good news for readers

I was very excited today to find out that the Women’s Review of Books, which suspended publication in December 2004, has acquired new funding, and will be relaunching in January 2006.

I can’t tell you the number of books by women that I discovered through the WRB. Without them, I would have been late to the Marjane Satrapi party, for sure. Ditto Sarah Water’s excellent novel, Fingersmith. They were also responsible for introducing me to Ayelet Waldman (yes, before she achieved blogiverse infamy). And of course, their reviews of academic books, particularly biographies of women I’d never learned about in history, opened up a whole new world to me.

I’d guess that the percentage of books on my Powell’s wishlist that came from the WRB is in the neighborhood of 80%, and when they shut down late last year, I remember thinking to myself, ‘now where on earth am I going to find out about new women writers?’

I read the Times Book Review section every week — it’s the first part of the Sunday Times that I turn to, and I read that even in a week when I don’t read anything else in the paper. But you know what? They don’t review that many books by women. And when they do, they’re generally reviewing books that I’ve heard about elsewhere first.

It’s said that men don’t often read women writers, but that women will read books by women and men. Often, I find myself in a bookstore or a library with a stack of books in my hand, and they’ll all be written by men. It’s easy to think that chick lit is the only thing out there written by women–chick lit, and romance novels, and fantasy. But the truth of the matter is that there are great women writers putting out new books every day. We just don’t hear about them as much. And I’m not saying this to disparage chick lit–I own a copy of every Jennifer Weiner novel, and I’ll keep buying them as long as she keeps writing them. But I know from reading her blog, that Jennifer has her own frustrations with the Times’ reviewing practices.

One of the things that I worry about in introducing the Bee to chapter books is that often, those books have a boy as the central character in order to make sure that they will be read by both boys and girls–essentially the argument is that since boys won’t read books about girls, but girls will read books about boys, we’ll just keep writing books with boys as the main character.

I know that for myself as a girl, I was just as interested in reading Encyclopedia Brown, or the Three Investigators series as I was in Nancy Drew or Little Women. And I know that things have gotten better for girls as readers. But I think it’s no accident that the biggest seller of kids’ books around right now has a boy as the central character. (Incidentally, for those looking for a mystical story centered on a girl, check out Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series.)

So I’m happy to see that the WRB will come back to life. Happy for my own reading life, because I know that it means that I’ll find some more great women writers I wouldn’t have heard about otherwise. And happy for those women writers, because I know that their work will be more likely to succeed.

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August 10, 2005. books for grown-ups. 7 comments.