I no longer read books by women.

This is a repost of a previous article.

H is for Hawk

the last book by a woman that I read. It was rubbish.

Back in 1997 when I was working as a sea kayaking guide off Vancouver Island I took a group of female school teachers on a five day trip. In my first book I briefly mention this account. But I left out a little tidbit that left quite an impression on me.

We were all sitting around the campfire one night and the subject got onto books that they had recently read. They all went on for quite some time until one of them asked me if I had read anything of interest recently. I mentioned a work by the title of Snow Falling on Cedars which was set on an island chain not too far from where we were making our paddling excursion at the time. One of the more strident members of the group addressed me:

“Is the book written by a woman or a man?” she said.

I admitted that it had been written by a person of the male sex.

She harrumphed and said, “Well, we won’t talk about that book. We are only interested in books written by women.”

I protested that this was a ridiculous position to hold but I was shouted down and they continued happily with their discussion while I raided our dwindling stores of alcohol.

Twenty years later, however, and the wheel has come full circle as they say. I no longer read books written by women. The last one that I read was H is for Hawk and I only got about a third of the way into it before I gave up. All style and no substance is the only reasonable appraisal of that book that I can make. What little I read was a waste of my time, and I am not in the business of frittering away my remaining reading years on rubbish.

The list of female writers of the last 20 years that are worth reading is pretty short. I have one, Annie Proulx, but that is about it. Before her we have the marvelous Ayn Rand, and that is about it as well. But these two women are merely the exceptions that prove the rule, and the rule is that women just don’t write anything worth reading. They may be able to write pretty words that make up pretty passages but the whole thing will have the texture of a crusty meringue pie – bite into it and inside there is nothing but air.

Women talk a lot so you’d think that they’d be good at writing, but when you consider that women talk about emotions and feelings then that’s what you’re going to get when they write as well. If a man had written H is for Hawk it would have been a cool story where he tells a tale of the art of falconry with some good battles with other hawks and the process of hunting game, and hanging out with other falconers, and drinking copious amounts of booze, and chancing on someone’s illegal still hidden in the woods, and stealing all the grog that then poisons him and makes him go temporarily blind, and you get the idea. It would have been cool.

In Helen Macdonald’s hands however, the hawk story is secondary to her personal grief at the death of her father and she attempts to find her feelings and “discover the pain and beauty of being alive” through a hawk. I think at one point she spent two pages going on about the details of the shade of grey on the hawk’s wing. I mean, who gives a shit?

If a book has been written by a woman, I’m not interested. If a book has been edited by a woman, I’m not interested. And given the fact that 90% of the publishing industry is made up of women, (no cries of equality there though), it seems that if you want decent writing you’re going to have to do some digging.

So I’ll raise a glass to those women around that little campfire all those years ago. You were right, except you just got one crucial detail wrong.

19 thoughts on “I no longer read books by women.

  1. areukittenme

    What about ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ by Harper Lee? Now come on, that was worthy of praise.

    What I don’t like is when a female author writes with a male lead character and vice versa. I think it shows a certain arrogance to think you can get into the head of the opposite sex for more than small parts.

    Recently I tried reading a book by Jodi Picoult. “Maybe the coming of ghosts feels like a sob at the back of your throat.” OMG I can’t do this.

    Michael Connelly – great writer but such a lefty. I can handle demented serial killers but I can’t stand undervalued, black, lesbian, single mother detectives that help to catch him in between bouts of one night stands. WTF?

    I am also not keen on characters that drink heaps, smoke drugs & get wasted. Oh pa-lease!

    A clever plot, an unforeseen twist, believable action, suspense, a satisfying ending. Yes, males do it better.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. BWV

      “What I don’t like is when a female author writes with a male lead character and vice versa. I think it shows a certain arrogance to think you can get into the head of the opposite sex for more than small parts.”

      That reminded me of the movie, “As Good As It Gets” where the receptionist corners Jack Nicholson’s character and asks him how he writes women so well. He replies, “I think of a man, then I take away reason and accountability.”

      Liked by 1 person

      1. areukittenme

        Wow, when the feminazi’s realise this we can look forward to a grovelling video apology by Jack Nicholson.

        “I’m sorry! I didn’t write it. They made me say it. It was the script writers not me! Waah. I love feminists! You are all tough and rational and clever! You are better than men! You are, you are. Waah! Please forgive me!!”

        Like

      1. areukittenme

        I downloaded a sample of ‘The Late Show’ on my Kindle. A black, lesbian? detective investigating a brutal, hate-filled trans murder? Are you kidding me! I never bought it. And I have read every Harry Bosch novel.

        Now I am reading Dean Koontz, ‘The Silent Corner’. My husband recommended the author. A super brainy, super TOUGH, super fab looking, ex-FBI chick seeking justice. I am plodding through it but will toss it as soon as I find something else better.

        They preach PC/diversity at us through the media, through our laws, through our schools and universities, through the radio and now through our entertainment. ‘Game of Thrones’ – tough chicks, beta men. Crime novels – tough chicks, beta men. Far out I am sick of this shit!

        What’s the bet the next Michael Connelly novel is about a female perpetrator killing men, women, fluffy unicorns, fuck knows. I won’t be reading it.

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    2. mer

      Isn’t it a tradition in some countries (Japan?) that female roles in a play are done by “biological” males? I think the reasoning is that a biological female playing a female role is actually handicapped by being female.

      That said, hard for a guy to “feel emotions” from words on a page. Easy for guys to get the mental picture of a red tailed hawk plummeting out of the sky on a collision course with the ground, the flaring at the last instant and grabbing that G***D*** chipmunk and ripping it to tiny shreds of BBQ and feasting on it.

      But getting a guy to mentally picture “the perfect shade of taupe on the underside of the (unspecified species) hawks wing being the perfect counterpoint to the myriad shades of green in the forest”…. ain’t gonna happen.

      Give me another whisky around the bonfire.

      Like

  2. BWV

    The only book I read (present tense – more about that in a sec) that is by a woman is “Out of Africa” by Isak Denisen, real name Karen Blixen. Confirming what the author says above, I read it when I feel like words, beautifully strung together. I’ve had it for… maybe 20 years… have read it many times… and never bothered to finish it. I can get everything I want in the first few chapters.

    As for having to “do some digging” to find worthwhile reads – not so much. The classics are classic because they’re great stories – and today they’re either free (kindle) or bargain bin cheap (real books).

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  3. Anton Popov

    I came to the same conclusion years ago, after reading, or trying to read, mental mush. I do not even remember the title or the authoress but it too was about feelings ™, past lovers, contemplating suicide on a winter’s day in Newfoundland. So what?
    The exceptions are Mary Shelley, the Bronte sisters, Vera Brittain, and one or two more. There are others who were archeologists, scientists, explorers, and even the Van Buren sisters who traveled in the U.S. by motorcycle in 1916; real women and ladies.

    Like

  4. Mark

    When I visit the ebook section of my local public library’s website, it seems about 3/4 of the fiction books are by women. Do they really write that much more? Or is it because all the librarians are women and have the same philosophy as your grade school teachers?

    Like

  5. Pingback: Late Night With In The Mailbox: 08.22.17 : The Other McCain

  6. Sarah Hoyt has a number of fine fantasy/science fiction books out, some thru major publishers and others self published. She is an exceptional writer and her conservative/libertarian credentials are as good as they get.

    Like

  7. AnalogMan

    I have made this a rule for well over fifty years, and I know at least one woman who does likewise. There have been a few good authoresses, but I think they’re all dead, now, and their books were good in spite of being written like a woman, not because of it.

    I’m horrified by the stuff that gets published these days. The spelling in some of the books that my adult daughters read is atrocious. If you haven’t done enough reading to differentiate between your/you’re, their/there/they’re, effect/affect, except/accept, or even then/than, how can you pass yourself off as a writer?

    The Brigade, by Harold Covington: loved it. There are four more books in that Northwest series that you should read, too. All are available for free download from the net. It’s not great literature, and all his characters sound like Harold Covington, but a great read.

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  8. BLBeamer

    I agree with the sentiments of your post, but there are some good female writers out there. I think the distinguishing attribute is that good women writers don’t write self-consciously as women. They just tell stories. There are lots of good stories to be told. The less the author puts herself and her “gender” (gawd I hate that term) into the story, the better they are as writers.

    I really like Marilynn Robinson and Olivia Manning. I very much enjoyed Doris Lessing’s ‘The Fifth Child’. A couple years back I read a book of short stories by Alice Munro called ‘Runaway’ that I remember liking, too.

    However, I must say when I make my list of my top 25 books, not more than 3-4 of them are by women.

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  9. Carl-Edward

    TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD is an overrated piece of left-wing rubbish – or, rather, a piece of rubbish, adopted by the left wing. The best of all female writers I can think of, is Ivy Compton-Burnett. She excels even Jane Austen and George Meredith. She knocks Colette into a cocked hat.

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  10. Hans Tholstrup

    I make an exception for some women crime writers. e.g. I enjoy MC Beaton’s Hamish Macbeth and Agatha Raison series. She’s a very professional writer, and has a great sense of humour. But a serious female novelist? A very short list. I’m afraid.
    Your point about the publishing industry is spot on – if you don’t accept/adhere to ‘the narrative’, it’s hard to get past the 20-something female Arts graduate gatekeepers to get published…

    Like

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