In Bookland, we are already into April and it is already pretty clear which way the publisher wind is blowing this year… Serendipitously for them, the gathering momentum of the me too movement coincides this year with celebrations for the centenary of the granting of votes for women. What a piece of profit-making good luck. This year men are out, women are in and there are an inordinate number of books to reinforce this message. Publishers have scoured the history books to come up with women in the arts, science, sport, nature, astronomy, politics etc etc who have achieved as much/more/better than men but have long been denied recognition by men who have monopolised the trumpet for far too long.
So far, so good but the trouble is that every publisher has jumped on this particular bandwagon so every rep is showing me, in the majority of cases, the same sort of book. The size, artwork, layout etc may all differ but the message is essentially the same and my initial interest has relapsed into a glazing over as yet another rebellious girl or woman of her time is proffered for the bookshelves. And if I’m a bit bored, how will the book-buying public feel when every bookshop starts laying on piles of books and displays celebrating womanhood in all its wonderfulness. They’ll be glad to see the end of 2018 and this is the major problem, that publishers will feel that they have ‘done’ women and move on to the next (probably male-dominated) sensation.
And, also, finally as the mother of a son as well as two daughters, what about the boys who are just arriving on the scene. Is it helpful to adopt a tit-for-tat attitude and endorse and prolong the girl/boy divide in literature. I have known so many men who will never read a book written by a woman. Members of one of my book clubs includes 3 men but the sex of the author is never an issue and never really remarked upon and we probably read an equal number of male and female authors in all the book clubs. Surely we are aiming for inclusivity not exclusivity: books that can be read by all genders in order to give greater insight into the other and thus equality.
My two books of the week are firstly, The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar. I loved this because it was a delight to read from beginning to end, the sort of book that fizzes with a host of memorable 18th century characters foremost among them being the courtesan Angelica Neal.
My other book is of an earlier age but new to me. I have read and greatly enjoyed John Mortimer’s novels, but for some reason have never engaged myself with his most famous creation, Rumpole of the Bailey… until now. They are such a joyful treat which is all one craves on a dark winter evening.