Sunday, January 10, 2010

Women Who Write: A Tale of Five Men and Their FFLs

My friend Jason's entertaining Brief History of the Rise and Fall etc. blog has a new URL. Jason also has a mission this year to read only books by women. Here, he tells a fascinating story about a mutual friend who does not read books by women. This seems a preposterous philosophy to follow - who reads books by only one gender? - until one thinks about it more deeply.

I think of two of my good friends. Let's call them Jike and Mohn. Jike and Mohn are erudite educated independent-minded men. They consider themselves well-read. I consider them well-read. But... can I think of a single book by a woman that either one of them have read? No I cannot. It's just that they never admitted to having a philosophy - a rule - of never reading books by women. In practice, they're no different from the no-read-women guy.

Yes, I could be wrong about Jike and Mohn. They may have read books by women. I don't follow their every book purchase or library loan. Maybe there's a female author in there somewhere. Perhaps an instructional manual on how to program early 90s synthesizers written by a FTM? Or maybe an ESL teacher certification manual penned by a half-Madonna half-whore domiNUNtrix? Maybe. But they never mentioned these girlbooks out loud.

And who am I to judge? Am I a prolific reader of women of letters? Yes, as a matter of fact I am. I can think of at least 12 completed novels and at least seven short story collections written by women. That's at least one book every two years of my life. Okay that's not a lot. But I've also read tons of non-fiction written by women. Does all this approach the number of things written by men that I have read? A little, yeah. But no, I've read a bunch more by men. I can't help it if the basketball histories, rock bios, and World Almanacs I read as a kid were mostly written by dudes.

So I read more books written by women than Jike and Mohn (and perhaps Jason and the Sexist) combined? What has it gotten me? Well, let's see: All five of us are admitted  heterosexuals; three of the other four are married, two of these three have (or will have) happy multi-child families, and the fourth has a girlfriend. Me? Unmarried. No children. Am I single? Well, that's to be discussed in private. Not in this forum. I keep my privates private.

BUT... is that really the measure of the benefit of reading women writers? Our marriage/relationship/family statuses? There must be some other way to understand a man's ability to understand women, to see in them what they truly are, as writers, as thinkers, as doers, as people. God, am I really writing these words?

There must be some other way. And, being a man with a Ph.D. in (essentially) Statistics, there must be a quantifiable empirical way. There must be something I can demonstrate via numbers to prove that my reading girlbooks makes me more acceptable to women. Yep, I'm really going to do it. Okay. I'll take care of the counting. I'll be right back.
  • Mike: 147 Facebook friends total; 72 are female; 72 div. by 147 gives us a 49.0% FFL (female friend likelihood)
  • John: 84 Facebook friends; 39 are female, one (Matrixsynth Jones) is undetermined, so let's divide 39 by 83 to get an FFL of 47.0%
  • Jason: 81 Facebook friends; 36 are female; 44.4% FFL.
  • Mutual Friend Who Does Not Read Women : Does not appear to be a member of the Facebook community. He's probably proud of this fact. As if not belonging to such an insidious dubiously dubbed "social" network where the definition of "friend" is loose enough to include people who likely do not exist (Sui Solitaire? Come on Paulson.... really?) makes XXXXXX better than us. No XXXXXX, it does not. Numbers don't lie. The rules are pretty simple. If we can't access your Facebook stats, if you have no Facebook stats, your FFL is ... I hate to say it ... equal to the number of female authors you've read relative to all authors you have read which, according to your self-report, is ... ZERO.
  • Blueprint Blue (Me): 71 Facebook friends. 42 are female Facebook friends, one (Tarpaulin Sky Press) is undetermined, so 42 out of 70 gives us a clean even 60% FFL, which means I win!
Now the skeptical among you may offer various reasons for my 60% WINNING score. You'll contend that my frequent singlehood in this Facebook era has created great opportunities for me to bump up my female numbers, that my winning personality, cultivated shyness infused with quiet strength, and Clooney-in-Oceans-11-meets-D'Onofrio-in-Things-to-Do-in-Denver strapping good looks easily gets me to the third date by which point Facebook friendships are enthusiastically accepted. AND you'll say that my honorable behavior and artful decency has ensured that I simply do not have bad breakups which would lead to friendship rejections/cancellations. Yes... with that one exception. What was I to do? I'd never dated a girl from Sherman Oaks before. I didn't know. I'll just say I'm glad we were in a public place.

Or you'll say that being married keeps three of you out of the female-friend-getting loop. Sorry... that's what you signed up for when you said "I do." But you do get a tax break. Or maybe you'll say that growing up in a matriarchy gave me an unfair advantage. No.
Wait. Do I have the fewest friends out of all of us? I need to go out and network. Still, 72 friends is nothing to sneeze at. I remember high school. I had two friends and one of them lived in another state. Back to the topic at hand.

In conclusion: Read good books. By anyone. In any era. In any language. Enjoy good art In any form(at). In any medium. If you find yourself deficient in a particular area (like women authors), read a bunch of them. I probably need to increase my numbers of dead authors. But it's just so difficult to connect with them.

(Aside to Jason:

So yes Jason, reading books by female authors is a clear win-win. These books are generally less expensive (about 84 cents to the dollar) than books by men. You'll impress your wife with your well-intentioned project. But most of all, you'll get to read some great books. To expand on my Facebook comment suggestions:

Zadie Smith is my favorite from that list. And On Beauty is my favorite of hers. It is a little college-y. And I know you live in a provincial if not precious college town but she's a badass Brit who can write better than pretty much anyone on the planet AND with a badass Brit perspective. I've only read a couple of her essays but I'm sure her new essay collection is awesome.

Marisha Pessl's Special Topics in Calamity Physics is a solid, poignant, and seemingly fantastical but actually grounded novel about a teenage girl and her dad. They travel from college town to college town because he's a rootless professor. She comes of age, in a way. The father is a kook. Interestingly, the book doesn't seem college-y at all. The fact that every single character suffers from sort of eccentricity may be tough to deal with at first. But if you can get through Jonathan Lethem novels with his ridiculously-named characters (Mingus Rude??) you can get through this book.

The Lydia Millet book is one I haven't read (yet) but I went to a reading where she discussed it and it sounds great. It's about Oppenheimer and the bomb and all that.

Good luck! I think I'll read a book written by a man. I've heard Harper Lee is quite good.)


It'sallaboutbeingHaley said...

This entry begs for book suggestions.

"I Married Adventure" by Osa Johnson (non fiction)

Do women poets count?

My candle burns at both ends.
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends
It gives a lovely light.

-Edna St. Vincent Millay

(I love the word verification "words" ittyritt' excellentness)

It'sallaboutbeingHaley said...

Oh and being married might increase the number of women in your network, since it is facebook acceptable to friend your wives friends and the wives of your friends (but not their friends).

Now I wonder what my male to female ratio is.


Did you miss me?

27 F out of 51 or about 53% I bet that is a low number for a girl. I just prefer men.

sui said...

I don't know what you're going on about, but my name is Sui Solitaire and I have known John Paulson personally for over half a decade.

And yes, I do exist. :P

JohnnyJohnny said...

i don't know what 'well-read' even means, much less claim to be it. and i certainly don't aspire to it.

my girlfriend is a graduate of drew university in english. i think she's read a lot. more than me, probably.

my friend sui has also read a lot.

it helps if you can read fast, i'm guessing. i can't read very fast.

i like comics. i like anime. i like movies. i read a lot of blogs through my friendly aggregator. i play games.

if i went out for a drink with robert heinlein and harold bloom they'd probably slip me a mickey.

hehe sui exists. actually met her in real life just this past year and we had pasta in the village. :)