'Esquire's "Essential Books" List Has One Woman, 79 Men. Seriously, Guys? Seriously?
I once took a creative writing course where we had to come up with a list of our 10 favorite books to share with the class, and one of the students, an aspiring literary dudebro who worshipped David Foster Wallace, produced a list that had literally no women on it. If I didn't know better, I'd suspect he was the person behind this Esquire list of "80 Books Every Man Should Read" — exactly one of which written by a woman. But unfortunately, this is far too widespread of a problem for there to be a connection.
Sexism in the literary world runs deeper than most people like to acknowledge. Yet it's also absolutely real, as evidenced by everything from the VIDA count to the reaction to last year's Man Booker Prize winner to the very need for a #ReadWomen 2014 campaign to the fact that the world's most successful living female author has also disguised her gender on every book she's ever published. Not to mention the literary dudebros that are everywhere, from grandstanding in creative writing classes to refusing to teach female authors in their classes to threatening women on Twitter.
In this sort of climate, it's not surprising that a man would compile a list of 80 book titles and not think much of — or perhaps not even notice — the fact that 79 of the authors were male. Not surprising, but still not okay.
And who, you might be asking, was this shiny exception to the rule, the one woman that this man deemed worthy enough to make his "unranked, incomplete, utterly biased list of the greatest works of literature ever published"? I'd give you three guesses, but since many men who seem to stick to the White Guy Canon seem to be under the impression that there have only ever been two women to write well — Virginia Woolf and Flannery O'Connor — you wouldn't need all three, so I'll just tell you: Flannery O'Connor wins the day.
If you dig deeper, you'll also notice that the list not only contains just one woman, but barely more authors of color — fewer than ten. In other words, in a list of 80 titles, literally 90 percent of the list is white men.
Now, if the author had decided to nix those titles and rename the slideshow "The Best of White Guy Fiction," this would have actually been a really good list. I mean, Slaughterhouse-Five? The Dubliners? Call of the Wild? There are a lot of solid books on here. The problem is that this list, of 80 books, depicts literature as something quintessentially white and male that sometimes people of color and the odd woman might partake in, too. And that's the view that literary culture at large seems to be stuck in, as well.
So, attention, white men of the literary world! Please, for the love of libraries, read more women; read more people of color; and while you're at it, start reading women of color at all. If you need help, we here at Bustle have compiled lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of awesome lists with awesome books that can help you get started. But if nothing else, please, please, please stop acting like straight white guys are the quintessential face of capital "L" Literature. Because no.