James S Kendall

Writer, thinker, wanderer.

James S. Kendall is an author of fiction both literary and other. He's also a husband and father constantly searching for ways to be a better human.

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A Year of Reading Women

I can’t remember where I first heard of it.  On twitter, I’m sure.  So it’s probably Roxanne Gay’s fault (most things on Twitter are).  But I was directed to an article (a “provocation”) written for the Writer’s Centre Norwich by Kamila Shamsie.  In this piece, she proposed a worldwide moratorium on publishing any new titles written by men in 2018.  In other words, only publishing women for a full 12 months.  A provocation indeed.

I won’t reiterate her reasons behind this proposition (you can read them for yourself here).  While the thought of coordinating something like that seems… fanciful, she mentioned a journal whose editors and readers embarked on a Year of Reading Women.  This idea struck me as one I could put into action.

To my own thinking, there is a tremendous amount of quality literature being produced these days by all genders.  The process of choosing a book to read is somewhat arbitrary, it’s recommendations from friends, from reviewers, from bookstore displays.  Kamila’s point, though, is that it isn’t arbitrary.  Male writers are overexposed in a hundred, little ways.  They still take up more than their fair share of space in the literary world while women who are their equals (or better) are left in the shadows.  It’s a cycle that perpetuates itself… and now I’m just restating things that Kamila said better.

So this exercise is my little way of trying to balance the scale, at least when it comes to my own reading.  Already, just the awareness this brings to my decisions around literature has been informative.  I notice how many book lists and adverts and interviews feature male authors (or even just Jonathan Franzen) and my ears perk up every time I encounter a recommendation for a book written by a woman.  It’s interesting to me how many of the former seem to come from big publications and how many of the latter through word-of-mouth.

Of course, as with everything, I’m cheating at this.  Namely, I’m not applying this same filter to literary and poetry mags.  I hate falling behind in my periodicals and I (almost) always read cover-to-cover.  I’ll also be readying anything selected for our Ron Book Team.  In the grand scheme of things, loyalty to book groups must come before loyalty to any individual’s cause.

So far, I’ve read some really extraordinary books (and some ordinary ones).  This list will grow over time and I hope to be able to dive into a little bit of reviewing for some of these.  I recommend all of them whole-heartedly.

We’re All Welcome Here – Elizabeth Berg

My Year in France – Julia Child

Nevada – Imogen Binnie

Station Eleven – Emily St. John Mandel

Things that Are – Amy Leach

Rose Variations – Marisha Chamberlain

Let the Dark Flower Blossom – Norah Labiner