"The Women Are Back!" Wait A Minute -- Did We Leave?

First of all, let's just give it up for Publishers' Weekly this year. They have announced their "Ten Best Books of 2010," and guess what? There are WOMEN on it! And one of them isn't white! Wow! (Is anyone else wondering, however, why these knuckleheads had Patti Smith, the rocker of all time, make a kind of Britney-fied "oops I did it again" expression, like a coquette who can't believe she's on the cover of Publishers' Weekly?) I still think it would be awesome, and so telling, to see a list that was ALL FEMALE this year, and let the anointing body say, as they did last year, "It disturbed us when we were done that our list was all (fe)male." ("And then we thought, screw it! We're gonna publish it anyway!")

This year, in fact, five of PW's top ten books were written by women. Half, in other words. Kind of like how half the population is female. But last year's list was 100% male, and 90% white. So while I am grateful and happy and pleased as all hell to see this list...I just can't resist pointing out two little/big things.

ONE: Publishers' Weekly, you still so don't get it. How do I know? Because in the intro to this year's list, you wrote: "This year we took our annual slugfest to the pub underneath our new office and came up with a list of the year's top 100 books that could be our best ever. It wasn't any easier with a drink in hand to pick, and agree upon, the best books of 2010, but we did it. And, as a magazine that's published continuously since 1872 and reviews over 7,000 books a year, we had a lot to consider. The women are back... strong... and we're all over the globe."

Ok forgetting about the macho, back-slapping "slugfest" in the pub for a minute -- "the women are back"? Back? Did we leave? Where we not around last year? Did not Barbara Kingsolver and Mary Karr and Lorrie Moore and Margaret f-ing Atwood publish books last year? Oy. Seriously. Major oy. And still only two people of color, up from one last year. I guess not-white people are still "not showing up" for the PW party. Maybe they will decide to come back next year. PW will be so glad to have them, I know.

NOTE TO PW EDITORS: Stop acting like you are oracles, and fess up to the fact that you are HUMAN BEINGS with prejudices, proclivities and tastes just like everybody else. Women and not-white people didn't fail to show up last year: YOU F-ED UP LAST YEAR.

An apology -- or at least an acknowledgment -- would be so rad.

TWO: "Best" book lists are stupid. Stop making them. Please. Couldn't somebody just say "favorite"? PW's "Favorite" books of 2010, and maybe even sign their names to the lists they make? Would that be so wrong? Would so many fewer people buy it? I can't believe that Patti Smith, of all people, is on the cover of a magazine that thinks it has the authority (since 1872!) to tell people what/who is "best." Last year they put the lone black guy on the cover, holding his book under his arm like it was a watermelon.

ADDITIONAL NOTE TO PW EDITORS: putting non-white guys on the cover of your magazine does not cover up the fact that you love them so much.

So no, I'm not grateful to PW for including women on its list this year. It's only as it should be, and should have been last year too. This isn't the last you will hear from me on this subject, and I hope it's not the last I'll hear from you, either. One more time to Patti (who I kind of worship, if that isn't obvious by now) who once said ""When I perform, I can’t say I feel like a male or a female. What I feel is not in the human vocabulary." I want to feel like that too. But as long as my industry's major magazine keeps talking about "the women," I have to keep talking back.

She Writers: let's keep on our eye on all these lists as we make our way through awards season. And let's do it until -- and so -- we don't have to do it anymore.

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Comment by Serra Zander on February 6, 2011 at 7:04am

This is the second post (not here) that I've seen talking about how publishing magazines failed to report on women writers. The other one had awesome charts showing how underrepresented women are in the publishing world as seen by publishing magazines.


What I take away from this?


I am so glad I don't read those mags, they seem to be nothing less than the literary equivalent to Cosmo and do nothing but make women seem insignificant and invisible. I never have read them, and I probably will never start at this rate.

Comment by Maria Clara Paulino on November 11, 2010 at 3:00pm
Comment by Kyla Perry on November 10, 2010 at 4:13pm
In response to your exhortation that we women need to keep checking the top lists for biased list choices, I did a little (brief, but interesting) digging of my own. Please check out the full article on my blog, here:

Great article! I intend to do a head count of every "Top" list I find from now on. It's important for us to know how the wind is blowing, so we can adjust our sails accordingly. :)
Comment by Jane Galer on November 9, 2010 at 11:40am
Right on, Kamy! The gloves are off....hey, actually we quit wearing gloves in the 50's except for when we're changing the oil in our own cars.
Comment by Zetta Brown on November 9, 2010 at 9:16am
Oh, Lawdy! Lawdy! I jes' doan BELIEVE it! I spent last year on Venus with all the other women on the planet, some of us just writin' our li'l ol' hearts out. But now WE ARE BACK...and yet I still feel as if I'm on another planet. Then again, PW is only available on Earth. If I'da known the menfolk would miss us so much, maybe I could have convinced all the woman to stay! What a homecoming this is!

Hey Kamy, how about letting She Writes members list their favorite reads of the year? It can be categorized by genre--or not, since there are plenty of genres/sub-genres, and sub-sub genres.
Comment by Cynthia Morris on November 9, 2010 at 8:01am
Love it. You tell it, Kamy!
Comment by Deborah Batterman on November 9, 2010 at 7:12am
This outrageous -- and it is outrageous -- categorization of "the women" reminds me how far we've come and how far we still have to go (it also makes me think of the 1939 George Cukor movie about bonding and back-stabbing, much better than the remake). In Joanna Russ's classic book, How to Suppress Women's Writing, she devotes a chapter to "The Double Standard of Content" and another to "False Categorizing." The book was published in 1983. And, yes, considering that the nature of 'best' books is subjective, it's really about 'favorites,' so let's call it for what it is. Wouldn't it be nice if a magazine about publishing used language a little more sensitively? Great observations in this post.
Comment by Karen Wojcik Berner on November 9, 2010 at 6:48am
Fantastic post. Thanks.
Comment by Ellis Avery on November 8, 2010 at 9:11pm
Brava, Kamy!
Comment by Christina Brandon on November 8, 2010 at 7:49pm
Thanks for this post! Seriously, what the heck, "the women are back?!?!"

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