The Manly Art of List-Making

They probably saw it coming.

Publishers Weekly is catching some flak for its list of the 10 best books of 2009, all of which were written by men. “We wanted the list to reflect what we thought were the top 10 books of the year with no other consideration,” explains the magazine’s reviews director, Louisa Ermelino, introducing the list, which includes Blake Bailey’s Cheever: A Life, Dan Chaon’s Await Your Reply and Neil Sheehan’s A Fiery Peace in a Cold War, among other man-made works. The magazine deliberately ignored gender, she writes, but allows, “It disturbed us when we were done that our list was all male.”

Not surprisingly, the PW editors, whom Ermelino notes have “no regrets,” aren’t the only ones who were disturbed. The organization Women In Letters and Literary Arts (WILLA), which was founded in August “to bring increased attention to women’s literary accomplishments and to question the American literary establishment’s historical slow-footedness in recognizing and rewarding women writers’ achievements,” immediately issued a press release under the provocative headline “Why Weren’t Any Women Invited To Publishers Weekly’s Weenie Roast?” The controversy has since been picked up by the Guardian and, subsequently, the New York Times.

WILLA’s founders, Cate Marvin and Erin Belieu, gripe that, in a year when Lorrie Moore, Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro, Mavis Gallant, Rita Dove, Heather McHugh and Alicia Ostriker published books, an all-male list is particularly galling. “The absence made me nearly speechless,” Marvin says in the release. “It continues to surprise me that literary editors are so comfortable with their bias toward male writing, despite the great and obvious contributions that women authors make to our contemporary literary culture.”

WILLA has set out to right what it terms a “blatantly sexist” wrong by launching its own list wiki, allowing readers to add their favorite books published by women in 2009. It’s an interesting list, though it’s worth noting that Publishers Weekly’s expanded list of best books of 2009 features some of the same selections.

What do you think? Should Publishers Weekly have included any books by women in its list of the 10 best books of the year? If so, which books? — post your thoughts in the comments field below.

-AMY REITER