November 4, 2009

Regarding those men-only "best of the year" lists …


As a book publicist, I’ve spent the past week steeped in “Best of the Year” lists, anxiety building.  First came the slow Amazon countdown of their top 100, then the surprise announcement on Friday of the first-ever top 10 list at Publishers Weekly, and then Amazon’s big top 10 reveal Monday.  It’s been a long week.  Thank god most publications actually save their “Best of the Year” lists for the end of the year.  I need a month off from refreshing websites every 3 minutes.

I was a bit distracted by all of the waiting though and didn’t really have a chance to pour over the lists themselves until this afternoon, when I spotted Connie Ogle‘s post over at the Miami Herald pointing out that none of PW’s top 10 books were written by a woman.  None?  I double-checked.  None.  The leading book publishing trade magazine failed to include a woman in their top 10 list?

I took a step back and thought about it.  Was there really no amazing novels penned by a female author this year?  Of course not!  It was actually a great year for women authors– Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall took home the Booker, and A. S. Byatt‘s latest came out to rave reviews (and was nominated for the Booker) as did Lorrie Moore‘s A Gate at the Stairs.  2 of the 5 fiction writers nominated for the National Book Award are women.  Even Amazon’s top 10 included women: 4 to be exact (for 3 books).

So I’m with Connie in her response at the Miami Herald (and Marjorie Kehe in her commentary over at the Christian Science Monitor)–I don’t buy PW’s flimsy excuse: “We wanted to pick the best 10 and we came ready to mix it up, and although we were surprised that, when the dust settled, it wasn’t the most politically correct list–there are no women authors, for example–the balance of our top 100 reflects a remarkable diversity.”

What diversity?  Are there any books in translation?  Any from small presses?  How many foreign or minority authors are there?  I’m not saying that these aren’t great books, because they are.  But I am saying that it is curious that 8 white guys from big houses take up most of these spots.  I’m sure if PW looked a little outside the box, they’d find that there are plenty of books out there just as deserving, with a wider reach, instead of giving us a list of all the books we expected.  And PW, if you really do believe that this list “reflects a remarkable diversity,” you don’t need to point that out in the press release.  Because it doesn’t, and it just makes everyone look a little bit closer.