Nov 11


Books on the Nightstand, Episode 52 (22:04)

Publishers Weekly, the trade journal that covers the book industry, just released their list of Best Books of 2009, with a new “top ten” list to go along with the announcement. We’re happy to pat ourselves on the back, since we’ve talked about 6 of the top 10 here on Books on the Nightstand, but like many others, we question the lack of women authors in the top ten.

You can follow the controversy about the lack of women by reading twitter messages that are tagged with #fembook. Out of the brouhaha comes The Willa List Wiki, started by Women in Letters and Literary Arts (link goes to Facebook group) as a way for people to list their favorite books by women that were published in 2009.

Other takes on the topic:
Laura Miller in Salon, Lizzie Skurnick, author and critic, in Politics Daily, and Bunch of Grapes Bookstore presents 10 Great Books by Female Authors.

What books written by women in 2009 do you think should top the Publishers Weekly list? Let us know in the comments, or call our voicemail line at (209) 867-7323 so that we can play your message on a future show.

In segment 2, Michael and I look at our own bookshelves to see how many women writers are represented. We also ask, are women marginalized for writing in a specific genre, or even for writing at all? One book that examines the history of women writers and looks at some of these issues is A Jury of Her Peers: American Women Writers from Anne Bradstreet to Annie Proulx by Elaine Showalter.

For those of you interested, Women Unbound is a reading challenge where participants are encouraged to read nonfiction and fiction books related to the rather broad idea of ‘women’s studies.’ It runs for an entire year, so do check it out if you want to examine the topic a bit more closely.

In our “Two Books We Can’t Wait for You to Read” segment, we recommend two books we love that are written by women. Michael talks about The Secret History by Donna Tartt, one of his favorite books of all time that still deserves attention today. Ann discusses Too Much Happiness by Alice Munro, her newest collection of short stories.

(You can listen by using the player above. If you’re using Internet Explorer, click twice to listen. If your browser does not support javascript, you won’t see the player; click the link below the player to listen, or right-click to download the episode. If you are receiving this post by email and cannot see the player at the bottom of the message, please visit http://www.booksonthenightstand.com to listen)

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We encourage you to write down or print out the title information and shop at your local bookstore. Titles link to LibraryThing, a social networking site that allows you to catalog your home library. LibraryThing also links to various online purchasing options. Here are the books from this post:

A Jury of Her Peers, Elaine Showalter,Knopf hardcover
The Secret History by Donna Tartt, Vintage trade paperback
Too Much Happiness by Alice Munro, Knopf hardcover
(all information is for the U.S. editions).
  • Melissa W.

    While I haven’t read it, I would recommend The Winter’s Vault by Anne Michaels, which was published this past year. She wrote the novel “Fugitive Pieces”.

  • Melissa W.

    While I haven’t read it, I would recommend The Winter’s Vault by Anne Michaels, which was published this past year. She wrote the novel “Fugitive Pieces”.

  • Melissa, I loved The Winter Vault and yes, it does belong on this list. Thanks!

  • Melissa, I loved The Winter Vault and yes, it does belong on this list. Thanks!

  • Interesting that they chose best mysteries and best sci fi, but not romance. Interesting especially in light of the few women obeservation.

  • Interesting that they chose best mysteries and best sci fi, but not romance. Interesting especially in light of the few women obeservation.

  • mel

    Interesting. The Scarecrow and Fate of Katherine Carr were definitely two of the best books I read this year. Cook’s book was arguably one of the best I’ve read in several years. I was surprised to see them on the top ten fiction list but I thought well deserved.

    Are great books supposed to be 50/50 gender-wise to insure — I don’t know — parity of talent? I’d thought women had won that acknowledgement long ago.

    I don’t get the concern. PW missed some of my favorites like Traffic by Tom Vanderbilt (another man) but it is so in every “best of” list.

    I thought women were represented. Next year it may be that the list is female-heavy.

  • mel

    Interesting. The Scarecrow and Fate of Katherine Carr were definitely two of the best books I read this year. Cook’s book was arguably one of the best I’ve read in several years. I was surprised to see them on the top ten fiction list but I thought well deserved.

    Are great books supposed to be 50/50 gender-wise to insure — I don’t know — parity of talent? I’d thought women had won that acknowledgement long ago.

    I don’t get the concern. PW missed some of my favorites like Traffic by Tom Vanderbilt (another man) but it is so in every “best of” list.

    I thought women were represented. Next year it may be that the list is female-heavy.

  • Tanya

    I don’t really read by author gender and if I thought the list was anything other than what the editors thought were the best of 2009, regardless of gender, I would take exception. But the PW editors explicitly state that they arrived at their discussions without regard to “gender or genre” and were “disturbed us when [they] were done that [their] list was all male.” Moreover, to include female authors for the sake of including female authors, seems disingenuous.

  • Tanya

    I don’t really read by author gender and if I thought the list was anything other than what the editors thought were the best of 2009, regardless of gender, I would take exception. But the PW editors explicitly state that they arrived at their discussions without regard to “gender or genre” and were “disturbed us when [they] were done that [their] list was all male.” Moreover, to include female authors for the sake of including female authors, seems disingenuous.

  • Mel and Tanya,

    I really think there is so much gray area, and it’s not an easy solution, as I said in the podcast.

    I can see many ways that the list might be slanted, but there’s no way of knowing for sure unless we know exactly how the list was chosen. I’m wondering if it’s something as simple as more of the judges read the top 10 books than the other books on the list? In any event, I think it’s worth observing and questioning. I also wonder what the reaction would have been if the top 10 list was all female. Would it get the same scrutiny and outcry, or would it be lauded as “progress”?

  • Mel and Tanya,

    I really think there is so much gray area, and it’s not an easy solution, as I said in the podcast.

    I can see many ways that the list might be slanted, but there’s no way of knowing for sure unless we know exactly how the list was chosen. I’m wondering if it’s something as simple as more of the judges read the top 10 books than the other books on the list? In any event, I think it’s worth observing and questioning. I also wonder what the reaction would have been if the top 10 list was all female. Would it get the same scrutiny and outcry, or would it be lauded as “progress”?

  • Thanks for linking to the Bog blog… What I maybe should have said in the post was that it was the result of me walking upstairs to the booksellers, explaining, and saying, can you give me 10 great books you loved from this year by women? The results took just a couple minutes, and we had many that we didn’t include, and many I forgot to include by the time I was downstairs.

    There are so many, the project is almost ridiculous. Which is why I suppose we all felt compelled to do it in the first place.

    (PS One I kicked myself for the second I hit publish… Sarah Waters. Little Stranger)

  • Thanks for linking to the Bog blog… What I maybe should have said in the post was that it was the result of me walking upstairs to the booksellers, explaining, and saying, can you give me 10 great books you loved from this year by women? The results took just a couple minutes, and we had many that we didn’t include, and many I forgot to include by the time I was downstairs.

    There are so many, the project is almost ridiculous. Which is why I suppose we all felt compelled to do it in the first place.

    (PS One I kicked myself for the second I hit publish… Sarah Waters. Little Stranger)

  • I agree with you that Too Much Happiness by Alice Munro is an exquisite book. Ms. Munro has been my absolute favourite author for years; I think I own almost all of her books. Her writing style is very unique. She can pull you into the minds and lives of her characters so you feel as though you know them or have even met them at some point in your life. She is very deserving of her awards and accolades. I had the good fortune of meeting her once and she was a sweet, self-effacing, gentle woman who seemed just tickled that I wanted her to sign my books.

  • I agree with you that Too Much Happiness by Alice Munro is an exquisite book. Ms. Munro has been my absolute favourite author for years; I think I own almost all of her books. Her writing style is very unique. She can pull you into the minds and lives of her characters so you feel as though you know them or have even met them at some point in your life. She is very deserving of her awards and accolades. I had the good fortune of meeting her once and she was a sweet, self-effacing, gentle woman who seemed just tickled that I wanted her to sign my books.

  • Tressa

    I have just discovered your website and podcast. I’m so happy!! Reading is one of my favorite hobbies and I really dislike ending a great book without the anticipation of another great read inhand!

    My favorite books most often come from recommendations, so what a treasure to find your site. I just finished Cutting for Stone, my husband is reading John Irving’s new book (Escape from Twisted River?). I’ve begun Olive Kittridge and have Waiting for Columbus ready in the wings. Thank you!

    I find the segments of your show to be very informative and entertaining and I am recommending your site to friends and family.

    I have never ‘blogged’ and am a bit overwhelmed by the Goodreads site. But I will try it.

    Thanks again,
    Tressa

  • Tressa

    I have just discovered your website and podcast. I’m so happy!! Reading is one of my favorite hobbies and I really dislike ending a great book without the anticipation of another great read inhand!

    My favorite books most often come from recommendations, so what a treasure to find your site. I just finished Cutting for Stone, my husband is reading John Irving’s new book (Escape from Twisted River?). I’ve begun Olive Kittridge and have Waiting for Columbus ready in the wings. Thank you!

    I find the segments of your show to be very informative and entertaining and I am recommending your site to friends and family.

    I have never ‘blogged’ and am a bit overwhelmed by the Goodreads site. But I will try it.

    Thanks again,
    Tressa

  • Suzanne

    When I saw the hue & cry on Twitter about the lack of female writers on PW’s list, I was frankly annoyed. As Mel said, haven’t we gone beyond this? Does it do women writers any favors if they are “guaranteed” spots on any best book list? I could be totally wrong, but I’d imagine that would like to be judged on the same level playing field.
    In addition, all lists like these are extremely subjective and you are never going to please everyone.
    That said, my favorite book of 2009, The Help, by Kathryn Stockett, was omitted from PW’s top 10 list.

  • Suzanne

    When I saw the hue & cry on Twitter about the lack of female writers on PW’s list, I was frankly annoyed. As Mel said, haven’t we gone beyond this? Does it do women writers any favors if they are “guaranteed” spots on any best book list? I could be totally wrong, but I’d imagine that would like to be judged on the same level playing field.
    In addition, all lists like these are extremely subjective and you are never going to please everyone.
    That said, my favorite book of 2009, The Help, by Kathryn Stockett, was omitted from PW’s top 10 list.

  • Just thought i’d comment and say neat design, did you code it yourself? Looksexcellent.

  • Just thought i’d comment and say neat design, did you code it yourself? Looksexcellent.

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