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.


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.

Writers Against Racism: Uma Krishnaswami

Uma Krishnaswami is the India-born, New Mexico-based author of several widely-praised children’s books (Chachaji’s Cup, The Broken Tusk ).  She talks about how racism has impacted her writing:

“A long time ago, I left a writing group in tears when someone in the group suggested I assume a pseudonym and write stories about “regular” kids. As if my name, and the South Asian kids in my stories were, you know, irregular! And I had to wonder, when I began to submit work to publishers in the early 90’s, whether there was some rule that people from my part of the world could only be shown as illiterate and barefoot-and far away.”

This interview is part of Amy Bowllan’s excellent blog series “Writers Against Racism” on School Library Journal.  Other South Asian YA authors Bowllan has interviewed include Neesha Meminger (whose YA book I’m currently reviewing), Mitali Perkins, and Rukhsana Khan.

You can read the complete author interview here on Bowllan’s Blog.