Best of 2009 list excludes women writers

Publishers Weekly, that venerable (and some say dated) institution, has compiled its best books of 2009 list, and the top ten authors are all men. Interesting, given that the Booker and the Pulitzer (fiction) prizes both went to women this year. 

The list has resulted in predictably divided responses, with one camp arguing that perhaps no women-authored books were worthy of inclusion this year (justice is blind!), and the other asserting that this lineup is but the latest manifestation of the (often unconscious) gender bias in the literary world (you suck, PW).

Register your approval/howl of outrage at the WILLA (Women in Letters and Literary Arts) website.  You can also add your picks to their list of favorite books by women in 2009.   

Here’s the PW list in full: 

PW Top 10

Cheever: A Life

Blake Bailey (Knopf)

Bailey, who was given access to the journals Cheever kept throughout his life, shines a new light on Cheever’s literary output, making possible a fresh reappraisal of his achievement. In addition, Bailey offers up juicy, appalling, hilarious and moving anecdotes with verve, sensitivity and perfect timing.

Await Your Reply

Dan Chaon (Ballantine)

Chaon was a National Book Award finalist for Among the Missing, and this gripping account of colliding fates, the shifty nature of identity in today’s wired world and the limits of family is easily as good, if not better. It’s a literary page-turner, a cunningly plotted and utterly unputdownable novel.

A Fiery Peace in a Cold War: Bernard Schriever and the Ultimate Weapon

Neil Sheehan (Random House)

The development of the ICBM as a key part of the cold war arsenal wasn’t inevitable. In a splendidly reported and narrated account, Sheehan credits Air Force Gen. Bernard Schriever with the foresight and shrewdness to triumph over powerful Pentagon opponents and develop the crucial and terrifying weapon.

In Other Rooms, Other Wonders

Daniyal Mueenuddin (Norton)

An NBA finalist (we found him first), Mueenuddin delivers Pakistan through the stories of its people: yearning, struggling, plotting, in a heartbreaking story collection that is specific and universal all at the same time.

Big Machine

Victor LaValle (Spiegel & Grau)

LaValle’s brilliant second novel is unlike anything else out there: Ricky Rice, an ex-junkie African-American bus station porter, gets sucked into the bizarre machinations of a rural Vermont cult dedicated to studying “The Voice.” The narrator is blisteringly funny in chronicling his bizarre quest, providing both a blazing story and an astute commentary on race.

The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science

Richard Holmes (Pantheon)

In a thrilling narrative of scientific discovery and the spirit of an age, Holmes illustrates how the great scientists of Britain’s romantic era gripped the imaginations of their contemporaries and forever changed our understanding of the universe and our place within it.

Stitches

David Small (Norton)

A graphic novel to bring us all back to comics, Small’s account of his terrifying childhood is amazing. The drawings of his parents and the small suffering boy who doesn’t quite understand until much, much later will pull you along panel by panel and tear your heart out.

Shop Class as Soulcraft

Matthew B. Crawford (Penguin Press)

Philosopher and motorcycle mechanic Crawford makes a brilliant case for the intellectual satisfactions of working with one’s hands—and why white-collar work is the assembly line of the new millennium. Crawford is catholic in his tastes (references range from Aristophanes to Dilbert), unsentimental and irresistible as he extols the virtues of “knowing how to do one thing really well.”

Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi

Geoff Dyer (Pantheon)

Dyer creates an aging hipster grinding it out as a freelance journalist who pursues the girl instead of the story: covering the Biennale. Then, depending on your point of view, he either loses or finds himself when he’s sent to Varanasi. Dyer has many books to recommend him, but all you need is angst-ridden Jeff: funny, frank and utterly charming, and if you haven’t walked in his shoes, you’ll wish you had.

Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon

David Grann (Doubleday)

In this classic adventure tale, New Yorker writer Grann—who gets winded climbing the stairs of his New York City walkup—follows in the footsteps of early–20th-century Amazon jungle explorer Percy Fawcett, who disappeared along with his son on a 1925 expedition. Grann expertly and energetically weaves the story of Fawcett’s explorations with that of his own.

And for further reading, here’s a link to a NYT article about gender bias in the (American) theater world.

6 responses to “Best of 2009 list excludes women writers

  1. Thanks Niranjana,

    I’ll be linking this for my Little Lov’n Monday feature. Folks need to speak up!

  2. @ Susan: Thanks! The WILLA list is a great opportunity to bring works by women authors (of color) to the attention of the reading public. Some familiar names there already–Zetta Elliot, Neesha Meminger etc.

  3. John Cheever? Aha. Updike once said “John Cheever wrote as if with the quill from the wing of an angel.”

    Would await an Indian writer in English write as effectively of suburban alienation in India. I wouldn’t know if there’s any that has been written already though.

    Good to have him on that list, his writings could do with renewed interest. Deserving. I remember his Falconer.

  4. I never take these lists seriously, other than to jot down names of books I might want to read. Anyway, while on the topic of lists, here’s a link to one of the top 100 books of the decade (yes, ’tis the seasons for all manner of lists!) from the Times (UK):
    http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/books/book_reviews/article6914181.ece

    Cheers!

  5. @ Anil: What a great quote from the great Updike.
    The omission of women is unfortunate, but in no way diminishes those on the list–the Cheever bio is on my TBR now.

  6. @ Kamini: I do the same with lists! And thanks for the link–very interesting indeed. Did you see #90: Twilight. Really!

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