Monday, July 31, 2006

Authorial Dominance

Which authors dominate my bookshelf? I saw this post from Anecdotal Evidence and decided to check out my own bookcases.

The rule is that an author must have five books on the shelf to get a mention on my list. My books are not very ordered, so my list may not be perfectly accurate. It also doesn’t take certain things into account. A large ‘Collected Poems’ only counts as one book, but may contain more poems than five slim volumes.

I started ordering my list by nationality, but that presented immediate difficulties. Where does T.S. Eliot go – the UK or USA? How about Salman Rushdie? Or Charles Simic?

So I’ve just stuck them all together. There were a few surprises. I didn’t realise I had so much J.G.Ballard, Charles Dickens, George Orwell and Carl Hiaasen. I expected poetry to have more representation, but the presence of several Collected Poems and Selected Poems probably explains that, and also I have a wide taste in poetry, rather than restricting myself to a few favourite authors. Here’s the list.

Alasdair Gray
T.S. Eliot
Tim Parks
Graham Greene
Salman Rushdie
J. G. Ballard
George Orwell
Paul Auster
Don Paterson
Douglas Coupland
Paul Theroux
Haruki Murakami
Carl Hiaasen
William Shakespeare
Charles Dickens
Louis de Bernières
Seamus Heaney
Charles Simic
John Gardner
Don DeLillo
Simon Armitage
Primo Levi
James Kelman
Raymond Chandler
Ernest Hemingway
Simone de Beauvoir
Jean-Paul Sartre
Henry James


Cailleach said...

Lots and lots of male authors, with only one (!) exception!

With the lit courses I've been doing there has been an emphasis on addressing the gender balance in writing - just how does one go about that though?

I would admit to having a great deal of literature about and by many of the male writers you have on your list, so it just shows that it is not easy to do anything about it...

Sorlil said...

interesting, when I tried it not one female author came up, I also had a disproportionate lack of poets in my list - I also tend to buy 'collected poems'.

Rob Mackenzie said...

cailleach, sorlil - interesting reactions.

It probably says something about me that I didn't even notice the gender imbalance until you pointed it out, cailleach.

I did a quick check of my poetry shelves and found I had approximately 4 times as many poetry collections by men as by women. So still disproportionate, but not by quite as much. It appears I spread myself between lots of different women authors...

Patrick Kurp's list at Anecdotal Evidence has about 46 men and 4 women.

What to do about it? I suppose I could try to have a bias towards women authors when I next go to a bookshop, but the truth is that I buy what I like, irrespective of gender.

Perhaps we can forget easily how recent it is that women have been added to the 'canon'. There are many women writers working today, but how many women, compared to men, still have books in print from 30-50 years ago? That might be one reason for the imbalance. In 50 years time, I guess that today's writers will be more equally represented on bookshelves. Maybe.

Cailleach said...

I'm pretty much the same - I buy what I like, but you can't help wondering why female writers aren't as prolific as men or as well represented.

I know it's not that cut and dried - it never is!

Aisha said...

Oh no! A true man in the mould of High Fidelity ( know...what's his name, Fever Pitch author): Rob makes LISTS!

Mind oyu, I agree on many, notably Haruki Murakami: what a writer!

Try Dubravka Ugresic: Museum of Unconditional Surrender. (Croatian exile writer).

And female :)

Sorella/Aisha/Shisa and so on, Panhandle, AnnieGetYourGun, and so on, Eliza Doolittle and so on

Rob Mackenzie said...


Thanks for the Croatian tip. I'll check it out. Haruki Murakami is just great, I agree.

And yes, I do make lists. In fact, I think the guy in High Fidelity's name was also Rob. The part was made for me, as I used to keep all those obscure music lists, and even asked firends questions so I could make lists about their musical tastes.

Then I read Simone de Beauvoir's autobiography and realised that she and Sartre kept a list of every book they read, so I started doing that too, over a period of 10 years. I don't keep lists any more, but I feel a sense of loss at not doing so. Maybe I'll start again.

Ms Baroque said...

You have five books by John Gardner? I was stricken for days when he died.

I think your five-book rule skews the study, though. Many of my favourite poets never wrote five books, or haven't written them yet, so it's unfair. And some of those ones are the ones who have really influenced me.

Women would come out strong in my list, even with the five-book thing: Austen, Fanny Burney, V Woolf, Elizabeth von Arnim, Elizabeth Bowen (all writing more than 50 years ago). But poetry? And as the bulk of my daily working library is either poetry or criticism, that criterion could never work.