At first glance, I would be one of the least likely people to engage in anything that would smack of even unconscious gender bias. For most of my adult working life, I have worked in female-dominated professions (mental health care, secondary education). Most of my close friends are female, and I grew up in a family environment strongly influenced by New Deal-era activism.
Yet the numbers do not lie. I keep a written log of the books I've read over the past 3.5 years and there has been a sharp drop in the number of books I've read that were written by women. I had read almost 50 books written by women by the end of April 2008. This year, I am only on number 15 out of 153. The overall percentage last year was over 25%; this year it isn't even at 10%. While I could argue that it's a statistical anomaly that will correct itself over the year, while I could argue that I haven't yet begun to re-read favorite novels written by women, it is fascinating/disturbing to see such a low percentage so far.
While I will cop to the near-total avoidance of urban fantasy/paranormal romances sent to me for review purposes, outside of that genre (which I had sampled in the past and didn't find much with which I could connect) there has to be something else going on. It's not like I don't visit websites where female authors are lauded. There are indeed novels and collections by female authors that I want to read. Mary Robinette Kowal is about to release what I believe is her debut short fiction collection; I want that. Catherynne M. Valente has written several stories and novels that I have enjoyed. I just ordered Ursula Le Guin's YA fantasy and am waiting for the first volume to arrive (the others arrived yesterday) so I can begin reading it.
But yet this would still be but a drop in the bucket compared to the books I read on a weekly basis. For the past month, I've been averaging over 10 books read per week, with maybe 1 of those each week (often 0) being books written by women. Puzzling, since I do want to read more speculative and mimetic fiction written by women. I wonder if there's some sort of unconscious bias that is filtering out qualified female authors. Or maybe it's something else all together.
What about you? Have you ever encountered something similar? What books/authors would you suggest to me? Doesn't have to be a genre fiction; I read quite a few narrative styles on occasion.
Follow the link to read quite a few comments on the topic. Even more interesting is the heated debate which Larry's post generated on Westeros.
Personally, I never really pay attention to whether the author of the book I'm considering reading is male or female. So far in 2009, 6 titles out of the 15 I've read were by women. Don't know that it means anything. . .
After all, I'm the guy who stirred up quite a load of crap with my "fantasy chicklit" thing a few years back!;-)
Do check it out, however, for this debate will expose you to a number of female genre and non-genre authors you may never have read before.