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Is 2014 the Year of Reading Women?

By Carolyn Kellogg

9:38 AM PST, January 22, 2014

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An accidental grass-roots campaign has led some in England to dub 2014 the Year of Reading Women. "'Year of Reading Women' declared for 2014" the Guardian announced Wednesday.

The woman behind the campaign is writer and illustrator Joanna Walsh. She designed New Year's cards featuring her favorite female writers, with a list of 250 authors' names -- all female -- on the back.

Walsh's taste leans toward strong women writing challenging work -- Gertrude Stein, Simone de Beauvoir, and Djuna Barnes are among those on the front of the cards. Her long list includes Clarice Lispector, Sheila Heti, Zadie Smith, Deborah Eisenberg, Helen DeWitt and Patricia Highsmith.

When she began, she meant to send the cards only to people who she worked with or followed her blog. But then she decided to tweet the complete list of 250 authors' names with the hashtag #readwomen2014 -- and the idea spread.

"I worried that tweeting the names might seem polemical, even boring," she writes in her own essay at the Guardian. "But, within minutes, women -- and men -- were adding their own favourites to the list. The meme was passed on until the list of names doubled, then trebled. This was something people cared about. It also felt as if they were having a lot of fun."

Glamour Magazine in the U.K. has jumped on board. So did so many others that it's hard to keep up with the flow on Twitter. But, of course, tweeting a resolution doesn't make it so.

Walsh was inspired in part by the VIDA count, which annually tallies the genders of authors whose books are reviewed by some major and minor outlets, as well as the reviewers (it omits the L.A. Times). Another inspiration were people she knew who didn't want to be caught on the wrong side of the VIDA count -- people who worried about not reading enough women.

That long-time readers anxious about not reading broadly enough pick up books by different kinds of authors, that's a good thing. But resolutions are hard to keep -- when we get to December, will we be able to look back on 2014 as the Year of Reading Women?

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