CWILA’s annual Count of book reviews draws attention to challenges within Canada’s literary culture by quantifying the barriers women writers face. As well, the CWILA Count attempts to generate discussion among writers, publishers, reviewers, and readers on how to foster a more equitable critical culture in Canada. The results of the 2015 Count indicate that, although the gender gap in review culture first identified in 2011 persists in many forms, it continues to shrink overall. In fact, as the 2015 data reveal, rates of reviews by women and men are reaching parity across the country for the first time ever.
The methods for collecting and verifying the Count that were developed in 2013 and 2014, were maintained for the 2015 Count. CWILA continues to ensure the gender identity of those we count is as accurately recognized and represented as possible. Below is an overview of our methods this year and the 2015 numbers.
SCOPE OF THE 2015 COUNT
The CWILA Count relies on volunteers who dedicate hundreds of hours of eye-straining labour, including the manual input and double-verification of all of the data. A large team of over 45 volunteers, both English- and French-speaking, counted and verified 5268 reviews this year. Volunteers were assigned blocks of reviews from the list of publications, then assigned different blocks of reviews for verification. The names of our volunteers are listed in the acknowledgments below.
The following publications were included in the 2015 Count: The Antigonish Review, Arc Poetry Magazine, Briarpatch, 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.
We were not able to add additional publications to this year’s Count as a result of limited available resources. We hope to add additional French and English publications next year, as resources permit.
Kristina Vyskocil, supported by a Research Assistantship from the department of English and Film Studies at the University of Alberta, served as the 2015 Count Director, coordinating volunteers and data collection. Count Data Analyst Vesna Pajovic produced our 2015 statistics, created our charts and pie graphs, designed our infographic, and wrote the 2015 Results Report. CWILA Board Member Judith Scholes supervised the 2015 Count process and coordinated Count teams. Judith Scholes, Membership Coordinator Sonja Cvoric, Communications Assistant Jianna Faner, and Count Assistant Charissa Wong, produced and carried out our Count launch and media outreach plan. CWILA Board members Evelyne Ledoux-Beaugrand, Geneviève Robichaud, and Kirsty Bell coordinated media outreach efforts in Quebec. Lori Saint-Martin wrote an essay in both French and English contextualizing our numbers in relation to French review culture (forthcoming).
The 2015 Count was funded by a Canada Council for the Arts Literary Arts Promotions Project Grant, the Department of English and Film Studies at the University of Alberta, and the generous support of CWILA members and donors.
2015 COUNT PROCESS
The 2015 CWILA Count uses Excel spreadsheets to collect multiple data on book reviews in Canada, including title, publisher, and genre of books reviewed; name, nationality, and gender of authors; and name and gender of reviewers. CWILA continues to use “non-binary” as our third gender category for those identifying outside of the gender binary, while trans women and trans men are included in “women” and “men” categories, respectively, with acknowledgment that these categories are inclusive of all female- and male-identifying people. Though we are currently using only these three broad categories, we remain very much open to revising and adding as the need arises.
In the 2015 Count, each book review is recorded as a single entry in the data sheets, with its associated book, author, and reviewer information. A single book review warrants a single entry. In other words, when a single newspaper article reviews multiple books, each book is counted as a separate review in CWILA’s data sheets. CWILA considers book reviews as critical appraisals of works which are already published and released for sale. Although CWILA also counts books designated and reviewed as the best books of the year (e.g. Globe 100), we do not count editorial opinions of anticipated releases, unsigned roundups of related books annexed to reviews, news about book releases and awards, or author interviews.
Counting reviews in newspapers is always a challenge and we have slightly different methods for counting newspapers depending on how their websites publish reviews throughout the year. The numbers for rabble.ca, National Post, and Le Devoir represent total book reviews published in their respective online book reviews blogs. Globe and Mail, Winnipeg Free Press, The Chronicle Herald, Toronto Star, and Vancouver Sun do not have a blog-style book review section, so CWILA instead relies on a strict method for collecting reviews via a third party database. CWILA then verifies its Count through the newspapers’ website archives. As a general rule, CWILA counts all book reviews published across all sections in newspapers (e.g., in the Globe and Mail, CWILA counts reviews appearing in the Globe Books section, as well as those appearing in the Business, Life, and Drive sections).
For more 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 2015 Count.
SUMMARY OF RESULTS
For the 2015 CWILA Count, we’ve amassed data on 5268 total book reviews, including 1457 from five French language publications and 3811 from 25 English language publications. With small advances in some areas for gender parity and small setbacks in others, we found overall continuity from the previous year’s numbers. This suggests that while celebrating the improvements, we must continue to push for adequate gender representation in Canadian literary culture.
REVIEWING PRACTICE IN 2015
Reviewing practices continue to improve, with men and women reviewing at near equal rates in 2015: reviews by women fell behind those by men by only 1% this year, making up 48% of total reviews. This is a major milestone for review culture in Canada.
Women also made up 45% of the top 20 reviewers — an improvement of 3% from the previous year! In the aggregate, we find gender parity greatest among reviewers than in other areas of the 2015 Count.
Reviewing practices among men and women reviewers continue to differ, especially concerning whose books they choose to showcase. Men’s reviews continue to favour books by men, revealing an explicit gender bias: in 2015, men reviewed men’s books twice as much as women’s books (64% men’s books vs 27% women’s books). Women’s reviewing practices are more even, favouring women’s books by a smaller margin: 40% of books reviewed by women were written by men and 53% were written by women.
Looking at regional differences, the CWILA Count reveals some persistent disparity, with men’s reviews (67%) more than doubling women’s reviews (29%) within French publications in Canada. This is offset nationally by strong numbers in many English publications, where women’s reviews occupy 55% of review space on average.
Significant variations between publications included in the count also warrants a closer look: at four publications men and women reviewed books at or near parity; 16 publications favoured women reviewers; and 10 favoured men reviewers. While the Toronto Star and the Chronicle Herald published women’s reviews at a rate of 65%, Nuit Blanche and Spirale published women’s reviews at low rates of 20% and 27%, respectively.
BOOKS REVIEWED IN 2015
Every year the CWILA Count encompasses a diverse set of publications, including metropolitan and national newspapers, monthly and quarterly literary journals, online magazines, and independent blogs and newspapers. This diversity is carried over onto the reviewing practices within publications, with some reviewing books at parity and some favouring either men’s or women’s books.
On the aggregate level, review space more often showcases men’s books: 52% of reviews counted featured men’s books, while 40% feature women’s books. This is a small improvement toward gender parity over the 2014 Count, where 57% of reviews featured men’s books and 39% featured women’s books. Non-Canadian women are still given the least amount of review space in Canadian publications.
Most publications counted by CWILA show a growing trend toward gender parity for books reviewed.
For the 2015 Count, we continued to see the importance of tracking genre of books reviewed. Similarly to previous Counts, nonfiction and fiction books made up the bulk of books reviewed.
Continuing on from the 2014 Count, we focused attention on non-fiction books to examine whether reviewing practices have improved since the previous year. We found that nonfiction reviewing continues to differ by the author’s gender: out of 1931 nonfiction books reviewed, 30% were written by women and 59% by men. Again, we see significant variation by publication, with some devoting ample space to women’s nonfiction — such as, for example, Briarpatch, subTerrain, and Geist. However, all of the larger publications such as the Toronto Star, the Globe and Mail, and the Literary Review of Canada favour men’s nonfiction. The lowest rates were found in Le Devoir, where only 19% of nonfiction books reviewed were by women, compared to 64% by men.
A Special Thanks to our Count Volunteers and Members of the CWILA Community
The CWILA Count would not be possible without the time and patience of our many dedicated volunteers, who helped us collect the raw data from the pages of Canada’s literary publications. Endless thanks to Alanna Brosseau, Alice Burdick, Andrea Bennett, Anita Bedell, Anita Dolman, Bonnie McIsaac, Carin Makuz, Carlos Morales, Carole Gerson, Charissa Wong, Chris Johnson, Claire Farley, Eftihia Mihelakis, Emily Ballantyne, Emma Skagen, Erin Wunker, Evelyne Ledoux-Beaugrand, Frances Barnet, Isabelle Kirouac-Massicotte, Jan Zwicky, Jessica Rose, Jianna Faner, John Barton, Jonathan Valelly, Judith Scholes, Julia Sittman, Kaarina Mikalson, Kaitlin McNabb, Karen Ng, Kirsty Bell, Lauren McKeon, Laurie Graham, Leanne Johnson, Leslie Timmins, Maddy Curry, Marco Galvani, Mohamed Huque, Monica Miller, Monty Reid, Natalee Caplee, Natalie Simpson, Natasha Sanders-Kay, Sheila Giffen, Sonja Cvoric, Tan Light, Tanya Andrusieczko , Tessa Lien, and Yiki Su.
Vesna Pajović is a master’s student in the sociology department at Western University. Her research interests include quantitative methods and the effect of digital technologies on workplace practices and organization. She holds a B.A. in sociology and French from the University of British Columbia.
Kristina Vyskocil is an Edmonton-based writer and researcher. She is currently completing an MA in English at the University of Alberta, in which she intends to generate a creative portfolio of previously unpublished poetry written on the ethics of care and reproductive health through a feminist lens.