Reading books by men again

I’m over 11 months into my “reading books only by women authors” experiment and it’s been a formative experience. I’ll probably blog about it more at length before the year is out, but as I think about 2016, I’ve been thinking about reading books by men again.

As a vegetarian, I can tell you that giving up books by men is a lot easier than giving up chicken. You get out of the habit fast. Now, there have been books I’ve wanted to read, which I’ve added to wish lists with the aim of picking them up later. And we did read that one Neil Gaiman collection for book club back in February and I have been rereading Emile for my Master’s Essay and of course I put no limitations on what short, individual works I read (intentionally–I made loopholes for those, remember). But all in all, it has not really been a hardship. And it has really been almost entirely women all year, even for the short stuff.

But in 2016, I will more than likely go back to reading books by men. I probably won’t rush into it. I didn’t read as many books this year as I wanted to, so I might give myself another few months of reading only women. I’m also interested in keeping the ratio pretty low; for example, I think for every three books I read by men, I want to read at least six by women.

I have other reading goals in mind, too, though. I want to read more international writers and more writers of color and more writers with disabilities and more queer writers. I did okay on those departments, but I want more. I want the full fucking experience, because there’s nothing wrong with reading white, straight, American and British men, but I’ve been told to read them one time too often, that they are ones worth reading. But they alone do not speak for humanity. For all that many intellectual establishments for many years want(ed) us to think that.

If that sounds dramatic, eh. Books matter to me and I won’t apologize for it.

I have been thinking about what I want to read by men. I miss Stephen King and Anthony Burgess. I want to get to know John Scalzi and Guy Gavriel Kay better. I have a Benjamin Percy novel burning a hole through my shelf. I’m desperate to read Between the World and Me.  I’ve been yearning to reread Moby Dick and The Decameron for a few years now; there’s always, always Shakespeare. Calvino and Eco are calling my name.


But more than any of that, I treasure the time I’ve spent with Octavia Butler and Ursula K. LeGuin and Shirley Jackson and Mary Shelley. I’m even more obsessed with Virginia Woolf and I’ve gotten deeper into Flannery O’Connor’s work than ever before. Kelly Link and Sarah Waters inspire the hell out of me. I want to summon the ghosts of everyone from Mary Wollstonecraft to Angela Carter. It’s been delightful as hell to get to know Naomi Novik and Marie Brennan. Gwen Brooks and Rita Dove greet me in the morning; Kate Chopin and Zora sing me to sleep.

And no, reading a book by a man won’t ruin any of that, but it will feel a bit like a spell is breaking. Because I’ve made myself a bubble this year and filled it with women’s voices. And I don’t feel quite ready for it to burst yet.

I suppose when I’m ready, it will. Just not a moment sooner.


2 thoughts on “Reading books by men again

  1. One of the reasons I want other women to experience Sweet Briar or women-only education is so that they can know what a space filled with the voices of women feels like. Even though it’s a space you have to leave, you carry the memory of it with you.

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