Tag Archives: recommendations

Bias on my bookshelves

I’ve been reading articles lately about gender bias in book reading and reviewing. It seems that men don’t read books by women, and ‘serious’ (whatever that means) publications are reluctant to review commercial fiction by women.

They’ve made me think about my own bias, because if there is one, it definitely runs the other way. I blog YA book reviews regularly on the http://www.paisleypiranha.wordpress.com site, where the vast majority of books I’ve reviewed have been written by women.

But I don’t think this is a conscious bias towards women writers (there’s plenty of Anthony Horowitz and Nicholas Fisk and Isaac Asimov on my bookshelves, too). If anything, it’s a bias towards female protagonists. Like (I would imagine) all readers, I want books that interest me, and I want to sink into the world of the book and become the main character for as long as it lasts. It’s easier for me to do that with a female main character because she’s “like me” from the start. These are mostly written by women, so most of what I read is written by women.

It’s probably also a result of the fact that the majority of my friends (both writing and not) are also female, so book recommendations tend to be from females, and they all seem to like female protagonists and women writers, too.

When I look back over recently-read books, and cast an eye over my bookshelves or my eReader, I see that they are mostly female main characters, but there is enough variety that I’m not worried by a potential gender bias – I’m more concerned by what looks a lot like a white-British middle class bias. There are few books I read that feature characters who aren’t – or can’t be imagined by me as – white and British. Part of that is probably because I imagine the characters as some form of ‘me’ whether they are or not (and that might be a good thing, because we’re all human in the end), but I’d like my reading to take me out of myself now and then, as well as taking ‘me’ into a different world.

So, it looks like I need to gain some variety in my to be read pile by adding books that don’t feature white, well-educated, able-bodied heterosexual Brits (but still commercial and fast-paced, please) – any recommendations, anyone?

Why I’m no good in a book club

Maybe people who know me would roll their eyes and mutter, “Of course” at this, but it turns out I’m a bit of a contrary so and so. I love getting book recommendations and finding new books and authors I can fall in love with, but I don’t like being told what to read.

This first became apparent at secondary school. Someone in my class read War Horse and loved it, then one of his friends read it on his recommendation and so on. When about four people had read and enjoyed it, our English teacher suggested, “Why don’t we make it a class project that everyone reads it?” This was greeted with enthusiasm by most of the class. In a manner typical to me, I didn’t protest, but lowered my eyes and mutinously thought, “I’m not reading it just because everyone else is!”

The cover of Michael Morpurgo's WWI novel, War Horse
War Horse

A couple of decades later and I STILL haven’t read War Horse. My mum read it before the film came out and lent me her copy – which sat on my bookshelf for a year before I gave it back.

Picture of Katy Haye, contrary reader
Contrary Mare

In my defence, I don’t THINK this is entirely due to contrariness. I don’t like reading about World War I (I studied WWI poetry for A-level and it just makes me weep – we sent those poor boys to hell) so the book probably just isn’t for me.

To give myself a second chance, I’ve joined a few groups on Goodreads. So far I haven’t joined in with any monthly reading challenges because none of the books suggested have been on my “must read” list, but maybe (only maybe) I’ll relax enough to read something blind, just because other people are reading it and think I should, too.

Who knows, I might discover a treasure.

The Comfort of Old Friends

I got book vouchers for my birthday in November, and more for Christmas. Whilst the days have been filled with lazy holiday vibes I’ve been checking Twitter recommendations and I now have a well-stuffed Kindle.

The newest additions to my Kindle
Some lovely books lined up to start the year…

So why do I find myself dipping back into my battered paperback of Steven Gould’s Jumper, which I must have read 8 or more times, when I have new books beckoning and time is as pressing as ever?

I think it boils down to reliability. I love reading and I love discovering new books and new authors, but the other side of that is I hate being disappointed by picking up a book that ought to push all my buttons but doesn’t manage to live up either to its hype from others, or to my own expectations. I know what I’m going to get with an already-read story so there’s no chance of a let-down.

A picture of Steven Gould's sci-fi classic, Jumper
My much-loved and (for me) battered copy of Jumper, one of my all-time favourite reads.

A more positive interpretation is that book worlds genuinely become places I know, and their characters are friends. I wouldn’t ignore old friends just for the sake of gaining more, newer friends, so maybe it’s a good thing that I like to check in now and then and make sure old books are doing okay in between saying hello to new ones.