Reporting from LAX: A Healthy Amount of Choice
Written by
Hope Edelman
November 2009
Written by
Hope Edelman
November 2009
I just spent fifteen minutes at Hudson Booksellers in the American Airlines terminal at LAX, where I purchased two books by women writers on our designated Day of Action. This is particularly important here in LA, where our local bestseller lists are not only dominated by male writers, but completely overrun by them. This week's Hardcover Nonfiction list broke the mold of the past two weeks by finally including a single female writer--Suzanne Somers, and who knows how much of her book she even wrote herself. The Hardcover Fiction list fares better, with five out of fifteen slots going to women. But still: six out of the thirty current bestselling hardcovers in Los Angeles are written by men. And this isn't a subjective list, like the PW selections. This is ostensibly based on objective sales figures. What does this mean? Not that so many fewer hardcovers are being published by women than by men--we know the percentages aren't that skewed. And if women are, as we keep hearing, the larger segment of the book-buying market, does it mean they're almost exclusively reading books by men? If sales figures represent local taste, does it mean Los Angelenos find, like the PW judges, books by men to be "better"? Or does it mean that publishers and booksellers disproportionately promote and market books by male authors? In my highly unscientific survey of a single store this morning, I can tell you that it was nearly impossible to find a work of literary or research nonfiction written by a woman in the airport bookstore, my own books included. Evidently, that's not what travelers want to read. I'd walked into the store intent on buying a work of hardcover nonfiction written by a woman to do my part to bolster local sales in that segment, but I was hard pressed to find one I actually wanted to buy--unless I wanted to read about Mackenzie Phillip's drug-scarred childhood, or Suzanne Somer's cure for cancer while hurtling in a silver tube headed toward Miami. Which I didn't. Clearly this says more about my reading tastes than Los Angeles in general, and if ten thousand airport travelers really want to read about the debauchery of John Phillips, then more power to Mackenzie for selling loads of books. I bought a copy of Jhumpa Lahiri's Unaccustomed Earth, and The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. It does nothing to help the hardcover nonfiction dilemma in this city, I'm afraid, but perhaps illustrates a larger point: airport readers can only buy what they can find, and what they can find is what's purchased by their buyers and put on display. Notice to Los Angeles travelers: if you want to read a woman's memoir or a work of serious literary nonfiction written by a female, buy the book before you get to LAX. I'm off to the Miami Book Fair now, where I'm sitting on a panel Saturday with three other women who write nonfiction. We're up against an hour of Tracy Kidder in an adjacent room, so we'll see how that goes.

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  • Diana Raab, PhD

    Hi Hope, First, it was a delight to see you at your SB reading last week. I am traveling and cannot put down, "The Power of Possibility." See my blog post Monday in its honor ( Secondly, I just flew out of LAX and had the exact same sentiments you voice here. It's pathetic! I am rarely, if every able to find a book I like in airport bookstores, except in London's Heathrow airport where there are numerous female memoirs. This is worth a letter (or petition) to Hudson Booksellers who it seems to me monopolize US airports. What do you think?

  • Jessica DuLong

    The airport book market is a strange one. I, too, write serious literary nonfiction, and was surprised, happy and amused to receive this photo taken by a friend in NYC's JFK airport.

    There's my book, My River Chronicles: Rediscovering America on the Hudson sitting between Ivanka Trump and Hulk Hogan, just to the left of Jon Krakauer. Does this mean there's more space for serious nonfiction by women in NYC airports than LAX? I'm not sure.