I am a white, middle-aged male. (Don’t stop reading, please). My conscience has been pricked a great deal over the last couple of years. Since I began the obstacle course that is getting a novel published, actually. I started looking at my bookshelves about a year ago. There’s a ratio of 5:2, more or less. A ratio of what? Male to Female authors.
It is rare I’ll pick up a pastel-colour-covered paperback. However, I did have the following: Lionel Shriver’s novels, all of Donna Tartt’s books (brilliant! But you knew that), Faye Kellerman (not so keen now but earlier books were wonderful, maybe you knew that too), lots of other thriller writers, Reichs, Slaughter, McDiarmid, for example. (There are a lot of books in our house). George Eliot, only Middlemarch, Silas Marner and The Mill on the Floss. Mary Wollstencraft, everything by Austen except the last unfinished novel (What’s it called?) I have a novel each by the Bronte sisters, same as everyone.
It’s still 5:2. I have read, Louisa M. Allcott, L.M.Montgomery, Anna Sewell and Toni Morrison. I have a copy of Bridget Jones’s Diary, but I preferred Helen’s column in the Independent; I don’t know why, seeing as they are more or less the same.
I bet if I counted up all the books I’ve ever read, it would still be 5:2.
Which brings me to the book in the picture. I’ve decided I’m going to read a book by a female author for every single one I read by a male author from now on. Katarina Bivald’s book was the first one I picked up. You will note it doesn’t have a pastel cover, but I’m not convinced I would have chosen it to read, if not for my “little experiment”.
This is a book written by a person who loves books. On the surface it is a simple love story, not out of place in Mills And Boon or (haha) Harlequin’s catalogues, I would venture. There is much more to Katarina’s book than that. Is it coincidence that Sara’s pen-pal is called Amy? Allcott is referenced throughout the book.
And the jokes, the meta-glory of putting the words “all stories start with a stranger coming to town” into a character’s mouth. These pleasures are strewn throughout Ms Bivald’s book.
It’s sentimental, some might call it twee. I would call it Capra-esque, or better still it’s like a Preston Sturges film. What’s wrong with creating things to make people feel good? Watch Sullivan’s Travels, if you don’t want to read this book – they want the same thing for us and bless Sturges and Bivald for making their film and book respectively.
Respect, Ms Bivald, I’ll change that 5:2 one day, thanks to you.