1. to encourage and celebrate reading books written by women, and
2. to draw attention to the dearth of female writers and reviewers represented in the pages of literary journals.
Walsh was inspired, in part, by the sobering numbers produced by the annual VIDA count, an analysis of the gender disparity in literary publications and book reviews. For example: In 2013, the VIDA count revealed that of the 387 books reviewed by the venerable New York Review of Books that year, 307 (80%) of the titles were written by men, while only 80 books (20%) were written by women. As for the folks writing the reviews, 80% were male and only 20% female. (Some publications posted better numbers; others worse. You can check out the charts here.)
We’d never presume that the New York Review of Books’s numbers are what they are because male staffers refuse to review books written by women. That’s both unrealistic and insulting. But when considering so many publications, the gender disparity is hard to ignore. What’s behind it? Are books written by men assumed to be intrinsically better than those written by women? Are literary publications more likely to hire men than women as reviewers? Are publishers marketing books differently based on the author’s gender?
At Bas Bleu, we don’t have hard-and-fast answers to these questions, we only have opinions. But to satisfy curiosity we decided to do an informal VIDA count of our own. We leafed through our Summer 2014 issue and took a quick tally of the male and female authors—both fiction and non-fiction—featured in the catalog. Our results: 56% female, 44% male. By VIDA standards, that’s pretty impressive. Admittedly, we’re a different type of publication than, say, the Atlantic or the Southern Review, but we do select our books very carefully. Our choices are influenced by subject, plot, writing style, recommendations from friends, familiarity with the author’s canon, book title, and, yes, even the cover. But the author’s gender? Never. We know as well as you do, dear bluestockings, that women and men are equally capable of writing well. If we find a book we like and we think you’ll like, we carry it. It’s as simple as that.