President Obama’s summer reading list features five books by men authors (including Aldous Huxley and Abraham Verghese) and just two by women writers (Isabel Wilkerson and Emma Donoghue). That’s 70 percent male, reports Robin Black at Salon (Aug 24, 2011) with a gasp of disapproval even while admitting that this turn of events “is not the greatest crisis facing the arts, much less the nation.”
It’s true, critiquing the author gender ratio of the president’s beach reading at Martha’s Vineyard makes about as much sense as the media castigating Princess Kate for spending too much on candles to furnish the palace. But it is the perfect opening to suggest some terrific books by women that President Obama—and all men—might enjoy reading. Because it is true that, as a general rule, men tend to read men, and male-authored books get more airtime from critics. We know it anecdotally, and we know it statistically: The New York Times, for example, reviewed 524 books by men in a single year versus 283 by women, reveals a VIDA study.
So what books by women authors do you invite men to read? I’ll start the list off with Olive Kitteridge, Elizabeth Strout’s beautiful interconnected story collection; Infidel, Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s memoir of growing up in Somalia; and West With the Night, Beryl Markham’s 1942 autobiography of bush piloting over Africa. What other gems, new or old, do you recommend?