranced by the Barbara Pym I read a couple of years ago, I want to read more Edna O’Brien and Penelope Fitzgerald too, and still have quite a few ‘Beryls‘ yet to be read, to name but a few. There are still acres of female crime and suspense authors to explore – types of books I do really enjoy too.

Where do I go from here?

As I skewed the figures towards equality in 2012 by reading loads of Beryl Bainbridge, so my male:female reading ratio will likely be strongly male this year due to my (nearly) monthly dose of Anthony Powell, and multiple reads like the Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff Vandermeer; I’m about to start my third Simenon in a week too.

Having subjected my reading habits to some navel-gazing regarding gender bias, I still believe that I don’t consciously choose male authors over female ones. Instead it’s the world I’ve grown up in and as a resolutely non-girly girl I feel comfortable there. I don’t plan to make any big changes in how I pick the books I read, but I do have good intention to select more great books that challenge my preconceptions now and then, which should include choosing some more women authors.

Weekend Bits and Bobs

I was in the middle of drafting a post setting out my own stall about where I get my books from etc after all the toing and froing on the subject lately. But, Simon Savidge’s impassioned post, (written after Gav and he got attacked on Twitter over where they got their books from), beat me to it, and I decided that he’s already said most of it. Instead I’ll just add a couple of comments below on my personal stance rather than a full (and potentially repetitive and boring) post:

mostly_booksI buy more books than I can really afford from my local indie bookshop Mostly Books in Abingdon, whom I am always very happy to promote. However, I’m a single mum on a part-time salary – so charity shops, second hand bookshops, the supermarket, bookshop chains, and online through Amazon, the Book People etc. will all get my custom from time to time.

Having been blogging for several years now, I’m lucky enough to be sent books from publishers and authors, and I review for Amazon Vine – Thank you.  I’ve only ever requested two books directly from publishers and felt guilty about doing that. These days, I purely respond to titles offered for review, only picking those I’m genuinely interested in reading.  I do not sell on any review copies that I receive. 

I have monetized (horrid word) my blog, with affiliate links to Amazon and The Book Depository.  I hope I make the links clear, and I am not forcing anyone to click through – it’s just there if you want to.  In nearly five years of blogging, I’ve received £29.80 in Amazon vouchers through referrals resulting in sales.  Part of me says I should drop the affiliations, as they promote the company only making treat- money for me, but if I find it useful to click through occasionally elsewhere so may others – I’m undecided on this though…

Mini-rant over now …

* * * * *

I’m still working on gradually updating my blog’s indexes, but I’ve been toying with the sidebar too lately.  I discovered a great new widget to highlight posts I’ve ‘liked’ elsewhere. See the ‘Posts I Like’ section over there.

Sadly it only works with other WordPress powered blogs, so please, all my Blogger, Typepad and other service blog-friends don’t feel left out and see my bookish blog-roll for lots of other great blogs.  (Arrow image credit)

* * * * *

crane wifeLastly, I’ve just finished reading The Crane’s Wife by Patrick Ness.  It was a lovely book and my review will follow.  It did make me cry (again – something Ness is good at!).

I often shed a little tear when watching TV or films and reading – am I over-sentimental, or is it something you do too?

Do tell me about the books that have made you cry …

* * * * *

Enjoy the (long in the UK) weekend.  

Cheers!

My New Reading Chair

YIPPEE! My new reading chair arrived this afternoon (with matching sofa, from the sales at Furniture Village).

It’s a ‘smuggler’ chair – one and a half seats wide, so plenty of room for feet and wriggling and cushions – and a cat when we get one.  Meanwhile my daughter is pleased with the sofa because it is longer than our old one and she can lie on it, (just 3 months and she’s a proper teenager!).

New Chair 003

I’m now going to baptize it with my current read – The Cleaner of Chartres by Salley Vickers – I’m going to hear her talk next week (more info from Mostly Books).

I was slightly surprised that we ended up choosing a neutral grey-brown colour sofa though for there was red on offer (I love red), but I shall save that for winter cushioning.  But thinking about how I’d describe the colour – it’s minky – and that’s the name and colour of our much beloved hamster!

Mostly Minky 046 compressed

 

So that’s my new place to read.  Why don’t you tell me about your reading chairs and reading places …

Rewarding YA reading for Grown-ups! Let me persuade you…

I’m in my early fifties prime (!) and I’m not afraid to say that I love reading modern YA books now and then … but only good ones, naturally.  By using the term ‘YA’ here, I’m distinguishing them from those books we usually call ‘children’s classics’ (which still appeal to readers young and old alike).  I’m concentrating on contemporary novels specifically aimed at older children/teenaged readers, usually 12+.

I passionately believe that the very best of modern YA writing can be as good as books for grown-ups, and equal to that of the children’s classics that we remember from our youth.  Many remain to be converted to this way of thinking, so I’d like to explain a bit, maybe encourage you as a grown-up to give a YA book a go, and offer a few suggestions for reading.

There’s an incentive if you make it all the way to the end of this post.  You may disagree with me too, and I don’t mind that at all. We each find our way to the things we like to read, but I’m trying to encourage an open attitude to at least try reading something different.  I will, however, be the first to admit that as an adult reader of a YA novel you do have to be a bit more picky …

That black cover!

One barrier is making your way past all the formulaic black covers of all the ‘Twi-likes’.  The paranormal romance genre has been the big marketing success of recent years in teen fiction, spawning werewolves, witches, angels – stories featuring all kinds of undead following in the vampires’ wake, (paralleled to a lesser extent by zombie mayhem aimed at boys).  Twilight wasn’t the first teen vampire novel by a long shot – L H Smith’s The Vampire Diaries were there way before for instance, but it was Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight (my review here) that became the publishing phenomenon and really kick-started the whole shebang.  I’ve read a good variety of these paranormal high school romances; more than enough to know that although they can be enjoyable fun, they are for teenagers.  As an adult reader, I don’t need to read any more of them, even the rest of the Twilight series, (I have watched all the films though).

Now we’ve got that out of the way …

What are the differences between adult and YA literature?  

Well, they share the three major common elements of plot, character and writing style of all novels.  Many adults tend to favour writing style to dominate over plot or character – a debate that was the subject of a great post a while ago at Stuck in a book. What use is a great character or story if you can’t get into reading it after all.  Well, the same is true of YA books too,  but the balance between the three elements is often different.  I realise that by necessity I’m having to generalise here, but using my daughter’s reading experiences too, so go with me if you can …

Writing style in literature for younger readers does tend to be more direct.  Authors have to take great care with their language,  not using bad language unnecessarily, but keeping it appropriate to their audience.  Difficult subjects such as sex, drugs, alienation and all the good and bad bits of growing up – all these emotive issues need to be tackled with tact and sensitivity, again appropriate to their audience.  Sometimes I wish more adult books would moderate their language a bit – you can get fed up of too many profanities and graphic sex scenes.

What would a novel be without strong characters?  Pretty uninvolving, I think.  The only difference here is that the main protagonists in YA books tend to be younger, older teens themselves – an age their main readers can identify with.  This shouldn’t be a problem for the adult reader either.  There are so many adult novels with child or teen lead characters – the ‘coming of age’ novel in particular being its own sub-genre (see some of my reviews of these here.)  YA characters can, however, can often be defined by their actions, rather than their thoughts.

Plot though, does tend to come more highly up the scale for teens.  Younger readers need action.  They need things to happen all of the time – they can’t cope with pages of descriptive atmosphere or scene-setting.  This can sometimes make a YA novel seem rather relentless, you wish for a break.  The clever YA author will build in descriptive elements throughout whilst keeping a cracking plot going and coming up for breath now and then.  As we progress up the age scale, the action-quotient typically decreases a little to let the setting speak, and allow characters to pause for thought more too.

So, are you willing to have a go yet?  If yes, what could you read?

For starters, you won’t go far wrong if you pick one of the books that have been awarded the Carnegie Medal – an annual prize in the UK made to a writer of outstanding fiction for children. The medal is awarded by CILIP: the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals.  Admittedly, many of these winning books are for older children rather than teens – but they’re all great books.

The real King Arthur ...My favourite Carnegie winner from 2008 is Here Lies Arthur by Philip Reeve.  It is a very different and brilliant take on Arthurian Legend with Merlin as a spin doctor.

I’m also a big fan of Patrick Ness, who won in 2012 with A Monster Calls (and 2011). It’s a simple story of a boy whose mother is dying of cancer, who can’t accept what’s happening, and a monster comes to help him through. As our book group found, this one wasn’t universally popular as an adult read, but did provoke good discussion.  You can hear Patrick talking to Simon Savidge about his writing for adults and children in a podcast at You Wrote the Book!.

This year’s Carnegie Shortlist (award in June) has some brilliant novels on it; I’ve read three so far, plus several that were longlisted that didn’t make it onto the shortlist. Some previous thoughts on the longlist are here, but the highlights for me are:

  • Blood red snow whiteMidwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick (review coming soon).  Sedgwick is my favourite YA author. Many of his novels have a magical edge to them, they nearly always have a darkness at their heart and are based on folktales and folklore. My favourite book of his though, is his fictional account of Arthur Ransome’s years in Russia Blood Red Snow White.  I particularly enjoy his writing style which seems ‘ageless’. My fingers are crossed that he may win this year.
  • A Greyhound of a Girl by Roddy Doyle.  A bittersweet novel about dying which tells the story of four generations of women with great empathy and humour, and is typically Roddy Doyle too!
  • The Double Shadow by Sally Gardner. A complex and fantastical philosophical novel for teens. While The Double Shadow didn’t make it onto the shortlist; another of her novels did however – Maggot Moon is narrated by a boy with dyslexia, which Sally suffers from. I shall be reading it soon.

Some other authors of YA books that I’ve read and reviewed include Sally Nicholls, Charlie Higson for ‘zombie mayhem to scare your pants off’, Matt Haig creator of the crossover vampire family The Radleys, Cliff McNish.

These are just a few of the contemporary authors writing primarily for teens that I’ve read and enjoyed on an adult level; authors I will be returning to again and again.  There are so many more for me to explore, not least Diana Wynne Jones who died in 2011 and who has an army of adult fans, Meg Rossoff too, and, and, and … the list could go on for pages.

Which contemporary YA authors & books would you recommend to me?
Would you consider reading a YA novel?

As a final incentive, I’m offering one copy each of Here Lies Arthur, and Midwinterblood as a GIVEAWAY – open to any country to which the Book Depository delivers to.  To enter – just recommend any children’s or YA novel that makes a rewarding read for adults, ancient or modern.

Midweek Musings …

Dear Readers, I am smitten!  No, not a new man in my life, but a book.

the-diary-of-a-provincial-lady

Finally, inspired by Simon’s Guest post on Vulpes Libris, I dug out my copy of The Diary of a Provincial Lady, by E.M. Delafield.  By page two, I was lapping it up, and I shall be dipping into this book and its sequels over the next few weeks.

Why was I previously intimidated by this 1930 classic? Maybe I worried that I wouldn’t like it, and that might offend everyone else in the blogosphere who adores it. I needn’t have worried for I can join the gang now! Here’s a very short extract from pages 2/3:

November 11th. – Bournemouth. Find that history, as usual, repeats itself. Same hotel, same frenzied scurry round the school to find Robin, same collection of parents, most of them also staying at the hotel. Discover strong tendency to exchange with fellow-parents exactly the same remarks as last year and the year before that. Speak of this to Robert, who returns no answer. Perhaps he is afraid of repeating himself? This suggests Query: Does Robert, perhaps, take in what I say even when he makes no reply? …
… Robert comes up very late and says he must have dropped asleep over the Times. (Query: Why come to Bournemouth to do this?)
November 12th. – Home yesterday and am struck, as so often before, by immense accumulation of domestic disasters that always await one after any absence…
… Robert reads the Times after dinner, and goes to sleep.

* * * * *
Raven Black (Shetland Quartet 1) by Ann CleevesBack last summer, I went to hear Anne Cleeves talk about her two series of crime novels – featuring detectives Vera Stanhope and Jimmy Perez, both of which have been adapted for TV. ‘Shetland‘, a two-parter based on her Jimmy Perez books finally comes to our screens this weekend on the BBC. I shall be watching to see how they match up.

* * * * *

Alex in Leeds has come up with a wonderful way of tackling her TBR – the Book Jar – filled with slips of paper with book titles on.  Alex has even colour-coded the slips for different types of book.  I commented that I may shamelessly nick that idea for myself, and she said feel free.

So, once I’ve found a suitable container, I shall likewise fill it with titles of books from my TBR – including difficult ones, non-fiction ones, classic ones, 1001 books ones etc (I may not colour code though for a truly random result). I will aim to commit to reading one monthly.

We’ll see how I do, but I am known as a great starter and a bad finisher of projects! (Memo to self: Time to actually start reading the 2nd book of the Lymond Chronicles!)

* * * * *

And finally today, I finished reading a really good book the other day, but it’s not published until the end of the month.

Is it too early to tell you about it?
What are your feelings about advance reviews?

Scoring books, some musings on the subject

There are two definite camps in the book blogosphere: those who give/find useful star ratings, and those who don’t. I’ve always been in the former camp, but I do recognise that ratings are no more than a highly personal snapshot of opinion at time of publication.

I started out giving whole stars out of five, then had to give half stars to reflect in between scores, and my ratings thus became out of ten. Then I found that I wanted to finesse my scores a little further and started giving half marks again. I’ve since found that I give a lot of scores of 8.5/10.  On one occasion (see here) I went one step further giving a book 7.3/10! What was I on that day eh?)

In fact it is rare that I give scores of 6/10 or less, most books get between 7 and 9,  and around 10% in a year may get the full 10/10. That makes the majority of books I read better than average.  I like to think that’s because I mainly choose to read books that I expect or know will be good, (although it can be therapeutic to read a stinker just once in a while).

pemberleyBack to the snapshot business for a moment. There are times when I’ve gushed about books and scored them highly, but with the benefit of hindsight can see that I overrated them. Death Comes to Pemberley by PD James was one such case. I was about the only blogger loving this book at the time of its publication. I later realised I was reading it with rose-tinted glasses adapting it for TV as I went with Colin Firth (natch) starring. Now, I can see that as a hybrid crime/classic pastiche it wasn’t entirely successful; I stand by my initial enjoyment of reading it though.

pureThen there are books that I’ve underrated.  One such came to mind as I was writing my post yesterday about Illumination by Matthew Plampin.  I was constantly thinking of and comparing it with Andrew Miller’s wonderful novel Pure. I did score Pure as 9/10 at the time but, going by the way this novel has stayed with me, and the number of times I recommend it to others, it should have been a five star book.

All this musing leads me to ask you, dear reader…
– Are you’re bothered by scores in a review? 
– If you do find them useful, is my fussing with halves out of ten taking it too far?

I do plan to keep scoring books for my own records (they’ll appear in my Reading lists), but other than highlighting 5 star books, or absolute stinkers, I’m thinking of dropping them from my main reviews, unless you want them that is!

Thank you for bearing with me…

Older posts
%d bloggers like this: