I consider myself a liberal when it comes to reading. I don’t dismiss any title because of a preconceived prejudice. "I don’t read British", "I read the books with recipes", "police procedurals are too much about the crime", "Oh, I tried him but there was too much violence for my taste" All statements I’ve heard from more than one source. Personally they make me shudder. However, I have no right to tell anyone what to read. Free time is precious and certainly everyone has a right to decide how to use theirs. I can and I do mourn for their loss. The James Lee Burke fan who never tries Ian Rankin. The Katherine Hall Page Fan who never tries Susan McBride. Any soft-boiled reader who misses Martha Grimes because Jury and Wiggins are police is only hurting them self. And that last statement…… if you’re reading mystery and the subject of violence is glossed over…… you’re reading a bad book.
That’s my background. I read 350 books a year. And now I’m going to weigh in on this year’s controversy. Gender preference.
Mr. Penzler drove me a little crazy earlier this year. He dismissed much of the mystery genre with a rather broad statement put forth in the New York Post. Patricia Sprinkle had an excellent rebuttal in the next Sisters in Crime Newsletter. I have to say a bookstore owner saying all women writers are hacks is, let me look for the right word here…. got it…… comical. Now my taste in mystery and Otto’s are not all that different. I love most of the authors he endorses. I just read more. And I pity him. Some of the books he’s missing because of gender preference are important. Some are pure fun, and many are unforgettable. He has every right to his opinion, and females have every right to boycott his store and his mystery line. But I’m not holding my breath on that front nor am I endorsing it. As I said Otto and I have similar tastes.
Women authors banding together and saying, "We shouldn’t be categorized as females and our work should be appreciated for its merits," is a good idea. Calling the sounding board “The Lipstick Chronicles” is ….. let me find the right word here…. comical. There have been some great pieces on that site. There’s also been a number of sweeping generalizations I find offensive. Male bashing and dismissing entire sub-genres is perpetuating the problem not making it better. There’s nothing new in women not getting any respect. It happens in every job. It happens in mine. Write a good book. Do a good job. That’s all it takes.
So now I’m going to celebrate some of my favorite authors. They happen to be female. They are to a name a joy to share the experience of reading with.
Without a doubt S.J. Rozan and Laura Lippman are two of the most important writers today. Rozan’s ABSENT FRIENDS and Lippman’s EVERY SECRET THING and TO THE POWER OF THE THREE are proof that the unique experience of a read can become communal. These two women played with the structure of the novel and presentation of character with an ability and craftsmanship that was brilliantly individual. The stories may not be for everyone but the talent of the scribes must be acknowledged. Both of these women also continue to write their series with a rate of growth few are capable of.
Val McDermid is a name in mystery that has to be read. She writes everything. Hard-boiled, Soft, P.I., Police Procedural, Amateur Sleuth. She’s written from every p.o.v. and here’s the most important part….. she writes everything well. No matter where your tastes lie within the vast genre of mystery there’s a McDermid book out there screaming for you to read it.
And here’s a list off the top of my head
Hard-boiled- Vicki Hendricks, Karin Slaughter, Carroll O’Connell, Denise Mina, Mo Hayder,
Amateur Sleuth- Barb D’Amato, Jan Burke, Nevada Barr, Julia Spencer-Fleming, Sue Dunlop, Sujata Massey, Libby Fischer Hellman, Nancy Pickard
Police Procedural- April Woo, Leslie Glass, Ruth Rendell, Paula Woods
P.I.- Sandra Scoppettone, Sara Paretsky, Linda Barnes, Marcia Muller
Lawyers- Lia Matera, Lisa Scottilone, Alafair Burke, Margaret Maron,
Lighter side- M.C. Beaton, Sarah Graves, Charlaine Harris, Joan Hess, Dianne Mott Davidson, Denise Swanson
There are new writers. Rochelle Kirch’s series does everything Kellerman tried to do with hers. Ruth Francisco is a name to follow. Judy Clemens has a unique series that I’m not going to miss. And it goes on and on. In this genre there is something for everyone and no matter what you like to read there are men and women who do it well. There are also men and women who do it badly. Cutting yourself off from a percentage of writers because of their gender is absurd. Deciding to put down a book because it isn’t your cup of tea is simple common sense. Two absolutes. This is a huge genre and finding a new author you think is special is one of life’s greatest joys. Respect your fellow readers when they do the same. That’s called manners.