This morning I reminded myself of Hannelore, from the Web comic Questionable Content. She’s the girl who compulsively counts things (other quirks include worrying; I do that too). So that was me, earlier today, sitting at my computer counting up the number of women whose books have been recognized by the New York Times in its annual list of Best Books of the Year over the past several years.
I started this crazy counting endeavor when I noticed that four of the five fiction titles on this year’s list were written by women. Wow, when had such an event occurred before, I wondered, an actual majority of women writers! Then I noticed the non-fiction list also sported two more titles written by women! This meant that 6 out of the 10 books were written by women! I had to know if this had ever happened before.
Long time readers of this blog will note my general hostility toward these lists and toward literary awards in general. I often specifically bemoan the lack of attention given to works by women, and to the preponderance of accolades given to certain white male authors (yes, I mean you, Philip Roth). Thus I was driven to discover whether this year’s list was unusual or not. As much as I could, I went back through previous years’ lists and compiled this information about the Times’s list of 10 best books:
2008: 4 out of 10 titles written by women.
2007: only 2 out of 10
2006: 3 out of 10
2005: 4 out of 10
2004: 2 out of 10
At this point I got bored, and the lists became harder to find, so I gave up. (I know, Hanners would have kept going and going and going….). But isn’t this great? It does look like this year was the first majority-female list. And, even better, this year’s list contains books I actually want to read. In fact, A Gate at the Stairs, and A Short History of Women are already in my queue at the library. Even the single lonely male-authored fiction title, Chronic City, is by Jonathan Lethem, whose book Motherless Brooklyn is one of my favorites. What if I read all five of these books? Would I then have to shut up about how irrelevant these lists are? I guess so, unless I hate them all…..