The list of things that pass me by is a long one, it has after all taken me until the middle of February to see something suggesting that 2014 should be the year of reading women (and also writers of color... presumably if you combine the two you're doing extra well) and of redressing the gender bias in newspaper reviews. It was Sunday's episode of Radio 4's Open Book that alerted me to this whole debate - they were concentrating particularly on the gender bias of reviews (if you care to follow @sohowgenderedis on twitter you can get regular updates on the ratio of male to female writers reviewed in The Guardian). Open Book had a male journalist who had decided to read only female writers for 3 months (but found so many good books he went to 4) and Rachel Cooke who has a book to push and seemed mildly outraged that everyone who had reviewed it in the press had been female and that she herself was generally only paid to review books by other women. I expect it's already clear that I found it all a bit patronising.
Statistics make it clear enough that more books written by men are reviewed in the mainstream press and that more of those reviews are written by men. Efforts to redress that balance can hardly harm the careers of women writers generally, but statistics also show that more women buy books, and unless they're mostly for presents I guess that means reading them too - nobody was discussing sales figures of male v female writers which might have been interesting, nor did they look further than the broadsheets and the London Review of Books. I hadn't noticed the gender bias, probably because I seldom read the weekend papers these days (or the London Review of Books).
When times are hard newspapers are an easy expense to cut, so I cut them, now when I do look the weekend supplements are increasingly out of touch with any lifestyle I recognise and review sections which are only likely to cover 20 to 30 books don't feel like much of a loss. To be fair my reading tastes veer towards the classics and older fiction which are unlikely to pick up many column inches regardless of gender but this debate is still 20 years to late.
I find most of my book recommendations on blogs, if good reads didn't crash my poor old laptop I'd find more there, or on library thing, or via conversations on twitter, all of those recommendations come from people whose opinion I trust and respect. I know their tastes overlap enough with mine that if they love something I should at the least investigate it. With very little trouble I can search out dozens of different recommendations a day never mind a week and I have no trouble at all in finding women writing about women, or for that matter men writing about female authors (men moreover who don't sound as if they think they're doing anything remarkable when they read books written by women).
Yes, it's depressing that women are under represented in review sections, but I doubt I'm alone in finding those same sections increasingly irrelevant. A better gender balance isn't going to make me spend money on newspapers that I could be spending on books, and I, like many women, am spending plenty of money on books (maybe men need the extra encouragement of that bias in their favour?). It's fantastic to celebrate women writers but something about this debate feels off to me, isn't it better to celebrate books that we're passionate about, to shout about them and push them through any channel we find, rather than to count and keep score over who's reviewing what? Is a review really more relevant because somebody's been paid to write it?