This past Monday (November 2nd) the editors of Publisher’s Weekly announced their list of the 10 best books of the year. Not one of them was written by a woman. Was this an oversight or a deliberate slight? One of the editors, Louisa Ermelino, explained, “We wanted [it] to reflect what we thought were the top 10 books of the year with no other consideration … We ignored gender and genre and who had the buzz. We gave fair chance to the ‘big’ books of the year, but made them stand on their own two feet. It disturbed us when we were done that our list was all male.”
Oh, really? Why did it disturb them? Because they knew there were equally good books out there by women but they just couldn’t bring themselves to choose them over a man’s book? Or because they knew the public would flip out?
Well, it did. Laura Miller is just one of the many commentators who expressed their concerns. Her article on Salon.com reflects on the cultural biases that may have led to the male-heavy list. (I wrote about this same phenomenon in a March, 2009 post, “Women Writers Get No Respect.”) Naturally, books by female authors were thrown in PW’s face (metaphorically speaking). WILLA–or Women In Letters and Literary Arts–created a wiki-page asking for candidates for their list of great books written by women in 2009.
I intend to read the books on PW’s list–or most of them–and then sample the books on the WILLA list in order to get an idea of what the PW editors had to choose from. It will take me a while, but I’ll report on them as I read them. If anyone out there has read any of them, please write in and tell us what you thought of them. I don’t feel comfortable criticizing PW’s choices if I haven’t done at least a little research.
I have a few questions, though: how many men and how many women were responsible for PW’s decisions? And how exactly did they make the choices? Did they all read every book on the list? How many books by women did they consider? What are their personal predilections? They said that they didn’t go by a book’s buzz. Then how did they hear about the books that they chose? And, to go back a little further: how well are women’s books promoted in the first place? Are they “ghettoized” as women’s books or treated as seriously as men’s?