A couple of things caught my eye while I was busy catching up on all things Internet earlier today, in particular this piece at Suzy Feay’s Book BagWhere are all the female reviewers (hat-tip to the F Word), and this piece by Jane Bradley at For Books’ SakeNovel Women at the ICA.

In the first article, Suzi Feay comments on the dearth of female book reviewers, an issue that’s become the focus of much discussion following the publication of VIDA’s 2010 survey into the (under)representation of women in literary magazines. Indeed, as Feay points out: “The figures are hard to refute: a survey analysing the LRB, TLS, NYRB and newspaper books pages found startling imbalances. In some cases, 75% of the books reviewed in a publication were written by men, with a preponderance of male reviewers also.

In the second link Jane Bradley talks about an event she attended last week at the ICA “about the dominance of male authors in the media and in major prizes, despite women authors eclipsing them in terms of writers, sales and readers.”

These two articles then reminded me of Bidisha’s recent piece – On Despair, which I’ve been meaning to plug here since I first read it a couple of weeks ago:

“at the Waterstones on New Row in Covent Garden are two tables labelled Books We Can’t Put Down. A fortnight ago one table had 42 authors, of whom 4 were women. The other had 45 authors, of whom 4 were women. There was a wall display of Philosophical Fiction featuring novels by 21 different men and 0 women. The big Waterstones on Piccadilly’s even worse.

Let’s scroll back. Since the beginning of 2008 I’ve conducted author interviews with 49 men and only 23 women. In the Evening Standard’s summer reading round-up on 2nd July David Sexton recommended 16 books by men and only 5 by women. In June, the World Literature Weekend organised by the London Review Bookshop: 26 writers, of which only 4 were women. Of those, 2 were faithful translators of men’s work and one was talking about her late, ‘great’ writer father. This year’s Walter Scott Prize for historical fiction – a genre utterly dominated by brilliant women – shortlisted two women and five men. The Dolman prize for travel writing shortlisted one woman.

I have been working for nearly twenty years and have made no difference to anything. It is difficult to describe the sheer alienation one feels to participate in – even to chair and moderate – a discussion about arts, politics, culture, the world, in which no woman or her achievements is mentioned once, by anyone, at any time. I can’t keep sitting in a studio feeding flattering questions to a guy who’s written an average book and is busy namechecking 20 other ‘great’ men, while a female producer and female PR gape like groupies and ten works of actual genius by women fester in the bin.”

Seriously, go to the link and read the whole thing; it really is an awesome piece of writing.

So anyway, there I was this morning pondering these questions of why it is that women’s writing gets so ignored by (mainly male) book reviewers, and why female writers rarely even make it onto the shortlists of the major book prizes let alone go on to win them, when up popped Robert McCrum’s latest Guardian book blog in my Google Reader  – A Lesson in Teaching Writing.

And guess what? Robert McCrum isn’t a creative writing tutor, but if he was, judging by the passages he references in this piece, his major lesson would appear to be: don’t ever read books written by women!!

McCrum says:

“If I was teaching a writing class, which mercifully I don’t have to do, here are some passages I’d refer to by way of illustrating some technical lessons.”

He then goes on to list the passages he’d refer to – 19 of them all in all. See if you can spot the women:

The first chapter of Hardy’s The Return of the Native
The opening of EM Forster’s A Passage To India
The opening chapter of Fitzgerald’s The Last Tycoon
The opening pages of DH Lawrence’s Women in Love
The first two pages of Hunter S Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
Almost any passage from Beckett’s Waiting for Godot
Elizabeth Taylor’s Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont
Lorrie Moore’s story “Vissi D’arte”
JD Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye
Herman Melville’s “Bartleby, the Scrivener”
Act I of Macbeth
Virginia Woolf’s Orlando
Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island
Graham Greene’s “The Destructors”
Norman Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song
Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses
Robert Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy
Melville’s Moby Dick
Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa.

I make it three: three women writers referenced out of a grand total of 19!

Well done McCrum for proving the point a host of women writers have been trying to make, and for illustrating how literary men promoting other literary men is a significant part of the problem.

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