The 2019 Reading Women Challenge – What I Learnt

So far this year, I’ve read nothing but female authors. I feel like I’ve learnt a few things from the 2019 Reading Women Challenge. Mostly about my own reading habits, but also about the different things that male and female authors focus on when we write.

Differences between male and female authors

I wish I’d noticed something more profound but honestly, the first thing I noticed is that female writers seem to focus more on food. When reading an epic fantasy written by a man, I’ve found that it’s normal to get through the whole quest without anyone stopping for a bite to eat. Does that happen in the same kind of novel written by a woman? Hell no.

Food is mentioned in every book I read for the challenge, often in lingering detail. There are probably all sorts of complex reasons for this. Historically speaking, women have been mainly responsible for food preparation, and it could be argued that women have a more complicated relationship with food because we’re under constant pressure to be skinny. Whatever the reason, I’m glad female authors focus on food because it’s such an important part of everyday life.

The next difference I noticed was that when writing about a character’s appearance, female writers tend to focus on different body parts. You know how women like to make fun of male writers who focus too much on a female character’s tits? (“She breasted boobily down the stairs”) Well, it turns out some female writers have an equally obsessive focus on eyes.

If a male character is attractive, his eyes are often described in rather ridiculous ways. They are given all sorts of flowery adjectives. They are always doing something sexy, like flashing or smouldering or turning the colour of storm clouds, rather than just sitting there like two blobs of jelly with a biological function.

Where are the male authors writing female protagonists?

All books read for the Reading Women Challenge had to be by or about women. So I could have read male authors as long as their main characters were women, but there don’t seem to be many men writing female protagonists. This is surprising, as women buy more books than men, so surely a male author would want to appeal to female readers.

Maybe they’re just not interested in writing female characters, but I suspect the reality is much more complex and beyond the scope of this blog post. I’d just like to say to any male writer who wants to write interesting female characters – Do it! It may be more difficult than writing male characters, but it will be worth it!

My reading habits

This reading challenge has taught me a lot about my own reading habits, and one thing that has become clear is that it often takes me a while to “warm up” to a book. Sometimes I love a book from the first page, but sometimes it takes me a few chapters to get into the style. DNFing a book before the halfway mark is a very bad idea for me.

I also realised that the only books I really dislike are the ones that disappoint me. If I suspect from the beginning that a book is going to be cheesy or have under-developed characters, I can still enjoy it for what it is. But if a book shows loads of promise and then screws everything up, I’ll never quite forgive it.

This challenge has pushed me out of my comfort zone a few times and I’m glad about that. But it has also reminded me that when it comes to books, I should follow my instincts rather than the opinions of others.

For example, I was planning on reading “Gods Behaving Badly” by Marie Philips for Challenge #13 – A myth retelling. But then I read a bunch of recommendations for “The Song of Achilles” and bought it instead. I didn’t hate the book, but I certainly didn’t see what all the fuss was about (this often happens with romantic books). I suppose there’s a delicate balance to be struck between reading outside your comfort zone and acknowledging that you know your own taste.

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