A (Not So) Brief Personal Reading History

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To be honest, I’m not sure how this came up–I think perhaps I read a similar concept on another blog, but I can’t for the life of me remember which one–but I decided to do a study on my own personal reading history…

More specifically, I wanted to know if I read more books by women than by men. I also wanted to know if I read more books from the point of view (POV) of women than from men.

If you asked me that question, without looking at the data, I would answer “absolutely, more women than men.” But at work (as a social media manager) I’ve learned that you can’t make statements like that without looking at the data.

And so I did.

I went back through my Goodreads list and counted the books I’ve read. And here are my findings.

Some caveats:

  • I didn’t include books I read as a child (read: pre college)–unless I went back to read them as an adult (Madeline L’Engle, Winnie-the-Pooh–yes I really read that last year and you should, too, it’s amazing). Mostly because as a child, I read what they made me. And at some point, I latched onto series like Sweet Valley and the Babysitters Club, which if I included them would vastly skew my results, never mind that most of these books were ghost-written. (Why did I read so many of these books? Unsure. I think I took comfort in the regularity with which they were churned out. I am now of the opinion that some of these books, Sweet Valley in particular, were awful for a young girl’s self-esteem. I shall explore this at length in another post, someday.)
  • I didn’t include books I was forced to read for school–unless they were ones I’d voluntarily gone back and read on my own as an adult (i.e. The Catcher in the Rye, Lord of the Flies)
  • I also didn’t include plays, as the POV in them is always the audience’s POV. (Most of them I read for school, anyway.)

So here is what I found:

In the initial results, around college-time, male/female writers are pretty even, although male POV books are almost twice as much as female. (Results likely skewed by Harry Potter.)

(Confession: I didn’t do a ton of pleasure-reading in college. I was reading a lot for school and also, busy living around all of my best friends, which left less time for reading, more time for drinking and various levels of debauchery. I don’t regret any of it.)

Male writers saw a surge mid-college, which I attribute to my James Patterson, John Grisham, Dan Brown, and Nelson Demille bingeing, mostly during the summers. I blame this on my mom, as these men remain to this day her favorite authors. (My mom also subsequently got me into Stephen King, so I really can’t complain.) (I don’t really like any of these writers anymore, except OF COURSE for Stephen King.)

Near the end of college, I went on a chick-lit binge (mostly Jane Green)  thanks to my roommate. I haven’t actually read much chick-lit since. Female writers go up in the rankings, but not by much.

Post-college. I repeat my childhood patterns by getting back into series, mostly the popular ones. I read Twilight and The Hunger Games. I take a lot of pride in saying I got into Game of Thrones in the mid-00s, pre-TV-craze. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and sequels. Men are still well in the lead, both in writers and POV books.

My reading habits get a little erratic. I stumble upon random books. I have a distinct 2010-ish memory of having no idea what to read next, so I got into the habit of doing lots of rereads of my faves. This was well before I joined any online writing communities, or Goodreads itself. Men still dominate my list.

In 2011, I started latching onto writers and reading everything they wrote. I read all of Bill Bryson. A good amount of Anita Shreve. I discovered John Green, and rapidly devoured him. Men are still ahead.

In 2012 I stumbled upon Tana French at the Strand outside Central Park and my life would never be the same.

That year, I still read more books by men. But by this point, I was involved in the online reading community; never again would I bemoan a lack of books to read.

Early 2013: males are still ahead in both authors and POV characters. By a lot. I come across some new favorite writers: Stephen Chobsky, Markus Zusak, Kazuo Ishiguro.

However, looking at just 2013, I read an even number of men and women that year.

2014: women are catching up in both categories. For the first time, female-POV draws past multi-POV, though male-POV is still in the lead. Firmly a YA writer now, I’m committed to reading more YA. I read Veronica Roth, Kody Keplinger, Gayle Forman, Lauren Oliver. I go throwback and dip into some V.C. Andrews (and kind of wish I hadn’t). Additionally, I get into memoirs: Jeanette Wells, Patti Smith, Cheryl Strayed.

Mid 2014, with Eleanor and Park, female writers surpass male writers on my list for the first time ever.

And my reading list of 2014 has more than twice the number of female writers on it–though male POV books are still in the lead.

I read more Rainbow Rowell. I discover Stephanie Perkins, E. Lockhart. Cassandra Clare, who goes on to further tip the scales. Female writers firmly in the lead! (Though Clare’s books are all multi-POV, so female POV is still behind.)

2015 sees the trend of female-written YA continue. I discover Huntley Fitzpatrick, Maggie Stiefvater. With My Life Next Door, for the first time, female POV books draw even with male-POV books. (But now multi-POV is catching up, thanks to Stiefvater.) I also discover Patrick Ness and David Levithan, who helps keep the men in the running–but it won’t be enough to retake the lead.

End of 2015 and beginning of 2016 sees me decide to write fantasy, and therefore read more fantasy. I start with Carry On, then get into Kristin Cashore, Rae Carson, Leigh Bardugo, Laini Taylor. Women rule my reading list! Female POV also pulls ahead!

Final findings:

58/42 female/male writers

37/35/28 female/male/multi-POV

(Interestingly, this means there are more women writing in male or multi-POV than there are men writing outside men’s POV. At least on my reading list.)

But if you look at my reading list from 2014 on, it’s vastly different: a full 75% of the books I read were written by women.

So something interesting happened. When I was younger, and more passive about what I read (aka reading what was given to me) I read a lot more male-ish books, both written by men and in the POVs of men.

Then, as I committed to becoming a writer and became more discerning (aka picky) I started reading more women writers, as well as female-POV books. Perhaps because my audience for my own novels is female, both in the sense of being marketed towards women/girls and having female protagonists? Perhaps it’s simply because I’m a female, and relate more to female writers/female protagonists?

Then I took a look at my “all-time-faves” shelf. The conclusions here are:

50/50 female/male writers

25/39/36 female/male/multi-POV

So of my favorite books, male and female writers are even–but I tend to prefer more multi/male-POV than female POV. Interesting.

I’m not trying to make any sort of political statement with this data. I just find it interesting. I have a weirdly analytical side to my personality, along with the crazy creative side, and I love crunching numbers like this to generate information. (Probably why I make such a good social media manager; I can come up with content and analyze it at the same time.)

How about you? Go do your own reading list number-crunching and report back!

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Currently reading: The City of Mirrors, by Justin Cronin, the third book in the epic trilogy that started with The PassageThe Passage was epic; The Twelve, book two, slightly less so. This series is very similar to one of my all-time faves The Stand (I really need to review that here), in that it’s a novel about the apocalypse, in which the end of society is brought about by a virus, but unlike in The Stand, where the virus just kills people, in The Passage it turns them into killer immortal vampire cockroaches. So a little different. It’s no secret I prefer character-driven stories, and one of the things I loved about The Passage was that while the plot was obviously huge, it zoomed in on a group of really likable characters. Then The Twelve kind of zoomed out again. With The City of Mirrors, so far (a quarter of the way through) I’m getting what I want, which is lots of character development, so here’s hoping this book holds up!

Image found here

2 thoughts on “A (Not So) Brief Personal Reading History

  1. I go through books too fast to worry about it. I find that I read more male authors, mostly because there are more male authors in the genres I read (SciFi/Fantasy Especially SciFi). My favorite authors thus far have been male, such as Timothy Zahn, Robert Jordan, Terry Goodkind, David Weber. I’m just glancing at the bookshelf directly next to me.

    Maybe I just need to keep reading more and see if I can find some more authors I like. For women I think there is Mercedes Lackey for some of her books, the Pern books whose author name I cannot remember at this moment. Um… damn, now I’m going to have to unpack all those boxes of books I’ve got in storage because I don’t have a place big enough for them right now.

    Like

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