At the beginning of the year I reflected on my reading habits. Female authors do not receive as many reviews as male authors both in Australia and other western countries. How many books by women authors had I read in the last year? I was shocked to find that in 2011 I had read only one book written by a female historian. With the help of the Australian Women Writers’ Challenge I rectified this imbalance by reading and reviewing more books written by women. So where has the Australian Women Writers’ Challenge led me this year?
Not only did I read, I pondered. I wondered whether the imbalance of reviews varied according to genre. I have not seen any statistics regarding this so I did a survey of my own. Having limited resources to do such a survey I decided to look at two years of book reviews by three academic history journals. In some respects the results of this examination were as I expected but I was surprised by one of the findings. You can read about my survey here.
In response to a comment by prominent book blogger, Lisa Hill, I decided to make a list of histories written by Australian women to help people who were looking for histories written by Australian women. Oh dear, the task turned out to be way more difficult than I expected as it descended into the murky territory of determining who is Australian. You can have a chuckle at my expense by reading my post, It’s Not Just a List.
I had only written three book reviews on my blog prior to the start of the year so I was cautious about how many books I committed to read for the Challenge. I promised to read six histories written by Australian women and to reviewing three of these.
By the end of the year I had read and reviewed more than what I had signed up for. It was easier to do than I thought it would be and I thoroughly enjoyed participating. Here is a list of history books that I reviewed for the Challenge:
- The Paper War: Morality, Print Culture, and Power in Colonial New South Wales by Anna Johnston, (Crawley, Western Australia: UWA Publishing, 2011).
- True North: The Story of Mary and Elizabeth Durack by Brenda Niall, (Text Publishing: Melbourne, 2012).
- Double Entry: How the merchants of Venice shaped the modern world – and how their invention could make or break the planet by Jane Gleeson-White (Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 2012).
- My Bundjalung People by Ruby Langford Ginibi, (University of Queensland Press, 1994).
- Stella Miles Franklin: A Biography by Jill Roe, (Harper Collins, 2010).
- Seduced by Logic by Robyn Arianrhod, (University of Queensland Press, 2011).
I also reviewed some fiction for the Challenge:
- The Old School by P M Newton, (Penguin, 2011).
- All That Swagger by Miles Franklin (North Ryde, NSW: Angus & Robertson, 1984).
So in the end I had reached the pinnacle of the Challenge – the Franklin level. Others have done a lot more than this. Hats off to Shelleyrae who managed to review over one hundred books for the Challenge!
The Australian Women Writers’ Challenge is about rectifying an imbalance. It is not about exclusively reading women authors. I continued to read histories written by men. As the year progressed I examined my reading further and decided that I should read from more culturally diverse authors. I was grateful to Lisa Hill for initiating the Indigenous Literature Week and reviewed two history books written by Aboriginal authors. I would like to expand on this reading next year.
The Australian Women Writers’ Challenge has challenged my reading and I have enjoyed the ride. I am now one of the contributing editors for the Challenge, monitoring and encouraging reviews of histories, biographies and memoirs.
There are so many well written and deeply researched histories and biographies on the market that don’t get the attention that they deserve. If you enjoy reading these books I urge you to review them on your blog or on a site like Good Reads. And I encourage you to sign up for the Australian Women Writers Challenge in 2013.