First Published 2005 by ABC Books.
Tasting life Twice: Conversations with remarkable writers gets its title from a quote by Anaïs Nin, ‘We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospection.’ I found this book in an obscure corner of the Tea Tree Gully library, and what a find it was. 26 interviews with some of the biggest names in writing. Originally for ABC Radio National, these interviews were conducted around the turn of the millennium, and were later turned into this book.
At the time of writing this blog post, 12 of the writers have passed on, and of the 14 who are left, most are aged about 80, with the two ‘babies’, Ian McEwan and Martin Amis being old enough to get the pension. And I was dazzled, absolutely dazzled that Koval even managed to get this opportunity to meet these people in the first place, and she does the job well, and asks the sorts of questions that make the interview very interesting. She goes beyond the nuts and bolts of writing and gets to the deeper philosophical reasons why these people are writers and the other things that make them tick.
But then that old issue of gender raised its head. While I am glad the author has made the book her own without giving into the dreadful business of political correctness, and that whinge about there not being enough coloured or gay or whatever people represented, I would like to reflect a little on how it might have worked out that 8 women and 18 men were included.
I might start with the basic assumption that about 50 percent of each gender pick up the pen, but when I go to writers groups, they tend to be made up of old ladies scribbling for something to do in their retirement, although some have been in it for decades. I’m in my 40s and I’m still one of the young ones in this set up. Where are the men? At men’s sheds perhaps or nutting it out on their own.
When I look around the shelves of books at the shops, it still seems to be fairly evenly distributed, even among the bestseller lists. When I Google lists of bestselling authors, that too is well populated with males and females.
In my own reading I tend to favour women because women tend to write more about the things I am interested in which is relationships between people. The blokey books I leave for the blokes, as action-adventure is not something I gravitate towards. And it’s good that we can have books for men and women.
It takes a rarer kind of writer who can be read by both genders, so I’m extra pleased when a man responds positively to my work. After all, if only 50% of the population might potentially read your book, then your wings will be clipped.
Shall we assume that among writers that are read by both sexes, that there is also a 50-50 distribution of authors. Can we? If I think to what books I’ve read that I know both genders read, I can find a few. And I can also find the odd male author who is mainly read by women.
Shall we look at writing awards? Let’s keep to the main ones, Pulitzer, Booker, Miles Franklin and Nobel. The first three awards tend to be won by twice as many or more men than women. Although in the early days of the Pulitzer prize, when it was awarded for novels instead of fiction, and this was between 1918 and 1947, it was about 50-50.
The Nobel prize for literature is even more male dominated, although to be fair, this prize is given to recipients from all over the world, and in a lot of developing countries, women are so busy doing way more work than the men to even have time to read a book, let alone write one. Which is sad in a different way.
So why are male writers taken more seriously than the females? I’ll leave it to someone else to figure out that one. But it is hinted that a book by a male author is more likely to get reviewed in the important newspapers than a female one. The Vida Count, a yearly inventory of how many women and men are published in, or have their books reviewed by, notable literary magazines, which has been around since 2010 shows the balance might be swinging back slowly. In Australia we have the Stella Count, which has been going about three years.
Still, I’d be curious to know what Koval’s own thoughts are on how many women found their way into her book…