Image credit: Joanna Walsh, who came up with the campaign
It's July already, which means I'm six months through my challenge of a. reading 50 books this year, and b. only reading books by women, as part of the #readwomen2014 campaign, and I'm thoroughly enjoying it.
People close to me have now stopped recommending books by men as default, and caveat recommendations with “Next year, you could check out...” – which I appreciate. Other people who I tell about my women-only reading habits have been pleasantly curious, and upon thinking about it, have almost unanimously agreed that they probably read many more books by men than by women.
One of the nicest things, though (and this is perhaps more related to the quantity side of the challenge) – is that for the first time in years, I've started to set aside time for reading. Prioritising a few hours each week for the delicious act of curling up in my chair and delving into a book feels like such a luxury, and yet practically speaking, relatively easy to obtain.
In an era when complaining about being busy has become somewhat of “a boast disguised as a complaint”, escaping 'the busy trap' and making space for those few hours was initially slightly bizarre for me. Sorry, I can't meet you for dinner, I have to read. No drinks after work, I have reading to do. These reasons sounded strange to my ears to start with, but I soon lost that hesitation, and realised that actually, they are very valid.
I've been keeping track of my books over on Goodreads, after I realised last year that it was difficult to remember what I'd read throughout the year. Having them all set out in a list allows me also to find patterns among my reading choices: Ursula K. LeGuin is by far my most preferred author (6 books out of the 23) and the majority, just, of the books are written by women of colour (12 books out of the 23).
My favourite book out of all of them – and one that I've passed on to friends and recommended to more people than I can remember – has been The Left Hand of Darkness, which was a book which genuinely changed my behaviour, and made me realise things about myself that I hadn't really considered before. In terms of reading, it was the first science fiction book I've read, and it hugely whet my appetite for a genre which I'd previously ignored, proof of which can be seen through the 7 other scifi books I've read this year.
Scifi aside, my favourites so far have probably been Alice Walker's The Colour Purple, which is one I'd been meaning to read for a while, Mia McKenzie's The Summer We Got Free, which was beautiful and mesmerisingly written, or perhaps Taiye Selasi's debut novel, Ghana Must Go, on identity and immigration.
In terms of non-fiction, bell hooks' The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love is another one of those books which left a long lasting impression on me, and which I've recommended widely since. My other favourite is on a very different topic; Emily Parker's “Now I know who my comrades are: Voices from the Internet Underground”, which looked at internet activism in Cuba, Russia and China, and was a wonderful example for me of recognising cultural differences when considering online behaviour.
It's also pretty satisfying, looking through my list of books read in 2014; next up is I Do Not Come To You by Chance, and The Book of Unknown Americans, which will be my first book this year written by someone from Latin America.
I've also started taking note of lists compiled by others of books written by women:
50 Books By African Women That Everyone Should Read – (there's currently only 25, but the rest coming soon)
A Buzzfeed quiz on the 102 greatest books by women
7 great novels by African women writers, by Minna Salami
The Year of Reading (Arab) Women – a book for every month that has been translated from Arabic into English
Any other recommendations – especially those written by women from Latin America, Asia or Africa (especially Francophone Africa – I feel I'm missing that perspective) – would be really welcomed. I'm looking forward to see what else I learn about in (hopefully) the next 26 books over the rest of 2014!