A friend’s Facebook post:
We passed by Womrath, Bronxville’s bookshop, which still manages to stay in business despite Amazon. … I said to [the owners] that I appreciated that their window display featured mostly female authors. I had decided not to say anything, but then I figured that window dressing also deserved reinforcement. “That wasn’t intentional,” the woman proprietor responded. “We had no idea,” the man proprietor echoed.
Some things are getting better.
Is it obvious that things today are better? (Let’s assume that “more female” = “better”) I pointed out Hawthorne’s 1855 complaint:
America is now wholly given over to a damned mob of scribbling women, and I should have no chance of success while the public taste is occupied with their trash-and should be ashamed of myself if I did succeed. What is the mystery of these innumerable editions of the ‘Lamplighter,’ and other books neither better nor worse?-worse they could not be, and better they need not be, when they sell by the 100,000.
If female authors were not featured by booksellers in 1855, why would Hawthorne have complained? And if bookstores are featuring certain authors, shouldn’t we assume that they are motivated by profits to feature books most likely to sell? Therefore it is really the customers who shape what goes into the window. Who are the customers? “The Most Likely Person to Read a Book? A College-Educated Black Woman” (Atlantic) says “Women read more books than men.” I said
This reminds me of a guy who complained to my friend about the gay-themed ads that he was seeing on Web pages. My friend had to gently inform him that ads were based on his browsing history…
Should we be patting ourselves on the back for being more enlightened than Americans of the dusty past? The Wikipedia page regarding The House of Mirth (1905):
Charles Scribner wrote [Edith] Wharton in November 1905 that the novel was showing “the most rapid sale of any book ever published by Scribner.”
A 1936 nytimes review of Gone with the Wind did not think the female gender ID of the author was worth highlighting. The book sold 30 million copies and won the Pulitzer Prize.
All of the Facebook authors’ commenting friends, most of whom are American humanities professors, agreed with the proposition that the featuring by a book merchant of female authors was an exciting new development. None expressed skepticism or asked for data.
Readers: What’s your theory about why these folks would be so interested in (a) devaluing the commercial achievements of female authors in the old days, (b) believing that commercial interest in the works of female authors is currently on the increase?