CWILA produces an annual Count of book reviews in Canada because women face significant barriers in our literary culture. We seek to quantify these barriers and spark a conversation about how to build a more equitable critical culture. The results of this fourth Count indicate that, while the gender gap we first identified in 2011 is shrinking overall, particularly in terms of the number of reviews written by women, there is still work to be done.
The improvements we made last year to our methods for collecting and verifying our data made the 2013 Count larger and more robust than ever. We have maintained these methods for the 2014 Count, while continuing to ensure the gender identity of those we count is accurately recognized and represented. In what follows, I discuss how the Count proceeded this year and then provide an overview of the 2014 numbers.
SCOPE OF THE 2014 COUNT
The CWILA Count relies on hundreds of hours of volunteer labour, including the manual input and verification of all of our data. Our scope is thus always limited by our available resources. We were able to add only one additional publication this year—Spirale. In keeping with last year’s goals, our priority was to add to the French-language publications on our list. We hope to add even more next year, as resources permit.
Publications included in the 2014 Count: The Antigonish Review, Arc Poetry Magazine, Briarpatch, Brick, Broken Pencil, Canadian Literature, Canadian Notes & Queries, The Chronicle Herald, EVENT, The Fiddlehead, GEIST, The Globe and Mail, Lemon Hound, Literary Review of Canada, Maisonneuve, The Malahat Review, Matrix Magazine, National Post, PRISM international, Quill & Quire, rabble.ca, subTerrain, This Magazine, The Toronto Star, The Vancouver Sun, The Walrus, Winnipeg Free Press, Le Devoir, Lettres Québécoises, Liberté: Art et Politique, Nuit Blanche, and Spirale.
As Count Director, I recruited and coordinated volunteers, established and managed Count deadlines, led development of 2014 Count methodology and research questions, as well as managed the collection, verification, and statistical analysis, and representation of all the data. The French-language portion of the Count was additionally managed by Marco Galvani, and CWILA Count Assistant Vesna Pajovic, in affiliation with the UBC Arts Internship Program, provided assistance to both the Count Director and French Count Manager. CWILA Executive Director Sheila Giffen led the selection committee for French-language publication inclusion, led development of a communications plan and media outreach, and coordinated interviews editors. CWILA Communications Assistant Karen Ng assisted the Executive Director. CWILA Chair of the Board Erin Wunker oversaw each phase of the Count process, the implementation of a communications plan and media outreach, as well as the launch of editorial content to contextualize Count data, including her introduction to the 2014 Count. CWILA Board member Evelyne Ledoux-Beaugrand provided translation for our press release. Isabelle Boisclair provided a response to the CWILA Count in French, entitled “À quoi résiste-t-on quand on résiste au féminin?” which was translated by Bronwyn Haslam.
The labour required to count 5866 reviews meant building a large team of volunteers, both English and French-speaking. In total, CWILA recruited 45 extraordinary volunteers from among its membership to meet the needs of this year’s expanded Count. The names of our volunteers are listed in the acknowledgments below.
The 2014 Count was funded by a Canada Council for the Arts Literary Arts Promotions Project Grant and the generous support of our members and private donors.
2014 COUNT PROCESS
Following the methodology established in the 2013 CWILA Count, the 2014 CWILA Count used Excel spreadsheets to collect multiple data on book reviews in Canada, including title, publisher, and genre of books reviewed; name, Canadian identity, and gender of authors; and name and gender of reviewers. In consultation with writers we counted this year who identify outside of the female/male gender binary, CWILA decided to use “non-binary” as a third category in our gender metric. We added trans writers under the category they felt best represented them.
In the 2014 Count, as in previous years, each book review was recorded as a single entry in our data sheets, with its associated book, author, and reviewer information. Each entry refers to a single book reviewed. This means that when a single newspaper article reviewed multiple books, each book was counted as a separate review in our data sheets. While we recorded reviews of any length, from one paragraph to multiple pages, we also restricted our definition of book review to critical appraisals of works already published and released for sale. While we did count books designated and reviewed as the best books of the year (e.g., annual round-ups of top picks by reviewers), we did not count editorial opinion about anticipated releases, unsigned roundups of related books annexed to reviews, news about book releases and awards, or author interviews.
Our numbers for rabble.ca and National Post and Le Devoir represent total book reviews included in their online book reviews blog. Other newspapers we count (Globe and Mail, Winnipeg Free Press, The Chronicle Herald, Toronto Star, and Vancouver Sun) do not have a blog-style book review section that allows us to count back through an entire year, and thus we rely on a strict method for collecting reviews via a third party database. We then verify our Count through the newspapers’ website archives. Our numbers for these newspapers represent total book reviews we counted across all sections in the newspaper (e.g., in the Globe and Mail we include reviews appearing in the Globe Books section, as well as those appearing the Business, Life, and Drive sections).
For details on our process for collecting and verifying book review data, including our count of newspapers, please see the 2013 Count Methodology report, which we replicated for the 2014 Count.
SUMMARY OF COUNT RESULTS
The 2014 CWILA Count marks the largest to date. We tracked gender statistics in 5,866 book reviews (4462 in English and 1404 in French) across 32 Canadian publications, including monthly and quarterly literary journals, online magazines, blogs and independent newspapers, as well as several major metropolitan and national newspapers. The results of the 2014 Count, which are summarized below, reveal why we must continue to call for gender equity in Canadian literary culture.
BOOKS REVIEWED IN 2014
Though many publications in the 2014 Count are near-parity on gender representation between men and women, with some even significantly favouring women, overall women’s books occupy less review space than men’s books. Within the 5866 reviews we counted across the country, only 39% feature women’s books, while 57% feature men’s books. This is up 2% from the 2013 Count (37%).
Although we see mostly Canadian men’s books among the books with 8 or fewer reviews in 2014, several books by women are getting a lot of attention across the country. Of the top 20 reviewed books, 55% were written by women (all Canadian).
Top 20 Most Reviewed Books in 2014
- Between Gods: A Memoir by Alison Pick (8 reviews)
- The Betrayers by David Bezmozgis (8 reviews)
- The Comeback: How Aboriginals Are Reclaiming Power and Influence by John Ralston Saul (8 reviews)
- The End of Absence: Reclaiming What We’ve Lost in a World of Constant Connection by Michael Harris (8 reviews)
- The Ever After of Ashwin Rao by Padma Viswanathan (8 reviews)
- The Stonehenge Letters by Harry Karlinsky (8 reviews)
- One Hour in Paris: A True Story of Rape and Recovery by Karyn L. Freedman (9 reviews)
- Rise to Greatness: A History of Canada from the Vikings to Present by Conrad Black (9 reviews)
- Sweetland by Michael Crummey (9 reviews)
- The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel (9 reviews)
- The Girl Who Was Saturday Night by Heather O’Neill (9 reviews)
- The Rise and Fall of Great Powers by Tom Rachman (10 reviews)
- This One Summer by Mariko & Jillian Tamaki (10 reviews)
- The Long Way Home by Louise Penny (11 reviews)
- All the Broken Things by Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer (12 reviews)
- Landing Gear by Kate Pullinger (12 reviews)
- The Confabulist by Steven Galloway (12 reviews)
- This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate by Naomi Klein (14 reviews)
- All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews (16 reviews)
- Adult Onset by Ann-Marie MacDonald (17 reviews)
Most publications counted by CWILA in the past show a growing trend toward gender parity for books reviewed.
REVIEWING PRACTICE IN 2014
According to our Count, women are publishing reviews 47% of the time, while men are publishing reviews 51% of the time, which is a slight improvement from last year, toward gender parity. This improvement is reflected among our most prolific reviewers (more than 50+ reviews): women account for 42% of the top 20 reviewers in the country, up 4% from last year.
Among the publications we counted there was wide variation on both the rate in which women are reviewing and the rate in which women’s books are being reviewed. The good news is that in over half of the publications, the number of reviews written by women reached parity in 2014, and in some cases even surpassed reviews written by men. This helps bring the numbers up overall, compensating for other publications, some which are still devoting less than a quarter of review space to women critics.
While reviewing statistics overall and within many publications show improvement, our results this year confirm one of our more alarming statistics from previous years: men are reviewing men’s books far more than women’s books. In 2014 women’s books comprise only 27% of reviews written by men, while men’s books comprise 65% of reviews by men. This gender gap is not as wide for reviews written by women: 41% of reviews by women are on men’s books, while 53% are on women’s books. Thus while women tend to review men’s and women’s books around the same rate, men review men’s books more than twice as often as they review women’s books. When we look at how these numbers breakdown by publication some wildly different trends can be seen. Whereas, for instance, Canadian Literature and the Toronto Star published women’s reviews at a rate of 65% in 2014, Le Devoir and Nuit Blanche published women’s reviews at rate of 33% and 25%, respectively.
The 2014 CWILA Count tracked the genre of books reviewed. As in previous years, fiction and non-fiction books comprise the majority of books reviewed, by our count. Also in line with last year, poetry is up 2% this year to 10% of books reviewed overall.
Gender gaps in reviewing practice are evident when we look closer at the genre data, particularly in the case of non-fiction books. As our numbers suggest, there is a glaring omission of women’s non-fiction books in Canadian review culture. Reviews of women’s non-fiction comprise only 29% of the 2341 reviews of non-fiction documented in the 2014 Count. While some large publications, such as Canadian Literature, Quill and Quire, and the National Post, devoted significant space to women’s non-fiction, others, including Literary Review of Canada, Winnipeg Free Press, and the Chronicle Herald, are clearly favouring men’s non-fiction. In Nuit Blanche, only 10% of all non-fiction reviews (82) are on women’s books.
The 2014 CWILA Count numbers reveal concretely where equitable access and representation exists and where it can be improved, which can be a powerful impetus for change. To get there we must not stop at the numbers, but rather use them to mobilize conversations about the often invisible or ignored barriers to equitable representation and participation in Canada’s literary and critical culture.
A Special Thanks to our Count Volunteers And Members of the CWILA Community
As a grassroots non-profit feminist collective, CWILA relies heavily on the tireless labour and keen eyes of many volunteers to help us produce the annual CWILA Count. The community of volunteers that came together during this Count season made it all possible – we truly could not have done any of this without you. For helping us achieve the incredible again, thank you: Monica Miller, Sylvia McKelvie, Chloë Lai, Ashley Opheim, Maddy Curry, Laura Bidwell, Caitlin Stall-Paquet, Eftihia Mihelakis, Chris Johnson, Marie-George Ledrieu, Kathleen Forrester, Maureen Reynolds, Julia Sittmann, Emily Ballantyne, Melanie Brennagan Frederiksen, Sara Tilley, Lauren Stewart, Bianca Lakoseliac, Carin Makuz, Carole Gerson, Kaarina Mikalson, Klara du Plessis, Bethany Hindmarsh, Nora Gold, Clélie Rich, Janet Barkhouse, Susan McMaster, Jennifer Lovegrove, Lorii Myers, Warren Heiti, Jane Hamilton, Mary Chapman, Sonnet L’Abbé, Jan Zwicky, Olga Stein, Natalie Simpson, Michaela Dennis, Dani Spinosa, Triny Finlay, and Janet Fretter. Many thanks to the editors and staff at newspapers and journals included in the Count that have taken interest in our work. Thanks especially to Kaitlin McNabb (rabble.ca), Mark Medley (Globe & Mail), Margery Fee & Donna Chin (Canadian Literature), Allison Lang & Jonathan Valelly (Broken Pencil), Clara Kumagai (PRISM), and Natasha Sanders-Kay. Finally, my deepest gratitude to the CWILA administrators who helped me pull this all together: Executive Director Sheila Giffen, Membership Coordinator Sonja Cvoric, Count Assistant Vesna Pajovic, Communications Assistant Karen Ng, French Count Manager Marco Galvani, and UBC-CWILA Research Network RA Michelle O’Brien.
Judith Scholes is a Vancouver-based writer, researcher, and teacher, who grew up in Burlington, Ontario. She recently completed a PhD in English at the University of British Columbia, on Emily Dickinson, material rhetoric and the ethos of women’s poetry in nineteenth-century American periodicals. Her work appears in the Emily Dickinson Journal andAmerican Periodicals.