First there was the news that male writers enjoy disproportionate representation in the literary world, both as reviewers and as reviewed. Then we learned men appear to out-represent women even in children’s literature, traditionally the domain of women. Which is why 2014 was declared the Year of Reading Women.
Now, book review website Goodreads has decided to turn the camera on the reader himself or herself – with surprising results. An analysis of 40,000 of its members has revealed a sharp gender divide in reading preferences, according to Goodreads. It turns out the vast majority of readers prefer books by authors of their own sex.
Of the 50 books published in 2014 that were most read by men, 45 were by men and only 5 were by women. In other words, 90 percent of books read by male readers are by male authors.
Before women cry foul, consider this: Of the 50 books published in 2014 that were most read by women, 45 were by women and only 5 were by men. (And one of those 5 "men" was Robert Galbraith a.k.a. JK Rowling!)
“Ultimately, when it comes to the most popular 2014 books on Goodreads we are still sticking to our own sex,” said Goodreads in a blog post on the analysis of 40,000 of its most active readers in 2014, 20,000 men and 20,000 women.
According to comments from Goodreads members, “some men said they felt they read more male authors because of the type of books they like to read," explained Elizabeth Khuri Chandler, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Goodreads. "They thought that more male authors tended to write in the genres or about the topics that interest them than female authors," she said, adding, "We also noticed that most people were unaware of the gender breakdown of the book they were reading."
The Goodreads analysis also found that in the first year of publication, 80 percent of a female author’s audience will be women, compared to 50 percent of a male author’s audience. It seems as though female readers are open to reading unknown or debut authors of both genders, while men are more comfortable with new male authors.
The surprise though, is that while women are more open to reading books by women than are men, both men and women like books by women more.
“On average, women rated books by women 4 out of 5 and books by men 3.8 out of 5," says Goodreads. "Surprise! Men like women authors more, too – on average men rated books by women 3.9 out of 5 and books by men 3.8 out of five."
So what books break the mold – what are the female-authored books that guys are reading and the male-authored books that women are reading?
The five most-read books by women that men were reading this year, according to Goodreads, were "City of Heavenly Fire' by Cassandra Clare, "We Were Liars" by E Lockhart, "Cress" by Marissa Meyer, "The Storied Life of AJ Fikry" by Gabrielle Zevin, and "Four" by Veronica Roth. The most popular titles by male authors among female readers, were "Hollow City" by Ransom Riggs and "The Blood of Olympus' by Rick Riordan, both young adult titles, Anthony Doerr’s historical novel "All the Light We Cannot See," Stephen King’s thriller "Mr Mercedes" – and "The Silkworm," by the female-masquerading-as-a-male, Galbraith.
The study was inspired by the #readwomen movement, which encourages readers to examine their own bookshelves and reading lists and begin appreciating more women writers.
And while #readwomen placed much of the emphasis on the author, Goodreads turns the table to show us, the reader, that we are half of the equation of who gets read. In other words, we have more leverage than we think – it's an empowering message.