How the New York Times made this year's '100 Notable Books' list more equal

Diversity in the New York Times Sunday Book Review's '100 Notable Books of 2014' aims to reflect the Times's readership. This year, the list achieved gender parity.

Brendan McDermid/Reuters/Files
The sun peeks over the New York Times building in New York in August 2013.

Books by men and women split the bill in this year’s New York Times Sunday Book Review’s “100 Notable Books of 2014,” a list released on Tuesday.

In a male-dominated industry, this year’s and last year’s Times lists are notable for their gender parity. 

While women and men also had about equal representation in 2013, around three-fifths of the 2012 list of books was written by men, and in 2011 that figure was about 70 percent.

What changed in 2013? For one, Pamela Paul was named editor after at least a decade of male leadership — Sam Tanenhaus began in 2004, and Chip McGrath served before him. 

Ms. Paul says she can only comment on the last two years’ lists. While she aims to include the best books, diversity in representation is also important, she says.

The “Notable Books” list, as well as the Sunday Book Review more broadly, seeks to include diversity in the books' genres, as well as the authors' countries of origin, ethnicities, backgrounds, points of view, and genders, she says.

Paul declined to specify the “special sauce” process of selecting books for the list, but she says that the books that the Times reviews aim to reflect the newspaper’s “broad readership.”

“I think people’s reading interests and habits are broad and diverse, and what we cover should reflect that,” she says.

Paul has shown “real leadership,” says Erin Belieu, the spokeswoman and co-founder of Vida, an organization for women in literary arts. Vida tracks the balance of book reviews in top publications and releases this data annually.

One reason these lists are important, Ms. Belieu says, is because they translate into sales — especially around the holiday season.

The list’s effect on young female readers, she says, is also notable.

“It normalizes the idea that women do this and succeed at this,” says Belieu, a published poet herself.

Some authors and advocates declared 2014 the “Year of Reading Women,” and several male reviewers followed suit, pledging to read and review only books written by women.

A recent survey by book review website Goodreads shows that men and women were more likely to read texts penned by authors of their gender, though both men and women gave books by women a higher ranking than they gave books by men. 

Vida just marked its fifth anniversary, and Belieu says the pace of change has been “gratifying and overwhelming.”

“We were people who were at the right place at the right time to speak to something that was just getting insupportable to a lot of readers and writers,” she says. 

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