WordPress Free Photo Library

Just because a book is written by a woman or is about women doesn’t mean it has nothing to offer men. It opens their eyes to what it’s like to live as a woman, the first step to learning empathy. And it may help to burst the bubble many men have been inadvertently living in, allowing new thoughts and insights to germinate. Isn’t that what the arts are for?

M A Sieghart

In the Guardian Review for 10th July earlier this year Mary Ann Sieghart’s piece ‘Bookshelf bias’ quite rightly bemoaned the results of a research she’d commisioned which showed that “men were disproportionately unlikely even to open a book by a woman,” and that of the “top ten of bestselling female authors only 19% of their readers are men,” the rest being women, while male authors had a more evenly split readership tilted slightly towards males.

I mention this because as a male I have in recent years been trying to ensure I get a better gender balance in the authored books I tend to read. This year, for example, of the 54 titles I’ve read so far 27 are by women and one is a collection of short stories by both male and female writers. And my intentions in so doing were for the very same reason Sieghart exhorts men to read women: to learn empathy. This then is the first bookish aperçu I want to share with you today.

© C A Lovegrove

Here is the second. I have a big reluctance to waste anything. From a young age I was told to eat up what was on my plate, and to think of the starving millions who would benefit from what I left. (Send it to them then! would be my unspoken youthful rejoinder, never uttered for fear of parental reprisals!) Even now I still finish what’s piled up in front of me as if the phrase portion control had never been coined, and healthwise I always regret it.

In terms of books it’s the same: I hate to give up on a title and hang on to half- or even quarter-read novels in the hopes of coming back to them at some unspecified date in the future. I have shelves with a scatter of tomes showing the telltale bookmarks sticking out or standing proud of “temporarily” abandoned novels or studies. I am getting better at realising there will be books I’ll never pick up again and so recycling them (so not quite wasting them).

In case you are wondering, aperçu is currently one of my fave words to interject at any suitable occasion (such as now). It means of course “insight”, but why use a common English word when you can sound properly brought up and sophisticated? For a reminder of the French word aperçu I’m grateful to the Canadian writer Robertson Davies, who employs it to send up a rather pseud character into whose mouth he frequently places the term. And so I come to my final aperçu.

Lory at Entering the Enchanted Castle inaugurated the Reading Robertson Davies week a couple or so years back, to coincide with the anniversary of his birth on 28th August 1913 (he died on 2nd December 1995). Even though she’s not running it this year I intend continuing to read and review one of his novels at around this time of year until I run out of them. (‘They’ meaning novels, of course, though they could be years.)

This year I’m fast approaching finishing Leaven of Malice (1954), the second in his Salterton Trilogy, and hope to post a review of that soon. Last year I read the first title, Tempest-Tost (1951), set in an Ontario university town, and Leaven of Malice stays in the same urban milieu with a few of the same cast of characters largely making fools of themselves. It’s in this instalment that the term aperçu is tossed around by one of the journalists on one of the local papers.

For an earlier reading week I’d previously read Davies’s Deptford Trilogy (1970-75), an altogether more sober collection of interlinked novels full of psychology, hagiography, prestidigitation and secrets, ranging from the New World to the Old. Thus far, however, the Salterton novels are more comedies of errors than of horrors, with characters who are more provincial or even parochial than sophisticated or urbane. I wonder what will epitomise the Cornish Trilogy when I come to it?

So there we have it: three aperçus I’ve gained recently. And, even if you don’t wish to profit from my insights, at least you have a useful word to chuck into conversations and which may simultaneously bamboozle and impress your audience.

20 thoughts on “Aperçus

  1. Thanks to you I have taken my copy of The Salterton Trilogy from the shelf and put it on my current TBR pile. I think you will finish it before I do. I loved the Deptford Trilogy and to see Anthony Burgess’ description of this book as ‘Ingenious. erudite and entertaining’ makes me wonder why I have allowed myself to be distracted. So much to read and so little time.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m writing a review of Leaven of Malice right now so you may see, hopefully tomorrow, whether this sways you to pay a visit to the churning maelstrom that is Salterton’s bourgeoisie, time notwithstanding. 😊

      Liked by 1 person

          1. jjlothin

            You’ve reminded me that I was intending to get my hands on Heartstones … [pause for a quick browse] Just bought a copy on Music Magpie for the princely sum of £1.89!

            Liked by 1 person

  2. Just waiting for the time I can use my new found word without sounding superior.

    I’ve never chosen books based on gender and never paid any attention to the balance male/female in what I read. But you aroused my curiosity so I checked out my reading this year – didn’t expect it to be weighted so heavily to female authors but they represent 68% .

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I do seem to be maintaining a roughly 50:50 balance of male and female authors these days, though I’ve never paid attention to other gender considerations—a thorny path to tread for this hetero male I would’ve thought! But that 68% figure to you must surely count as an aperçu?! I myself would be very careful about throwing the term into a conversation, I wouldn’t want to sound like an insouciant Del Boy with his throwaway line, “Mange-tout, Rodney, mange-tout” when he meant “Pas de problème!”


      1. Dear old Del Boy, how we miss him. There’s a stage version about to open apparently but i fear it could never be as good as the original.

        Yep the gender issue is going to get more complicated

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I have a copy of The Deptford Trilogy on my bookshelves. I meant to start it for Lory’s challenge last year, but it lost out to my 10 Books of Summer reading. I must make time to start it next year.

    I very much approve of your reason for reading more books by female writers. Five years ago, at the start of 2016, influenced by reading the VIDA study of gender representation in literary journals and book reviews that came out in 2015 (http://www.vidaweb.org/vida-count/the-2015-vida-count/), I looked at my LibraryThing reading stats and discovered that only 34% of the authors whose books I’d read were women. Three years later, I’d increased the proportion to 40%. Today, I’m at 44%. In terms of books read, only 37% are by women, I think because my reading is still skewed towards reading lots of books by more of my favourite male writers, who are often more prolific than the women – my top 10 authors by number of books read is 60% male, including children’s books, rising to 80% if I disregard children’s books.

    I’ve blogged here https://thinkaboutreading.wordpress.com/2016/03/28/ive-just-set-myself-a-new-challenge/ and here https://thinkaboutreading.wordpress.com/2018/12/24/random-thoughts-on-gender-bias-in-my-reading-habits-a-sort-of-women-read-women-update/.

    One thought just struck me, re-reading the comments and thinking about our recent conversation about Romance as a genre: I haven’t added books I read as a teenager, including Mills and Boon titles, Virginia Andrews, Jilly Cooper, Shirley Conran, to LibraryThing. I wonder what that would do to my stats!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m reasonably happy with the proportion of female writers I read now, Jan, and though I don’t ever keep any sort of tally of authors’ sexual orientation or gender status I know that there’s always a range of viewpoints there. My next aim is to increase my take-up of writers of colour and to seek books by authors outside North America and the British Isles—but that’s a more long term project.

      The VIDA survey was interesting, and now I wonder what the figures would be like five years on? I know you cover a bit of this in the second of your paired posts on gender bias, an excellent read by the way. Incidentally, it was the Library Thing stats that got me reflecting on my own gender bias a few years ago, and even though I’ve catalogued exclusively on Goodreads for the last three or four years, I think if I updated my LT page (not going to happen now) I’d find a big improvement in righting the imbalance.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think the most recent VIDA survey was 2019. I haven’t read it yet.

        I’ve been trying to increase my non-Western, non-Anglophone reading, too. I find the Women in Translation Month lists really useful, and recently made the reading acquaintance of Jacaranda Books through their ’20 in 2020′ initiative to publish 20 new writers of colour during 2020. Independent publishers generally are good for finding the new and the less mainstream. Influx Press and And Other Stories are two of my favourites. AOS often have translated titles in their annual catalogue.

        I’m the opposite way round to you with book cataloguing. I had a Goodreads account but didn’t like it. I get more out of LibraryThing. I think Goodreads is good at the community stuff, but I like the geeky stuff on LT!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I used to post reviews on both sites but somehow got ahead of myself on Goodreads and never caught up LT. To be honest, I got most of my literary kicks after I started blogging and no longer get involved with the social side of the cataloguing sites.

          I rarely get recently published titles, so tend not to pore over catalogues from either independent or mainstream publishers. It a serendipitous thing for me, I tend to randomly browse shelves to see what takes my fancy, but once in a while I push the boat out (as I did for Piranesi, say, or How to be Brave from Pushkin).


Do leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.