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KatawaGrey's avatar

Reading Jellies, please take a look at your bookshelves. How many of those authors are the same gender as you, how many are different, and how many are you unable to the tell the gender?

Asked by KatawaGrey (21433points) September 17th, 2010

The other day, my mother and I were talking about the genders of authors. As a reader of more than fifty years, my mother has noticed that male readers have a tendency to read mostly male authors and that female readers tend to have no preference as to the gender of their authors.

So, readers of fluther, what does the gender breakdown of your bookshelves look like?

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74 Answers

kenmc's avatar

I have never thought of that.

Wow… of the books within arm’s reach, only one is written by a female author. But, I tend to collect books by the same author. Within the books I’m considering, there’s only 9 authors.

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

Hmm. Only based on the bookshelf in this room, all but one are by male authors.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

Male 90 to 95 percent male authors, maybe even a little higher.

KatawaGrey's avatar

@TheOnlyNeffie: I know you’re married so, are any of those books your husband’s?

The bookshelf next to me has mostly female authors but that’s because that’s where I put all my books from my last women’s studies class so that doesn’t really count. The one in my bedroom has a fairly even mix of male and female authors.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

Except I do have one bookcase of just cookbooks. Thats weighted 75 percent female, 25 percent male.

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

@KatawaGrey my husband does not enjoying reading. Every single book in this house (except for a textbook from the police academy) belongs to me.
I am tempted to check the other 2 bookshelves in the house for a comparison, though. Maybe I only put male authors in my living room.

syz's avatar

My fiction is mostly female, my non fiction typically male.

TexasDude's avatar

I’m a male and most of the authors of the books on my shelves are male. Then again, I don’t think that many female authors write military history, general history, DIY, and survival books.

I think there is a sort of confirmation bias based on the specific genres we enjoy vs. what kind of authors write those works.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@Fiddle_Playing_Creole_Bastard I was thinking along the same lines.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@KatawaGrey Do you take much in the way of history classes? Are there many women writers of history related books?

tinyfaery's avatar

At a quick glance I would say I have ⅓ female authors. But I have a lot of philosophy books so my contribution to this theory is a bit skewed. If we count only fiction, I have about half and half, but still a bit more male authors.

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

Wow. Just checked the rest of the house.. same trend. I own very few books written by female authors. (This is excluding cookbooks.)

muppetish's avatar

I did a quick sweep of my bookshelf and count 27 male and five female, which, to me, is a depressing figure whether you are male or female. The ratio is slightly different in terms of female lead characters, but it’s still an unequal distribution. Side note: I own far more than 32 books. They don’t fit on my bookshelf because I only own two and a half shelves. The rest belongs to my younger brother. The remainder of my library is scattered throughout the entirety of my room.

It does make a difference, though, that the majority of the books I currently own were purchased for school. I think if I were to review my library records, the number of female authors I have read and enjoyed would increase. Incidentally, I have misplaced my treasury of Beatrix Potter books! What a shame.

My brothers’ collections are predominantly male (especially since the Science Fiction realm is teeming with more male authors than female.) My father’s, with the exception of J.K. Rowling, is exclusively male (he likes Grisham, the Star Wars Expanded Universe, and political biographies.) My mother reads mostly female authors, but reads quite a few male authors as well.

KatawaGrey's avatar

@Adirondackwannabe and @Fiddle_Playing_Creole_Bastard bring up an excellent point. I read almost exclusively fantasy and there are a lot more female authors in fantasy than there tend to be in other genres.

@muppetish: Interestingly enough, there are a lot of male science fiction authors who are actually female and just used male pen names in order to get a higher readership. This was much more common during the fifties and before when people were much more actively thinking about the gender of their authors.

Just thought you’d all like to know that I’m asking this question because I’m in the process of writing a book and I’m trying to figure out how my name should appear on my books, when they get published, of course. :)

Edit to add: @Adirondackwannabe: I don’t take all that many history classes but many of my textbooks have multiple authors. My Anthropology book was written by a man and woman I’m guessing a husband/wife team because the last name is the same, my African American Lit book was edited by both a man and a woman, my nutrition book was written by a woman, and my film industry book was written by a man. I’ve noticed similar breakdowns in my textbooks in past years with two exceptions. My women’s studies books are almost always written by women one was written by a husband/wife team and my media production books are almost always written by men.

sakura's avatar

I am female and tend to read mostly female author books.. I do occasionaly read those by males… mainly autobiographys though!

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

I’ve got a vast majority of male authors. Probably 90% are thus. I have many books of the ancient Classics, and the only female who fits into that realm is Sappho, and yes, I do have an excellent translation of all her fragments by the inconquerable Anne Carson. Ms. Carson is one of 2 living writers whose book I will buy on sight without a thought. (The other is Thomas Pynchon.)

Having said that some of the books I prize the most are by female authors. Middlemarch by George Eliot is one, and I think it may be the finest novel ever written in English. I have much of the writings of the French woman Marguerite Duras, and of course, I have everything by Anne Carson. I also have a very delightful contemporary novel by Jincy Willet called Winner of the National Book Award. (That particular book has what I regard as the best opening line of any book I own: “Lightning sought our mother out…”) I have a lot of Edna St. Vincent Millay’s poetry, too.

Still, I cannot deny the preponderance of male authors.

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

The responses here make me wonder just how many female authors use a male name. It seems the majority of us lean towards male authors without even realising it.

lucillelucillelucille's avatar

Mostly men.I never cared about gender.I just need the info…or want to read the story ;)

Seek's avatar

Well, most of my books are packed away pending a move, so I can’t count.

A vast majority of the books between my husband and me are by male authors. I can name the female authors off the top of my head – Marion Zimmer Bradley, five books, Connie Willis, Joanne Harris, Anita Diamant, Sarah Dunant, Barbara Tuchman, Edith Hamilton, Jane Austen… all one book each. There might be a few more than that (especially among the nonfiction, as I have no idea who authored most of those, but I can’t think of any more.

I think I have more books written by a single male author (Tolkien, Robert Asprin, Piers Anthony, Michael Moorcock) than I have books written by women.

It’s certainly not a conscious decision to not buy books written by women, but the majority of fantasy and sci-fi authors are men, especially in the mid 70s to the mid 80s, when my husband was building his paperback collection.

JilltheTooth's avatar

Well, @KatawaGrey , you know what our house is like. Of probably 1500 books (give or take) it’s probably a 60/40 split (male/female) because so many of my favorite authors were published before the trend shifted. That said, I keep finding female authors of more modern stuff that I love, so I’m evening the odds as I buy out all their titles.

Neizvestnaya's avatar

I hadn’t ever kept a running tally, wow. Having scouted about then it looks like more male authors but I have no way of knowing for sure, it hasn’t ever been a curiosity until now.

KatawaGrey's avatar

@TheOnlyNeffie: Also think about the number of authors who use their initials. I thought J. K. Rowling was a man until I learned that she spelled it “Jo” and not “Joe.” I have to wonder if she would have gained nearly the popularity in such a short time if she used her name rather than her initials.

JilltheTooth's avatar

For some backstory; we were talking about what a shame it is that so many men just won’t read fiction by women, because it’s by women, but most women are delighted to read anything. (Speaking from 10 years of experience in retail books).

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

I was just realizing the one genre where authors might be split more evenly might be comedy, and I only have male writers:Dave Barry, Al Franken, etc. and no female authors. I read mostly history, some historical fiction, fiction, etc but why the comedy thing?

muppetish's avatar

@JilltheTooth It’s an absolute shame if their only reason for putting a book down is the gender of the author. The name of the author is one of the last things I even look at. I’m far more interested in their words. It’s only after I am completely absorbed into the literature that I explore the author’s history.

JilltheTooth's avatar

@muppetish : I know, right? I never stopped being amazed at that.

Christian95's avatar

I’ma male and most of my books are written by female authors.The only books by male authors are my physics books(but I guess that’t because there are very few female physics authors,don’t know why)

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

I’m just running through my memory of the genders of authors in bookstores. (I love bookstores) As I walk the sections, the males probably make up at least 67 to 75 of the sections I shop, if not higher.

tragiclikebowie's avatar

I took a quick tally of a couple of my bookshelves (by no means an all inclusive list) and came up with 60 males, 38 females, and 10 I couldn’t identify. I have a lot of history books though. I’d say my book makeup is 40% history, 40% sci-fi/fantasy,15% fiction, and 5% other.

I did notice most of the history books I have are written by males, while the sci-fi/fantasy collection I have is split pretty evenly.

rts486's avatar

I’m not at home right now, but of my books, I would guess at least 75% are male.

Seaofclouds's avatar

I’d say about 60% of the books I own were written by men and 40% were written by women. My husband’s books that are our on the shelves are mostly written by men. I’m not sure about the books of his that are still in boxes.

Neither of us would put a book down just because of the gender of the writer.

fundevogel's avatar

According to my Librarything stats

male authors: 210
female authors: 56
unknown gender: 2

I haven’t gotten around to reading all of those yet. Of the books I’ve read this year 21 were by male authors and 3 were by women. Sex isn’t something I take into consideration when I pick my reading material. I suspect that for whatever reason there are more men writing books about the things I’m interested in. It would be interesting to see how writers’ gender is distributed according to subject. Also, are the number of men and women writers roughly equivalent? If they aren’t that needs to be taken into consideration before interpreting statistics.

Oh I’m a girl. I know the beard throws people off, but it’s true.

isuppose's avatar

Wow I’ve never even thought about this! GQ. In my room I have 19 books written by men, and 2 written by women.

fundevogel's avatar

I looked at the kind of books the female authors in my librarything wrote and this is what I found:

Fiction – 30
childrens – 12
classics – 7
sci-fi/fantasy – 2
mystery – 1
other – 8

Non fiction – 26
history – 7
memoir – 3
religion – 3
science – 2
language – 2
art – 2
other – 7

They seemed far more likely to be writing children’s books. 21% (12/56) of the female authors wrote children’s fiction while only 1% (23/210) of the male authors in my library did. I expect there might be other differences in how the genders are represented according to subject but I don’t want to do the counting.

Anywho, if 21% of female authors are dedicated to children’s lit that’s 21% of female authors that I’m probably not going to read in contrast to 1% of men that I probably wont read. I’m sure there are subjects dominated by men I avoid as well (troop movement history) but this is an unabashedly incomplete look at the issue.

*yes I know my stats are based on a poor sampling group since they only include books I would read, thus eliminating entire genres like historical fiction and romance. Oh well.

muppetish's avatar

@fundevogel Why did you have to post a link to LibraryThing? There’s no way I’m going to study for the GRE now that I’m cataloguing every scrap of literature I own / have read / intend to read. It’s like GoodReads on crack.

fundevogel's avatar

@muppetish mwahahaha. Comment on my page so I can add you to my interesting libraries list.

Austinlad's avatar

I own way too many books to know or care, but I honestly can’t recall ever having bought a book based on the gender of its author—only on the subject.

TexasDude's avatar

Aw man.. I’m gonna have to make a librarything now and see if I can somehow catalog my 3000+ books

CMaz's avatar

This is like Duck Duck Goose. But with books.

Jeruba's avatar

I’d have to take an inventory of thousands of books in order to produce a count. But I don’t need to. I know without looking that most of them are by male authors. The sex of the author doesn’t play a part in my choice of books—I am not biased toward women, I can tell you that, and I don’t go in for “chick lit” types of books at all—but a very large proportion of my library is older work, and most older work was written by men. Not until you get to the 19th century do you see female authors accepted alongside men, and then not very many.

Most—not all, but most—of the scholarly, philosophical, and analytical work on my shelves is by men. Perhaps this is because (again, until fairly recently) men would be more likely to hold the university appointments and be publishing studies of art, mythology, the Middle Ages, etc., be more likely to become Buddhist sages, be more likely to be welcomed into circles of scholarly inquiry, and (I’m guessing) be more likely to receive the grants, appointments, and fellowships necessary to complete such works.

flutherother's avatar

More male authors on my shelves by quite a wide margin. I am a bit surprised by that as I didn’t expect it but there you are.

MissAnthrope's avatar

Interesting question.. I’d never paid a lot of attention to this before. To me, a good book is a good book, regardless of gender. I actually expected to have a higher proportion of female authors, being the man-hating lesbian that I am (kidding). Actually, my favorite genre is historical fiction and it just so happens that the writers I like best from that genre are female.

However, I was very surprised when I took a tally. I counted most of the books on my shelf and it came down to 46 male, 31 female, counting the cookbooks. I don’t have all my books on my shelf (some are still in boxes), but it’s interesting to see the trend.

absalom's avatar

Like this question.

Fortunately, I’m at school right now, so my bookshelf contains only a few curriculum texts (which will be interesting to look at, to see how female authors are represented in random-ish college courses).

Results: 30 by males, vastly fiction; 5 by females, three of which are nonfiction! (The remaining two, Willa Cather and C.E. Morgan, are more phenomenal than many of the male authors sitting next to them.)

I am male, so it should follow (maybe?) that I am more likely to identify with the subject matter of male authors. My own library at home, I am sure, is dominated by male-written texts (although the ratio isn’t as bad as 6:1). In terms of the actual quality of the prose or poetry, I see sex as playing no role whatsoever.

My mom and I were talking about this yesterday because my father is sexist and doesn’t read female authors. I.e. he will actually refuse a female author when recommended to him. Seems he’s missing out.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

I have a couple of books written by trans or gender non conforming people but there are very few and far between. I have many books by female authors but that’s because I have a lot of feminist and parenting texts. Many other books are Russian classics written by men. I have a lot of non-fiction and it’s split down the sexes, I guess. I think, for me, it’s much more about what kind of texts these are (if you’re into the classics, it’s not surprising why mostly men published and it doesn’t indicate I have a bias).

KatawaGrey's avatar

@absalom: You said exactly what @JilltheTooth and I have been talking about. The US is largely a male-normative society so males have a tendency to read books by male authors because that’s what they know. Females tend read either because they know females being female themselves and, as society, we know males.

Okay mom, here’s where you come in and tell everyone what you learned in your ten years of working in bookstores so I don’t look like such a whack-job.

YARNLADY's avatar

About 30% female, 70% male.

rooeytoo's avatar

I never thought about this until about 15 years back a man I was dating said he wouldn’t read books by female authors, they were too sappy, needless to say that was not a lasting relationship, hehheh. Since then I have taken note of what I read, which by the way is predominantly fiction because I read for entertainment more than anything else. I know I am very shallow. Nonetheless I have favorite authors and whenever then put out a new book I always grab it and my taste seems to be just about 50/50. If I like their style and subject material, once again the plumbing doesn’t really matter to me, as long as it gets the job done!

MacBean's avatar

Wow, looking around my room and at my GoodReads account, it looks like the only female authors I read regularly are Jo Rowling, Poppy Z. Brite and Mary Roach. And Doc (PZB) is only female-bodied, not actually female. Huh.

Oh. I lie, I keep up with Laurie R. King, too. But I don’t own her books. They get read to me over the phone.

But, still. My bookshelves are overwhelmingly populated by male authors.

Frenchfry's avatar

Mostly men. Stephen King, Dean Koontz.
I have toms of cookbooks that are actually women writers if that counts.

rooeytoo's avatar

For you who would like to read more by females, please allow me to make a suggestion or three, if you want a laugh read the Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich, semi romantic but well written I think is Anne Rivers Siddons (Hill Towns is one of my favorites, she must have agoraphobia) and of course Jodi Picoult whose books are so well researched they are practically textbooks. They are all good. Does anyone else have any good authors to suggest?

augustlan's avatar

Huh. The vast majority of the books I own are written by men. Who knew? Well, except you and your mama. ;)

downtide's avatar

Mine are about 80% by men. Genre-wise they’re mostly fantasy & science fiction, historical non-fiction, philosophy, science, computer stuff, travel. Even my cookery books are written by men.

I wonder what the overall statistics are, regarding the percentage of books authored by men vs women. I bet it’s skewed towards men.

JilltheTooth's avatar

A lot of what @KatawaGrey and I were talking about concerns main stream genre fiction. As one example. when I worked in books, if a man asked for a recommendation for a new author in mystery/crime fiction that was meatier than “fluffy” whodunnits, I would recommend Elizabeth George, (who has a reputaion for “seamy dark underbelly” stuff.) He would usually reject that suggestion in favor of Earl Emerson or Dick Francis, both good choices, but not quite as raw, because he didn’t want to read “girly” stuff. Another example, a man would pick up Julian May (Sci Fi), ask if the books were any good, when I said yes, he’d buy them. If I used a pronoun regarding the author (“she writes well”) he’d put it back. Both of those authors don’t slant their work towards a female perspective. Too bad, they’re missing out.

downtide's avatar

@JilltheTooth I usually don’t enjoy fiction as much when the main protagonist is female, because I find it much harder to relate to the character. There are exceptions but not many and, with a quick scan of my bookshelves, I can see that the ones with a female protagonist that I did enjoy were actually written by men.

JilltheTooth's avatar

@downtide ; The examples of authors I gave don’t usually have female protagonists, that’s why I mentioned them.

Seek's avatar

@rooeytoo I always recommend Marion Zimmer Bradley, especially her “Avalon” series, and “The Firebrand”. It’s really interesting to read historical stories and mythology from the women’s perspective. I’d like to get into Darkover, but I have this absurd “rule” that I have to start any series at the beginning, and I can’t seem to figure out which book that is.

JilltheTooth's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr ; Darkover Landfall if you want to go with the chronological history of the colony, but I started randomly and had no trouble. If you want some tips on the series, PM me.

MissAnthrope's avatar

It occurred to me this morning that this question and this question are related. Even though we’ve made strides toward equality, there are still all the hidden prejudices and beliefs. There’s no reason in this day and age that male readers should so prefer to read male authors, right?

Aesthetic_Mess's avatar

I think I have more male authors on my shelf than women, but it’s not on purpose. I just buy whatever appeals to me.

YARNLADY's avatar

There are probably several by women using male pennames like James Tiptree, Jr. did.

KatawaGrey's avatar

@YARNLADY: Very true. In fact, many women who used male pen names did it specifically because there were a lot of people who not have read their books if they knew a woman had written them. I’m not saying that’s necessarily the case today, but I would imagine it does still happen to an extent.

MacBean's avatar

That’s why Jo Rowling is published as J.K. instead of as Joanne.

rts486's avatar

Maybe more people have books written by men… because more books are written by men. I have a hard time believing somebody will choose a book based on the gender of the author. I think that idea is just another made up example of sexism.

JilltheTooth's avatar

@rts486 : It’s not made up. It’s fairly prevalent, as I mentioned before, based on 10 years of selling books retail. It’s fairly benign, just a shame.

KatawaGrey's avatar

@rts486: Of all the real examples of sexism there are, why on earth would we make up one so absurd?

Also, I gotta ask, what is your gender?

lonelydragon's avatar

Interesting theory. According to some research that I’ve read, women are taught from an early age to identify with a male perspective through the literature that they read (a lot of the classics are written by male authors), but men are not taught to do the same. Boys tend to avoid books by women, fearing that they’re overly sentimental (not necessarily true) and that reading a book by a woman author will impugn their masculinity.

With that said, if we were only counting fiction books, I’d say that my collection is split fairly evenly, perhaps slightly skewed towards women authors. But if we were to count my old college textbooks into the mix, then there would be more male than female authors.

martianspringtime's avatar

I hardly have any books penned by female authors (granted I don’t own a lot of the books I’ve read, and most of the books I do own are different titles by a handful of different authors).
I hardly even notice the author’s name of a book before I decide whether or not I’m going to read it, unless it’s a known author or I purposefully set out to read one of their books. I’m not sure if there are fewer female writers, but there aren’t a lot that are held in high regard. There are definitely some, but most writers that are regarded as great writers are male.

Seek's avatar

I recently catalogued all of my books, and i’m happy to say I have a ton more female-penned books than I thought! I have almost everything by Ursula k. LeGuin, a ton of Andre Norton (who I didn’t know was a woman until I read one of the introductions…) and some Mercedes Lackey

JilltheTooth's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr : And if you have any James Tiptree, you can count her, too!

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@JilltheTooth Since I first saw this question and noticed my slant towards male writers I’ve been searching out women writers and there’s some really good one’s out there. I’m glad she asked this question.

JilltheTooth's avatar

I sometimes feel that all authors should try writing under gender-nonspecific names, it would really require the reader to judge solely on style and content.

KatawaGrey's avatar

Hey, you all can read my books when I’m published and up your female content!

@JilltheTooth: This is why I’m planning on being K. W. T______ rather than Kate T______.

JilltheTooth's avatar

@KatawaGrey : Well, since your middle name is traditionally a masculine name you can be K. Middle Name T_______ and confuse the hell out of everybody!

Seek's avatar

I’ve thought of that, too.

If (woo, what an “if”) I ever finish and release a book, I’m going to use a gender-neutral pseudonym. Sci Fi/Fantasy by women just doesn’t get enough attention.

So, I just have to find a name I like, as my initials are too common and boring-sounding.

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