Last week on LinkedIn, I posted a Guardian article by MA Sieghart entitled “Why do so few men read books by women?” Sieghart is the author of a new book, The Authority Gap, which looks at why women are still taken less seriously than men. In the article, she writes about the findings of a study she commissioned from Nielsen Book Research to find out who was reading what.
“I wanted to know,” she writes, “whether female authors were not just deemed less authoritative than men, but whether they were being read by men in the first place. And the results confirmed my suspicion that men were disproportionately unlikely even to open a book by a woman.” She found that:
“For the top 10 bestselling female authors (who include Jane Austen and Margaret Atwood, as well as Danielle Steel and Jojo Moyes), only 19% of their readers are men and 81%, women. But for the top 10 best selling male authors (who include Charles Dickens and JRR Tolkien, as well as Lee Child and Stephen King), the split is much more even: 55% men and 45% women.
In other words, women are prepared to read books by men, but many fewer men are prepared to read books by women.”
I’ve spent my entire life and career focused on sharing women’s stories. Throughout, I’ve been told that men aren’t interested in women’s stories, so needless to say, this data is not news to me, but the disparities in the percentages are truly disheartening. Women make up 50% of human beings on the planet. Women’s stories are not written for other women to read, they are for all of us.
When men only read books written by other men, Steighart writes, “it narrows [their] experiences of the world. …They will continue to see the world through an almost entirely male lens, with the male experience as the default.” I would add that it’s true for women readers, as well.
Margaret Atwood once commented that, “A word after a word after a word is power.” Beyond appreciating the power of a good story, writer Anne Patchett goes further, noting that reading stories by people with perspectives and experiences different from our own “…is a vital means of imagining a life other than our own, which in turn makes us more empathetic beings.”
As my friend Jude Kelly, former artistic director of Southbank Centre and founder of the WOW Women of the World Festival, put it bluntly in her 2016 TEDWomen talk, Why women should tell the stories of humanity, “unless we’re prepared to believe that women’s stories really matter, then women’s rights don’t really matter, and then change can’t really come.”
We must all make a conscious effort to read more books by women. So here’s my list, made up of the books currently stacked on my nightstand for reading this summer. I hope you will share books by women you recommend for summer reading in the comments.
THE LOST ART OF CONNECTING: THE GATHER, ASK, DO METHOD FOR BUILDING MEANINGFUL BUSINESS RELATIONSHIPS BY SUSAN MCPHERSON
If there’s one thing we universally experienced — men and women alike — during the pandemic, it was the loss of connection with our families, our friends, our work colleagues, our neighbors. Zoom and Facetime were a poor replacement for true interaction. A longing for meaningful connection was one of the hardest aspects of lockdowns for me personally. One of the books that came to me during that time was Susan McPherson’s The Lost Art of Connecting. It articulated so many of the aspects of true connection that I had been missing, and inspired me to rethink community and meaningful relationships post-pandemic.
In her book, Susan stresses the importance of listening, highlighting the TED Talks of Julian Treasure as must sees. “Being an entrepreneur is challenging enough, but you do need a community of meaningful connections to be successful. And notice I didn’t say networks, I said communities — concentric circles overlapping of [the] people you have built relationships with, which you should do everyday,” she told the 7:47 podcast. Ultimately, Susan writes about how serving others instead of serving yourself is the key to profitable relationships in business, and I think that’s true for any relationship.
About Susan: In 2013, she founded her communications consultancy, McPherson Strategies, to help companies, foundations, and nonprofits amplify their social impact initiatives. Susan also invests in female-founded startups including The Riveter, Hint Water and The Muse. She sits on boards, including USA for UNHCR and The 19th News, and serves as an advisor to nonprofits, including Girls Who Code and She’s The First. Earlier this year, she was named to the Forbes 50 Over 50 List: Women Over 50 Who Are Leading The Way In Impact, alongside women including Carol Jenkins, Linda Thomas-Greenfield and Heather Cox Richardson, among others.
LEARNING IN PUBLIC, LESSONS FOR A RACIALLY DIVIDED AMERICA FROM MY DAUGHTER’S SCHOOL BY COURTNEY MARTIN
Courtney Martin, a former mentee of mine, is a deep thinker, a successful entrepreneur, and a tremendously talented writer. Learning in Public, out August 3, 2021, is her fourth book. In it, she writes about deciding where to send her young daughter, Maya, to school. She had been curious about Emerson Elementary, a public school down the street from her Oakland home. In her research and conversations with neighbors, she learned that white families in their gentrifying neighborhood largely avoided the majority-Black, poorly-rated school, choosing private schools instead.
As she began asking why, a journey of a thousand moral miles began. Courtney examines her own fears, assumptions, and conversations with other moms and dads as they navigate school choice. After enrolling Maya at Emerson, she documents the surprising, necessary lessons she learned with her neighbors.
“This is the story of what school segregation, a nationally important issue, looks like through the lens of one family’s experience,” notes a review in Lit Hub’s “most anticipated books in 2021” round-up.
About Courtney: She is a co-founder of the Solutions Journalism Network, FRESH Speakers, and the Bay Area chapter of Integrated Schools, as well as the Storyteller-in-Residence at The Holding Co. She writes the popular weekly newsletter The Examined Family. She lives in Oakland, Calif.
PROFESSIONAL TROUBLEMAKER: THE FEAR FIGHTER MANUAL BY LUVVIE AJAYI JONES
“We’re all afraid of asking for what we want because we’re afraid of hearing ‘no,'” Luvvie writes in Professional Troublemaker. “We’re afraid of being different, of being too much or not enough. We’re afraid of leaving behind the known for the unknown.”
“But in order to do the things that will truly, meaningfully change our lives, we have to become professional troublemakers: people who are committed to not letting fear talk them out of the things they need to do or say.”
The book picks up where Luvvie’s New York Times bestselling book, I’m Judging You: The Do-Better Manual, left off. In her TEDWomen talk, “Get comfortable with being uncomfortable” (with more than 7 million views!), Luvvie laid out three questions to ask yourself if you’re teetering on the edge of speaking up or quieting down — encouraging all of us to get a little more comfortable with being uncomfortable.
With humor and honesty, and guided by the influence of her inspiring and professional troublemaking grandmother, Funmilayo Faloyin, Luvvie walks us through what we must get right within ourselves before we can do the things that scare us; how to use our voice for a greater good; and how to put movement to the voice we’ve been silencing – because, she says, truth-telling is a muscle.
About Luvvie: Luvvie Ajayi Jones is a bestselling author, sought-after speaker and podcast host who thrives at the intersection of comedy, technology and justice. A 17-year blogging veteran, Luvvie writes on AwesomelyLuvvie.com, covering all things culture with a critical yet humorous lens. She is the host of the Professional Troublemaker podcast and is the co-host of Jesus & Jollof with actress and comedian Yvonne Orji. Luvvie also runs her own social platform, LuvvNation, which is a safe space in a dumpster-fire world.
MY LIFE IN FULL: WORK, LIFE AND OUR FUTURE BY INDRA NOOYI
My Life in Full will offer “a firsthand view of Nooyi’s legendary career and the sacrifices it so often demanded.” And what a career it is! For a dozen years as one of the world’s most admired CEOs, Indra Nooyi redefined what it means to be an exceptional leader. The first woman of color and immigrant to run a Fortune 50 company — and one of the foremost strategic thinkers of our time — she transformed PepsiCo with a unique vision, a vigorous pursuit of excellence, and a deep sense of purpose.
Among the many impressive quotes on the back cover, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says it’s “a must-read for working women and the men who work with us, love us, and support us.”
About Indra: At PepsiCo, she was the chief architect of Performance with Purpose, the company’s mission to deliver sustained growth by making more nutritious products, limiting the company’s environmental footprint, and empowering its associates and people in the communities it serves. She has been awarded the Padma Bhushan, India’s third-highest civilian honor, the U.S. State Department’s award for Outstanding American by Choice, and 15 honorary degrees.
MAN ENOUGH: UNDEFINING MY MASCULINITY BY JUSTIN BALDONI
Back in 2017, actor, producer and writer Justin Baldoni joined us at TEDWomen to give a blockbuster talk titled, “Why I’m done trying to be ‘man enough‘,” in which he spoke about his quest to redefine masculinity and to figure out ways to be not just good men but good humans. He poked fun at himself listing off some of the roles he’d played over the years before his breakthrough role as Rafael on the critically acclaimed TV show, Jane the Virgin: “Photographer Date Rapist,” “Shirtless Date Rapist” from the award-winning Spring Break Shark Attack, “Shirtless Medical Student,” and “Shirtless Steroid-Using Con Man.”
“Every time I got one of these roles, I was surprised,” he said from the TED stage, “because most of the men I play ooze machismo, charisma and power, and when I look in the mirror, that’s just not how I see myself. But it was how Hollywood saw me, and over time, I noticed a parallel between the roles I would play as a man both on-screen and off. I’ve been pretending to be a man that I’m not my entire life.”
After delivering that talk, Justin was on a mission.
He hosted a candid dinner conversation series called Man Enough in which a diverse group of men open up and reveal how they are affected by societal expectations of what it is to be a man in America. Now, in 2021, we have the book in which Justin writes about all he’s learned in his journey to, as he puts it, “undefine my masculinity.” There’s also The Man Enough podcast, launched just last month, that features a series of conversations (this week, Matthew McConaughey) about what we need to do to change our minds and actions to create a more connected, just world.
I can’t say enough about how much I love Justin. He is so positive, so vulnerable, so honest and a true leader among a younger generation of men who want to ditch toxic masculinity. This is a book written by a man that I absolutely recommend other men read — and women, too.
About Justin: Justin Baldoni is a devoted husband, father of two, and Bahá’í. He is an actor, director, producer, author and the co-founder and co-chair of both Wayfarer Studios and the Wayfarer Foundation.
BONUS: PUT A WOMAN IN CHARGE, KEB’ MO’ FEATURING ROSEANNE CASH
Sharing a song that has resonated with me during these past weeks of looking forward to the Generation Equality Forum and its outcomes.