Every Saturday we hope to share with you our thoughts on reading and books. We thought that it would be good practice to reflect on our reading lives and our thoughts about reading in general. While on occasion, we would feature a few books in keeping with this, there would be a few posts where we will just write about our thoughts on read-alouds, libraries, reading journals, upcoming literary conferences, books that we are excited about, and just book love miscellany in general.
#WomenReadWomen2019 – Round Up
I have made good on my promise and dedicated myself to reading full-length novels, memoirs, nonfiction stories written exclusively by women from across different countries. There were the occasional one or two picturebooks that accidentally fell into my hands, written or illustrated by men (sometimes handed to me by librarians in the schools I visited), but they were very few and far between to be considered negligible, and they were not featured by me in any of my blog posts for the year. I also restrained myself from reading even the nonfiction, potentially professional development texts written by men, because I personally felt that they could wait until 2020.
At the time that I am writing this blogpost, here is my round-up across the women I have read for the entire year, across different countries. See here for a more detailed list.
Please do note that this does not include the books I read that I have not featured here in our website. For a full documentation of all the books I read for the year, do take a moment to visit our Goodreads – or better yet, do wait for my blogpost when I highlight my reading stats during the first few days of 2020. There are also overlaps across these numbers, as there are times when the female author and illustrator had to be separated across two different countries, hence, the books are registered twice across the author and illustrator. There were also times when both author and illustrator are counted as one unit if they come from the same country. So the numbers are merely an approximation, but I think it provides a fairly accurate picture.
Our #WomenReadWomen2019 Page also indicates that in total, I have, thus far, featured 176 women who have authored/illustrated 201 books across 42 countries. My aim was to read women authors from 25 countries, hence, I consider this an accomplishment. Yet, as the numbers above indicate, there is still a preponderance of titles and authors coming from the US. I think while worth taking note of, I also recognize that I am fairly limited by my access to other titles from around the world, being formerly based in Singapore and now in the United Arab Emirates.
Admit it or not, the publishing industry of the United States of America has a global penetration, unlike even that of Canada or the UK. Hence, I am grateful for this opportunity to really be purposeful about the authors I read and the countries where the books are published, and the fact that I was able to get my hands on them, either through Singapore’s amazing libraries (which I miss so much that I feel like I am missing a limb) – or purchasing them online.
So what have I learned from my year of reading women?
I will not lie. There were occasions when I raged, despaired, and cried out at the injustice of what it means to be a woman. Yet, it has never made me feel so proud, so validated, so triumphant as well – reading the challenges faced by so many women from around the world, and their capacity to persist, to push forward, to defy every expectation by simply being.
Girls and women sometimes get in each others’ way, they fight and tear each others’ hair out – but sisterhood prevails, especially when the female of the species is threatened. There are women who do betray their kind, but there are also more who come out of the woodworks, offering kindness, comfort, and security. There is no safer space than a woman’s embrace.
I was sorely tempted to just read narratives from female authors who are considered to be classic novelists – I re-read Jane Austen and Ursula LeGuin, but I find myself drawn more to and featuring stories of women who have been silenced by virtue of their skin colour or simply because there was no way that their stories would have been heard fifty years or a century ago. The intersectionality of race, social class, gender, ethnicity, sexuality – all this contribute to point #1: the complexity of female voices, each one resonant and strong.
Yet, even with the earlier point raised regarding intersectionality, the truth about not just one single voice being more valid than others – the reality is some women’s voices are given more opportunities to be heard than others. I find a few grating, confrontative and entitled, taking for granted its position of unexamined privilege. Other voices are more subtle, nuanced, strategically positioning itself to be seen and heard – and ultimately emerging triumphant without even being aware of its victories, because this is not the objective. There is no monopoly of despair – yet some voices crowd others, elbowing for a bigger and brighter space – often without meaning to, yet the writing inevitably makes me feel invisible and unrecognized. Then again, it simply means that more stories need to be heard, surfaced and highlighted.
At the beginning of the year, I felt a sense of confinement – not being able to read male authors whose books I was dying to read – take for instance, Shaun Tan’s Tales From The Inner City, George R. R. Martin’s Fire And Blood, The Lost Art Of Reading: Books And Resistance In A Troubled Time by David L. Ulin, or Six Memos For The Next Millennium by Italo Calvino. Yet, now that the year is about to end, I feel that one year is not enough to just read from many women from around the world. And yes, I wonder why not everyone is doing this. I challenge you, lovely readers, to devote one year of your life to reading only female authors. I guarantee you that it will prove to be an enlightening and life-enriching experience.