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Majority of good reviews are by, about male writers – Study

At the LRB last year 16% of reviewers were women (29 out of 184) and 26% of authors reviewed (58 out of 221); at the…

At the LRB last year 16% of reviewers were women (29 out of 184) and 26% of authors reviewed (58 out of 221); at the New York Review of Books 21% of 254 reviews were by women, 17 of 92 authors reviewed were female and 13% of 152 articles were by women. Of 1,163 reviews in the TLS in 2011, 30% were by women, and of 1,314 authors reviewed, 25% were women. Granta was the only publication to have more female contributors, at 53%, but much of this was down to its women-only feminism issue.

Bestselling author Jodi Picoult, who caused a minor storm in 2010 when she hit out at the New York Times for its focus on “white male literary darlings”, said the Vida statistics were “mystifying”, given the amount of great fiction written by women, and the fact that more women buy books. “I don’t know how to even the odds for female authors except to thank Vida for reinforcing what many readers had a gut feeling about; and reminding the editors of these book review institutions: We are well aware of the gender gap you’ve helped to create; now we challenge you to help fix it,” she said.

At the Guardian and Observer, where over the last four weeks 37% of reviews were by women, and 25% of the books reviewed were by women, Review editor Lisa Allardice said she was “depressed but not surprised at the Vida findings, and it seems those publications with the most intellectual reputations are the worst offenders. This has got to be wrong. It’s something as a female editor I feel extremely passionate about,” she said. “We make a very deliberate effort to raise the female byline count at every opportunity.”

The Guardian contacted a number of the UK’s largest publishing houses and found that 2011 non-fiction releases for Penguin, Atlantic Books, Random House and Simon & Schuster all painted a similar picture, with 74%, 73%, 69% and 64% per cent of all titles male authored respectively. Although John Freeman, editor of Granta magazine, felt it “would not be useful” for publishers to start using gender quotas, he said that publishers do “need to think about what they are choosing, and ask if their own assumptions for which work is the best are coloured by gender”. Vida co-director Erin Belieu said the Vida statistics clearly showed that “some sort of systemic bias” was at work.

Peter Stothard, editor of the TLS, said the magazine “would never discriminate” on gender but expressed the hope that the Vida statistics would “encourage more women” to submit to the magazine. “It always ends up with it looking like there’s some man in a leather chair spending half his time stopping women reviewing books, which is complete nonsense,” he said. “We would never take part in the business of setting up quotas but I’m 100% behind anything which encourages people to get out there, read the TLS, see what we want and get into the serious business of arguing why a particular book is important.”

Author Jennifer Weiner, who, with Picoult, has campaigned against the continuing gender bias of book reviews towards men over the last year, felt that the best response was to let the “vital conversations” take place elsewhere. “Instead of hoping that someday the boys’ club will open its doors, we can form our own clubs, define ‘worthy’ our own way, and celebrate the books and voices that we decide deserve celebration,” she said.

Stories from The Guardian UK

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