Why I’m No Longer Reading Books by White Men

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From Book Riot:

Novels have been policed and banned since they first came onto the scene.  And yet the majority of people in the world today probably don’t think of reading as a political act. Whenever I see lists like “most banned books of 2018,” I am reminded that people still fear the power of words. It makes me grateful that I live somewhere where a “banned books” list doesn’t mean the books are truly out of reach. Books are just one of the many tools used to spread information and viewpoints, and that is a powerful thing.

. . . .

I know I was not alone in the wake of the 2016 election in feeling the desire to do something, anything to protest the results. Many people in the days, weeks, and months following the election made lists of organizations to boycott and began brainstorming various big and small ways to make their discontent known. Money talks in this country, as much as we maybe wish it didn’t, and if companies suddenly start to lose a lot of money, it is possible to make them listen.

. . . .

I am very careful about what books I buy, and I decided, as an experiment, to pay a bit more attention to whose books I was buying. Generally, I gravitate towards books written by women anyway, but I made a choice that for a year (at least) I wouldn’t buy any books written by white men, because, frankly, they probably didn’t need my money.

It also occurred to me that the majority of books that I was exposed to in school as the real “literary” works were by white men. Think about it. What are the major names that everyone is supposed to know by the time they graduate high school? Dickens, Shakespeare, Hemingway, Twain, Carver, Fitzgerald, Hawthorne, Thoreau (need I go on?) very few women make the list. Sure, there’s Mary Shelley, remarkable for her one major contribution, and mentioned in the context of her husband. And yes, we can argue that these authors mostly come from a different time when fewer women or people of color were allowed to publish. But even the ones who did, like Austen and the Brontë sisters, while acknowledged as important, didn’t make the curriculum. They were dismissed as more “feminine” works and not worthy of attention.

So, in 2016, I decided that I’d had enough. I had devoted most of my life to absorbing and reading the works of fiction by white men, and I was no longer going to give over my hard-earned money to help boost their book sales.

. . . .

Most of the major publishing houses publish less than 30% female authors. And yes, both men and women tend to prefer books by someone of their own gender, but women also tend to read male authors at a greater percentage than the other way around. (Maybe because there are simply more books by male authors out there and we’ve been conditioned to think that men are inherently more literary? Just a thought). And all of this is just the picture of men and women, which doesn’t even begin to address the differences in racial inequality.

. . . .

After about of year of this, I did finally pick up a book by a white dude again, and I found it oddly…disappointing.

Link to the rest at Book Riot

PG was interested to learn from the OP that white male authors all earn plenty of money from their writing. (“I wouldn’t buy any books written by white men, because, frankly, they probably didn’t need my money.”)

PG was also interested to learn that major publishing houses are biased against women.

Expecting a gaggle of white male publishing overlords, PG checked the website of Penguin Random House, the largest publisher in the United States, and discovered that nine of the fifteen members of its Global Executive Committee are women. These female executives include the CEOs of

  • Penguin Random House Australia and New Zealand,
  • Penguin Random House Grupo Editorial,
  • Penguin Random House North Asia,
  • Penguin Random House Canada and
  • Penguin Random House U.S.

PG also checked the latest New York Times Bestseller list and found that six of the top ten fiction bestsellers (print and ebook combined) were women. The three top NYT bestseller spots were all occupied by women.

On Amazon’s current top ten Best Sellers in Literature & Fiction, seven authors are women. In the second ten Best Sellers in Literature & Fiction (ranks 11-20), 8 out of 10 authors were women.

On Amazon’s current top ten cumulative best sellers for all books (fiction, nonfiction, etc.) so far in 2019, the top six bestselling books were all written by women.

Michelle Obama’s book sold 1.4 million copies in its first week. After 15 days, the book became the best-selling book in the US for the year 2018. By March 26, 2019, the book had sold 10 million copies and was on track to become the largest-selling memoir in history.

36 thoughts on “Why I’m No Longer Reading Books by White Men”

    • +1

      You beat me to it.

      Anyone more interested in what the writer is rather than the story they tell is not a ‘reader’ in the first place.

  1. Katherine Packer is a displaced Midwesterner currently living wherever she can find WiFi and a couch to crash on. She holds a BA from Sarah Lawrence and an MA from the University of Kent in International Conflict. While books have always been her first love, she’s recently been exploring how books can help open minds and change the world.

    I predict that within a few years she’ll find a nice white dude and settle down, and all of this will be forgotten.

    • I could interject some snark about minds that are so “open” the gray matter has mostly fallen out…

      Whether she rejoins the real world all depends on whether she ever sets foot outside of the safe space she’s retreated into. Some apparently never do.

    • She might want to put that master’s degree to work finding a job. If you can’t afford wifi or a couch to sleep on, I doubt you’re going to have much success changing the world.

  2. I can think of no better way to protest the 2016 election than by quietly avoiding white authors.

  3. To be fair, as a straight white guy, I have been reading a lot of books by people who are different from me in at least one of those axes, and many of them are excellent. And I have read some disappointing books by white guys who are just cruising along being mediocre.

    But to also be fair, 90% of everything is crap. And I’ve read a few terrific books by white men, too.

    I could wish that people who want to promote diversity in fiction would focus on how good some books are that are written by people who didn’t use to have a voice, rather than reflexively attacking the people who traditionally have had a voice. It seems more productive, and less likely to cause a debate that strays from the point.

    • I agree – it’s one thing to seek out different voices, but quite another to avoid other voices because of who they are when that avoidance is based on nothing more than inescapable biology.

      Someone might adopt a targeted reading strategy that is intended to widen one’s reading, and part of the strategy might be to use biology as a marker for starting the search. The OP could be doing that in order to focus on an area where her reading is deficient, so that her ultimate strategy is to broaden her reading.

      But she gives the game away when she talks about the money she supposes white men are making. It’s not reading she’s talking about. It’s politics.

    • Amazon makes it really hard to filter eBooks by intersectionality index. It’s an added transaction cost.

  4. Totally agree with Mike. As a fat white guy, I am getting tired of the ban all white men card. Celebrate diversity by promoting the folks that we might ot nhave heard about before.

    All I ever care about with a book is the central question–is it any good?

  5. I’ll never understand only reading material from specific groups. Why would I care if the author is white, black, male, female, or a penguin?
    I want a good story. I don’t know or care who the author is. I want coherent stories which are well written and inspire, move or at least entertain me.
    Anything else sounds like the reader is the same type of bigot whom they’re attempting to protest.
    Now I’m going to plop my white male author’s butt back in my chair and write something the author of the piece will never buy.

  6. We had an election in 2016. Trump won, your candidate lost. So you and million of others go on a two year plus hissy fit, blaming ‘white males for every evil ever. Grow up and get over it.

    You don’t want to read books by ‘white men’ because they’re more represented in publishing. I’ve had a beef with the NBA because they don’t put on the court any middle aged white men with pot bellies. But that doesn’t mean I want to put them out of business. You see where I’m going?

    “After about of year of this, I did finally pick up a book by a white dude again, and I found it oddly…disappointing. “ Well, maybe you should have read a book by a white man instead of a white dude, whatever that is.

    I found this from your bio interesting: Ponder it.

    From your ‘bio.’ “…she’s recently been exploring how books can help open minds and change the world. “

    Well, you obviously have a closed mind, as evidenced by this piece of writing. Hopefully someday you will find a book that can open it.

    • The hissy fit is looking to give the orange guy four more years, according to the NYT.

    • Also, that book by a white dude she picked up, did she just pick a random one, or actually look for a book that was to her reading taste? Because my bet is that she had already decided she wouldn’t like it before she even picked it up since she’s already made it clear she’s prejudiced.

  7. Sadly, in today’s world, pointing out how ludicrous the article is would bring down a hail of criticism and accusations of prejudice by those wishing to prove her point.

  8. Even the premise behind her argument seems dated. It has been my experience over the last 20 years or so of publishing that the business is absolutely dominated by women. Editors, agents, even store owners and managers. The few men I’ve come across weren’t interested in buying something they couldn’t sell to women, because women also make up 80% of the market. Every time I start a new story, I have to decide first if I’m writing it to the market (female) or for myself. You can guess where my money comes from…

  9. Interesting that all the commenters above are men. I’m a woman and I’d like to add my opinion on this issue. I also dislike books written by men, but not because they “don’t need my money”. There is no sexism or elitism or any other ‘ism’ in my position. No politics either. My reasons are entirely to do with the quality of writing and my personal preferences.
    Most books written by men pay less attention to emotions than female writers. The stories written by men are a bit colder and more distant than the ones written by women. More often than not, male writers focus on action instead of feelings. It doesn’t mean that men write bad books. But it means that those books are not to my taste. Shouldn’t I be allowed to express my opinion? That is all the author in the Book Riot has done.

    • Robert James Waller, Nicholas Sparks, Nicholas Meyer, Ray Bradbury, Harlan Ellison, Samuel R. Delaney, Poul Anderson, Sydney Sheldon, and a zillion other writers beg to differ.

      Agatha Christie, (Andre) Alice Norton, Lois McMaster, Anne McCaffrey, Leigh Brackett, and a zillion female authors also object to the idea that they don’t do cold logical.

      That is without counting the horde of writers of either persuasion hiding their sex behind pseudonyms, neutral names, and initials.

      To each their own but overgeneralization serves no one.

    • If OP had said, “I don’t usually read books by white men because they tend not to be my cup of tea,” that would be perfectly in line with what you said.
      OP did not say that. OP thinks she is making some kind of political statement.

    • Shouldn’t I be allowed to express my opinion?

      Of course you can express your opinions. I generally share your opinion about men and women authors, and I make my own reading choices. Nobody here is telling either of us we are not allowed to express our opinions.

      But, I note our opinions are based on the products themselves and the qualities and characteristics of the products. And anyone is allowed to express their opinion about our opinions. They are free to condemn them if they choose. They are free to join with them. They are free to ignore them.

      Likewise, I choose to point and laugh at the idea contained in the author’s opinion. She tells us she is avoiding male authors because she doesn’t like the outcome of the 2016 election. Rather than disallow her opinion, I encourage her to share.

      See all the opinions on display? Has anyone said any of these opinions are not allowed? Who?

      • As the first female commenter on this read so eloquently pointed out – white men are not allowed to criticize women (the OP) because they are all filthy bigots.

        • And that’s why it’s important to criticize ideas. Many have an odd notion that an idea is free from criticism if it is conveyed via an opinion.

          Ideas have neither X nor Y chromosomes, lack pigmentation, and never get to retreat to safe places.

          God Bless ideas, for without them opinions would be empty.

  10. The author of the OP has done a great deal more than express her opinion that books written by men – excuse me, white men – aren’t to her taste. She opens with the tired political “election!” crap, and wanting to express her political dissatisfaction. Then she gets in a dig about Mary Shelley being noticed only for being noticed in the context of her husband (me, since when? I grew up hearing about her, and it was a long time before her husband came up. Including in school.) “Austen and Brontes didn’t make the curriculum” again, since when? They were in mine.

    So by this point in the article, I’m not inclined to be sympathetic or listen kindly. The comments above speak for me, pretty much.

    And note my name – I’m a woman.

  11. At least now I have an excuse for why my book sales are down.

    There’s an easy way to fix this, though: I’ll just put all my books under a pen name. As of now, I am Tawana Chang Jackson.

  12. Um, so she determines the author’s gender … how? Five gets you ten she assumes their gender based on the name printed on the cover.

    It’s gotten so bad that you can’t be a good progressive lefty without committing badthink.

    • Gender and race just from the name. Hmm, is ‘Allen’ black, white or green? 😛

      Or maybe she always checks a book’s back side first to see if there’s an author’s picture back there? (I used the one that came with my wallet.)

  13. Maybe the OP can let me know where all that money that white men automatically have by virtue of being white men comes from, because none of the white men in my life (including the white male authors) seem to have this magical whiteness-created money source….

    • Her admitting that it’s just 1% (actually less) of white males that have the privilege/power wouldn’t play well with her wanting all non white males to be seen as victims of those few white males. (Me, I’m such a privileged old white male I can’t even afford the heath insurance – never mind actually going see a doctor …)

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