I went through a spell of reading books that were highly acclaimed back in the 1950s and 1960s. They were ones I had missed reading since in the 1950s I was a kid reading Nancy Drew and Beverly Cleary.
In the Sixties when I was in high school, my favorite books were Les Miserables, Great Expectations and David Copperfield. I loved my classics and had no interest in the current fiction of the day back then.
I won't name the books or writers I read during my recent catch-up phase. They were all extremely well-regarded, prize-winning novels by famous literary people.
And I could barely stomach them, giving me much fodder to reflect on how much the literary culture has changed since those days of the 1950s through the 1970s. And thank heavens for that.
As managing editor at WiDo, I can say unequivocally that if any one of those prize-winning novels had come to us as a submission, we'd have turned it down flat. They were that bad.
Hardly any story, themes that made no sense, unlikable characters. No heart, no soul. Yet these books and their famous authors were such a big deal back then.
In fifty plus years, the world of books is completely different. To me, that's a very good thing. I'm so thankful I got busy with marriage and children and didn't try to have a career in those days as a novelist. I'd have been shot down so bad I may have never recovered.
Women writers didn't fare too well in that era except in the romance genre. The literary giants were largely all men.
Women with literary aspirations instead would often attach themselves to literary men--college professors, published poets, playwrights and novelists--and the women would write their poetry, essays and stories, maybe teach and maybe get published in little literary magazines or win an award now and then.
What I did was write children's stories and sell them to magazines for kids. Not exactly literary aspirations but it kept me in the game.
Joyce Carol Oates was different. She is one of my heroes and favorite writers of all time. I'm not sure how much her books made though, compared to men writers of the same era. She continued working throughout her career as a college professor rather than going full time as a writer. Either she loved to teach or she needed the financial security it provided, who can say.
JK Rowling, still using her initials since the publisher didn't figure the book would sell if people thought the author was a woman, changed all that. She gave women writers a voice.
Every woman writing and publishing today owes a debt of gratitude to JK Rowling. She opened up the era of publishers actually believing women could write outside of the romance genre and do it very, very well.
On the heels of the Harry Potter phenomenon came the Kindle revolution, further giving women an outlet for their work via self-publishing. The Kindle revolution along with POD publishing also provided the means for many small publishers like WiDo to remain profitable.
Many of these small publishers have overwhelmingly embraced female authors, and given older women a chance as well. One of WiDo's bestselling books is In the Mirror: A Memoir of Shattered Secrets by Ann Carbine Best, published when Ann was 72.
Now books written by women rule the bestseller lists. For those of us my age who clearly remember the way it used to be, this is pretty awesome.