And then I got in an argument with a complete stranger on Facebook, as you do. I can't remember her name, but it was a woman. A friend flagged up Deborah Kogan's piece in The Nation about the humiliations women writers still suffer, which was recently translated in Die Welt. And the friend pointed out the usual statistical imbalances, making a particular example of fuenfbuecher. The people they ask for lists, she said, often name five men and not a single woman writer. In fact they have a list of frequently named writers, twenty of them, including only four women. But you can hardly blame the website people - they do ask plenty of women for their lists, and the choice is up to the individual. It was at this point that a couple of people said, What, we're supposed to introduce quotas in our own taste? And I said, essentially, yes.
Which is of course overly simplified. So I'd like to elaborate my thoughts here. I shall attempt not to generalise.
And that's what I do too: I want any list I make to include women as well as men. Because women are at a disadvantage in the literary world, despite making up the bulk of the readership. It doesn't have to be absolute parity, partly because there are limits to what's available to choose from in some cases (I wrote about women in translation some time ago here). I would like professional critics to do the same - to have an eye, at least, on making sure books pages aren't entirely dominated by reviews of books by men, with the odd photo of a young woman writer. My blog is a kind of list, in a sense, and I try, but don't always manage, to write about books by women as much as about books by men. I don't think that's too much to ask. Do you?
The fuenfbuecher phenomenon is interesting. The only theory I can come up with is that the choices reflect the higher prestige that male writers still have, in the canon and in literary fiction. I think that explanation applies to the gender disparity in translation, too; at least into English.