In my last post, I mentioned a writer who was by all accounts a difficult interview subject. She was hard to hold a conversation with because she was easily distracted. I’ve been trying to remember who this was. Unfortunately, I can’t. I read the article about her very recently, but I don’t believe I’ve read any of her work so maybe that’s why I’m blanking on her name. So I’ve been surfing the web trying to find information on women writers.
Lo and behold, there are scads of Web sites dedicated to women writers. Bookspot’s 20th Century Women Writers lists a number of sites that cover several writers, as well as fan sites for many women writers.
Now last year I spent a lot of time with my nose in Jane Austen’s novels. All of them. But apart from Jane, Edith Wharton, and Virginia Woolf, I’m not sure how many female writers I have read. Back in the Jurassic era when I was in junior high I went through a phase of reading Regency romance novels, specifically those penned by Georgette Heyer. I can’t comment now on the sophistication of her prose because frankly I don’t remember much, but I do know I learned a great deal about Regency England. After that, however, I pretty much gave up romance novels. Ok, except for a few I picked up in one of the book clubs I used to belong to. Those were embarrassingly bad and unless someone really holds my feet to the fire I’m not going to name them. Again, largely because they are long forgotten.
Prior to my Regency romance phase, and since, I was and am a science fiction fan. Not much science fiction is written by women, and much that gets lumped in with science fiction is really more “fantasy” with lots of emancipated sword-wielding princesses holding back the tide of ugly trolls…Marion Zimmer Bradley was of course a notable woman writer in the field, but I have to admit I have not read her books. Octavia Butler is another well-known female sci-fi writer, my heroine Ursula K. Le Guin must be mentioned (she also lives here in Portland! woohoo!), James Tiptree, Jr. (aka Alice B. Sheldon), C. J. Cherryh, Andre Norton, Anne McCaffrey. They’re out there, but again much of their works are mostly “fantasy” rather than science fiction. I can only read so much sword-n-sorcery and dragons.
There are of course others, and I don’t mean to create an exhaustive list here. I just want to think about whether or not fiction written by women is still largely considered “womens’ fiction”, that is, men don’t read it. Jo Rowling published the Harry Potter novels under the name J.K. Rowling at her publisher’s suggestion, who feared a woman’s name might turn off boys from reading them. In the movie “Becoming Jane” which is admittedly fiction itself, Tom Lefroy warns Jane that if she wishes to be “the equal of a masculine author” her horizons needed some widening, insinuating women’s writing was inferior to men’s, or at least the perspective was myopic.
I guess I have to admit I do shy away from novels by women, fearing the dreaded “chick-lit” or “beach read”. It’s fluffy, irrelevant, light entertainment, which is all well and good I suppose in small doses. I like something with a little more meat to it, though. A solid diet of spun sugar leaves me empty. I realize there are plenty of male authors churning out fluff as well, and I avoid them too.
I hope someday women writers will not be seen solely as “women’s writers”.