Van has finished reading…Unless by Carol Shields

7 Aug

Can a book have a gender? She’s quiet, this one; vehement. Emotional. She aches like an old bone break in wet weather. But she’s not quite what she seems. It’s the re-appraisal, the closer look that reveals her depths, those things so easily dismissed when you accept the fluff and froth you choose to see first. See past it. Let her speak. Let her tell you about her life. Read it.

  This is a truly excellent book. The sense of almost-contained anxiety that runs through her is as immense as the sense of almost-relief in the final pages. And it’s not often I’ll unwittingly exclaim ‘Dick!’ aloud at a character in a book on a packed train, but I did with this one. You can’t not feel for her.

  I don’t believe that women or men are all the same, but I am able to recognise that ‘man’ and ‘woman’ as absolutes – as marketing concepts or demographics or historical markers – are treated differently. What’s interesting is how subtle that can be. How easy it would be to dismiss the idea. You only have to look around to see that there are more women actively writing than men these days. (Are there? Really?) Are men more successful than women? If the former is true the latter, proportionally, should be false. So how many male writers can you name, how many female? The truth is I don’t know the answer, but surely the real crux is the route to an audience. How does gender affect that route? Are women expected to write women’s books? Are men not? Is it easier for a man to get published? Would you change your name to aid the suggestion of a different gender? Should you? Has a man been asked to do this? I can’t think of one off the top of my head, though I suspect it has happened. Why isn’t that earth-shattering news? A hundred and fifty odd years after George Eliot, surely we live in a more enlightened age. Yet we await Jane Austen to make her debut on the banknote, and Wikipedia is accused of ‘ghettoizing’ women writers. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/28/opinion/sunday/wikipedias-sexism-toward-female-novelists.html?_r=0

It’s not only that it represses women, it also turns men into Dicks. I don’t want to be a Dick.

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