Egomaniac that I am, I publish an annual list of what I thought were the best books I read each year, as if anyone else gives a shit. In 2012 the list contained no female authors. This was a genuine surprise to me when pointed out—I honest to God hadn’t noticed—but it got me to thinking. Since then I have made a conscious effort to read more female writers, and to add female characters to my writing.
My 2013 list contained only two females, both in the Honorable Mention list. (Laura Lippman and Zoe Sharp.) None made the Top Ten.
This prompted some examination. Why don’t I read more female authors, and why don’t I enjoy them more when I do? As the father of a daughter, I felt a need to see if there was something more afoot. I doubt my conclusions will satisfy many, but what good is a writer without an occasional well-intentioned controversy?
I looked for a common denominator in the writing that might put me off. This is dangerous business, as that implies all women write more or less the same way, which is no truer that saying all men do. I needed to organize my thoughts around writing, not gender, to see if there were common elements in the books I either didn’t like as much as I’d hoped, regardless of the author’s plumbing. I found three things:
1. So long as the story is plausible and doesn’t require me to rupture myself suspending disbelief, I’m interested more in the manner of the telling than I am in what’s told. In short, I read for style. Most of the female authors to whom I’ve been exposed are storytellers more than stylists, with a couple of notable exceptions. (Megan Abbott, Christa Faust.)
2. Women tend to be more descriptive than men. Lots more adjectives. I don’t care that it was a pale blue house with a white door and cedar shake shingles unless it’s important for some reason. I don’t care that a person set down his Louis Vuitton garment bag, shrugged up the sleeve of his Caraceni suit, and looked at his Piaget watch unless it tells me something about him, and it’s something worth remembering, which means I don’t have to hear about it every time. That reason doesn’t have to be readily evident, but there needs to be one. That’s a matter of personal taste. It doesn’t make me right, but it does affect my reading enjoyment.
3. Forgive me for saying this, but a lot of female authors drop in too many scenes that seem to have been written for Lifetime TV movies. I don’t watch TV movies. As above, that doesn’t make me right, but it does affect my choices.
Who do I read and enjoy? Megan Abbott. (Though I’ll admit Dare Me put me off. Maybe because I used to be a public school teacher or because my daughter is not that far removed from high school, but every character I remember was detestable, and I just stopped caring about them. In fairness, Bury Me Deep is as good as it gets.) Christa Faust. Laura Lippman’s standalones (Tess Monahan I can live without). Sandra Parshall. S.J. Rozan. Zoe Sharp.
Help me out. With the above caveats in mind, who am I missing?