Thursday, November 12, 2009

What's Wrong With the "10 Best Books of 2009"

or, SheWrites Takes on PW's "White Boy's Club" of 2009

Kamy Wicoff, founder and CEO of She Writes, an online writing community promoting women writers (though not excluding men as members), posted a piece earlier this week responding to the exclusion of women from Publisher Weekly's Top 10 Best Books of 2009 list. In part, Wicoff wrote:

We write fiction, we write memoir, we write scifi; we are bestsellers, we are award winners, we are just starting out; we are working hard, we are writing well; we are...not as good at it as men are.

Or at least that seems to be the opinion of Publishers' Weekly, which published its "Best Books of 2009" list on November 2nd and could not see its way to including a single book by a woman without destroying its integrity or betraying its unassailable good taste. Apparently books by women just aren't as good. Sorry, girls! Poor PW, they felt really badly about it. According to the novelist and journalist Louisa Ermelino, the editors at PW bent over backwards to be objective as they chose the Best Books of the year. "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."

Not only were the writers of the books that made the list all male, but they were also overwhelmingly... white. PW may have been "disturbed," but they evidently weren't disturbed enough to question the validity of their list...

So what's wrong with the list?

"Nothing," some might say, "the books and writers on it are all excellent."

"Everything," others might answer, "but it's not just PW's fault. The shortcomings of the list only serve to underscore the flaws in the entire publishing industry."

No list is perfect -- and Top 10 Lists as a rule bug the heck out of me, because I rarely agree with them. But this particular list is patently absurd.

Of course it is ridiculous to assume that the only people capable of crafting outstanding prose in 2009 were white males. Which makes one wonder exactly what the PW editors and esteemed jury members who selected the titles on the list were thinking. Or smoking.

Wicoff has encouraged people whose literary tastes include more than just vanilla to do something about the "White Boy's Club" this year's list became. She's not suggesting that the books chosen aren't good, or that the writers aren't gifted. She simply feels, as I do, that perhaps -- just perhaps -- there are others out there who are equally talented, who have just as much to say, who don't belong to the Male Majority. To that end, SheWrites will be hosting its first ever SheWrites Day of Action tomorrow, November 13.

On this day, members are encouraged to do audacious things like actually purchase a book written by a woman and explain the reason for their choice. Imagine what literary heights we could reach and what wonderful reading experiences would open up before us if people would do that more -- buy a book and be able to state why they bought it.

I believe I may take Wicoff up on her suggestion. I know I am eager to see what others on the SheWrites site are reading. I'm always on the lookout for a great new book by an author I've never read before. I could use some ideas because, in my humble opinion, "it was on Publisher's Weekly's Best Books of the Year list" is no longer a viable reason to read a book anymore.