“Male writers may suffer strains on their single-minded dedication to their art for reasons of class or race or nationality, but so far no male writer is likely to be asked to sit on a panel addressing itself to the special problems of a male writer, or be expected to support another writer simply because he happens to be a man. Such things are asked of women writers all the time, and it makes them jumpy.”
– Margaret Atwood (pictured below), novelist in her introduction to the 1998 anthology Women Writers at Work: The Paris Review Interviews
You may not have noticed the furore pinging around the internet over the last week, gathering momentum and outrage by the nanosecond, but Wikipedia have just done the strangest thing.
They’ve invented a new sub-category of American Novelists entitled American Women Novelists. Notice I said, sub-category. In practical terms, it means that writers such as Louisa May Alcott, Jean M. Auel and Pearl S. Buck (it seems they’ve only completed the As and Bs) are now not American novelists, but in fact secondary American Women Novelists.
Wikipedia’s reasoning is, at best, half- baked. Accepting that the list of American novelists is too long and unwieldy and that novelists need to be put in sub-categories is perfectly acceptable.
For instance, writers could be grouped according to their era by century, or decade even. Genre would be tricky because some writers don’t stick to one type – they might write crime, children’s books and then a memoir. Admittedly creating a category entitled American Women Novelists would be perfectly fine if the folk at Wikipedia had a corresponding category entitled American Men Novelists, but of course they don’t. And too bad if you happen to be a transgender writer, you may as well resign yourself to being abandoned right out in the category wastelands.
Don’t think this will never happen to Australian writers. Someone at Wikipedia is already working on the Haitian novelists – those female writers are being split off into a new sub-category too, and if it can happen to the Haitians, it can surely happen to Antipodean authors.
In a bizarre postscript to this story, the American novelist Amanda Filipacchi who first wrote about this issue in an opinion piece for The New York Times website then found her own Wikipedia entry savagely edited.
Wikipedia removed all links to reviews and interviews with her and other relevant source material before adding the page “needed additional citations for verifications.” According to Filipacchi, 22 changes were made in a 24-hour period, which are more changes than had occurred on her page in four years. Someone took it upon themselves to reverse the changes and yet within hours the Wiki-editors had removed them again.
Of course, anyone can leave a comment for the Wikipedia team saying what they think of their new categorisation system. If you want to take up Wikipedia’s invitation to leave a comment, click here and if you want to read Filipacchi’s articles, click here.
The Shadow Year by Hannah Richell
Encouraged by their informal leader, the charming and charismatic Simon, they hatch a plan to squat there, live off the land and their wits before entering the real world of employment and responsibility. It’s such an achingly attractive proposition that none of the five take much convincing to drop out.
Into this snug community arrives a stranger upsetting the cosy dynamic and, as the seasons change, their shared rural idyll struggles to survive the bitter winter. By year-end, they are all desperate to leave but that one year will end up casting a long shadow over the rest of their lives.
Three decades later, Lila is grieving the loss of her baby, her marriage straining under the burden when she receives a solicitor’s letter with a key inside the envelope. She is the recipient of an inheritance from an unknown benefactor. As her and husband Tom explore the tumbledown cottage, Lila sees in it the seeds of her recovery. She will renovate the cottage and perhaps that will allow her some respite from Tom’s growing impatience and a chance to restore her piece of mind if not her marriage.
As Lila sifts through the belongings seemingly abandoned in great haste and ponders the meaning of the six stick figures painted on one of the bedroom walls, she can’t help but feel a connection to the place. Rather than sell the cottage as she originally planned, Lila decides there is something about the house, the peaceful landscape and even her neighbours that makes this place feel strangely like home.
Hannah Richell has a gift for exploring the many small tragedies that can rend a family or friendship apart. Her fascination with relationships always leads to the creation of a cast of characters that as the reader you feel you know intimately. They are so familiar and yet, as the story unfolds, you discover the many secrets, lies and betrayals that lie not so deeply buried beneath the surface.
No character is ever blemish free, no one’s motives are pure and always the tragedy that unfolds could have been avoided. Combined with Richell’s talent for evoking a sense of place, The Shadow Year is a richly rewarding read that fulfils the promise of hours of pleasurable escape.
Note: Hannah Richell is appearing at the Sydney Writers’ Festival on May 24 in a session entitled Tension and Suspense along with Julienne van Loon and Caroline Overington. Visit the SWF website for further details.
Giveaway: Enter to WIN 1 of 10 copies of The Shadow Year HERE.
Meet the Author | Cory Taylor
Never realising that a person could make a career as a writer, Cory studied history at University before falling into film where she discovered she could write and get paid for it.
In 2011, Cory won the Commonwealth Writers Prize (Pacific Region) for her first novel, Me and Mr Booker. Now she returns with the darkly comic, emotionally wrought, My Beautiful Enemy. Cory Taylor answered three quick questions for The Hoopla.
What books are you reading now?
I’m reading Alice Munro’s Dear Life. I had to put off reading it because I knew I’d have to finish it in one sitting. Before that I read James Salter’s A Sport and a Pastime, which is a wonderful book, and before that his All That Is, equally wonderful.
Who are your favourite authors or greatest literary influences?
Major influences are Paula Fox, Richard Ford, Richard Yates, and Alice Munro, who is a genius. I respond to the seeming simplicity of a lot of American writing, in which the rhythms lull you into a sense that you know the world being conjured up, that you can see it, that in fact it’s your own life story being told back to you.
In a nutshell, what’s your new book about? My Beautiful Enemy is about the power of love to subvert our best intentions. After he becomes infatuated with a Japanese boy he met in a camp for enemy aliens during the war, a man abandons his wife and child and sets out on a doomed mission to rescue his friend from deportation. Half a lifetime later, he concludes that this was his one and only act of true heroism.
The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell
However, it is also the era of shady crimes in back alleys, rapes and knifings and for Rose Baker, a typist with the New York City Police Department on the Lower East Side, typing confessions and police reports are all in a day’s work. She prides herself on her speed and accuracy and looks down her nose at fellow typists, Iris and Marie, who both fail to meet Rose’s standards in either their work or via the obvious deficiencies in their personalities.
But the day the new typist starts is the day everything changes. Odalie Lazare is a notch above the other girls and she knows it. She obviously has more money because the $15 a week the typists are paid is nowhere near enough to afford such beautiful clothes and jewellery. Furthermore, no woman sashays with quite the same intent as Odalie does.
Judgmental, sanctimonious Rose is instantly drawn to the exotic, exquisite Odalie, for Odalie is everything Rose is not, and when Odalie extends the perfectly manicured hand of friendship, Rose naively accepts it.
Within the inner sanctum of Odalie’s friendship and influence, sharing a suite in a swanky Manhattan hotel with Odalie, sharing her divine wardrobe and attending illegal parties in speakeasies, Rose think she has made it. It never occurs to her that Odalie might have her own reasons for befriending such a drab wallflower and that purpose may end up destroying Rose’s life.
With an intentionally Gatsby-esque flair and all the noir of a Joan Crawford movie, Suzanne Rindell has recreated the flamboyancy of the Roaring Twenties. By day Rose and Odalie work with the law, by night that flaunt it. Rose is naive, puritanical with middle class pretensions who declares that she is ‘no babe in the woods’ when that is precisely what she is. Odalie is quite clearly a con woman, a chimera, a creation of her own over-active imagination whose sophisticated games are beyond Rose and when Odalie’s interests are threatened, Rose finds out how dispensable their friendship is.
Odalie is not who she thought she was and Rose, and the reader, may never know who Odalie really is. What a shimmering mirage guilt and innocence turn out to be in this riveting game of cat and mouse.
On My Bedside Table…
Returning for his Uncle Fletcher’s funeral, Adyn discovers he has inherited Koorawatha, a once grand old home in Katoomba, much loved by him and Uncle Fletcher but despised by everyone else in the family.
However, wealth brings out the worst in people and a battle erupts over Fletcher’s fortune. Greed and bitterness threaten to overwhelm Adyn, yet somehow it is Koorawatha and the people who care for it that might prove the solution to the secrets and betrayals that have overrun this family. Beyond the Frame’s Edge is a terrific literary thriller from debut author Berndt Sellheim.
Note: Berndt Sellheim is appearing at the Sydney Writer’s Festival in the Blue Mountains on May 20 in a session entitled Landscapes of Love and Loss with authors Jessie Cole and Yvette Walker. Visit the SWF website for further details.
He is a wealthy man with a beautiful wife and children whose overwhelming concern is that if he wins an outsourcing contract for a Japanese automobile maker, he will need to expand the factory beyond its current 2 acres to a much larger concern somewhere on the dangerous outskirts of the city.
At the other end of the social scale is Kamala, a servant in Anand’s household. Her son Narayan is very bright, but would rather make 100 rupees a day selling magazines at the traffic lights than study so that he may one day secure a good future.
Lavanya Sankaran weaves together a contemporary tale of rich and poor, social inclusion and exclusion in this nuanced and comic novel, The Hope Factory. Anand, as the novel’s moral compass, is a delightful guide through the minefield of relationships and greed in a society in the throes of change where people risk all for financial and emotional fortunes.
Booktopia’s Bestselling Women’s Biographies and Memoir
In celebration of Mother’s Day, this week we look at women’s stories with Booktopia’s favourite biographies and memoirs.
- Never Stop Believing: Heartache, Hope and Some Very High Heels Sally Obermeder BUY THE BOOK
- All Good Things Sarah Turnbull BUY THE BOOK
- Bush Nurses Annabelle Brayley BUY THE BOOK
- Shadows of the Workhouse Jennifer Worth BUY THE BOOK
- The Vogue Factor Kirstie Clements BUY THE BOOK
The Sydney Writers’ Festival is only ten days away, so if you haven’t already booked a session (remember, lots of sessions are free!) I am planning to tempt you by featuring authors who are appearing at the festival. But don’t worry if you live nowhere near Sydney, there will be plenty of other books too.
What about you, what have you been reading? If it’s great (or awful), share your thoughts in the thread below.
Until next week, Happy Mother’s Day! Mx
*The Hoopla’s books editor Meredith Jaffe is a book reviewer and blogger. She lives in Sydney with her husband and four children. You can follow her on Twitter: @meredithjaffe.