At a party we attended over the weekend, our friend Roger gave me a gift. Two actually: a compliment and a list. Roger and his wife are retired, so he took on the project of gathering and reading the entire New York Times List of the 100 Best Novels. I was so impressed by this endeavor and can't wait to look over the list myself to see what worthy book I can read in the ongoing cause of self-education. Roger and his wife read my novel, and he was complimentary and sincere in his praise for SUMMERS AT BLUE LAKE. Coming from the man who has read 75 from the list of 100 Best-ever novels, I find his thoughts to have weight. I feel honored that he deviated from his book list to read my offering.
I do have a few problems with the New York Time's list. Of the 100 selections, only 8 works were authored by women. The minority population is underrepresented as well. The partial article that accompanied the photocopied list included a quote that basically said that women weren't going to be included for the sake of having women. Still, I can't help but wonder how does the populace as a whole judge a work to be a worthy representation? What are the standards? Female authors are less likely to be written up in reviews and journals. Their books are less likely to be included in basic school curricula where the die is cast.
I have long thought that sharing our stories was one way to bridge the gap of understanding between the sexes. Think back to the books you have read recently. Think of the books that are on your pile waiting to be read. What do they look like in terms of the author diversity, protagonist, genre? Are you doing your part to cross the divide. Of course, we have our tendencies, but think of the barriers we can break if we read just one book outside of our comfort zone.
Feminista.com offers an alternative list for those who are looking to broaden their scope with the best of women's voices. Their list of great books by women is in response to the New York Times list. From my quick survey of both lists, I found that the female list is more culturally and ethnically diverse, as well.
While I don't want to sway anybody from the task of reading from the New York Times list (What a worthy goal!), I hope that like Roger, readers will take a break from time to time to question the literary establishment in this country and diversify reading habits.
***It goes without saying that I believe in reading, discovering, and sharing works of new authors as well. (We need the publicity and the money.) So while it is great to educate one's self with established authors, make sure you walk on the edge from time to time as well.