Should male and female authors be segregated?

In the tiny little town on Hanapepe on the island of Kaua’i we came across this great used bookstore. Easily the best used bookstore I have ever come across in Hawai’i.  When I lived in Honolulu in the 1990s there were only two used bookstores that I knew of, and both of them were really disappointing. I was so excited to see this on Kaua’i that opened about seven years ago.

I noticed the shop had some really nice bookshelves that looked awfully familar. Proof that the book world didn’t necessarily come to and end when Borders closed. Not only did they get good shelves for cheap, but one of the owners told me that local customers who had never been in before finally checked out his store when Borders closed.

The store had good stock and had tons of great fiction that would have been great for my vacation reading. But since I already have five books with me and the luggage was too heavy already. But I did buy a very cute little edition of Cranford.

One odd thing about the store is that they separate fiction by the sex of the author. So all the male authors are alphabetical in one section, and all the female authors are alphabetical in another section. The owner told me it helped people locate books when they couldn’t remember titles or author’s names. He said they almost always remember the sex of the author, so splitting it up by sex improved the odds of finding the titleless, authorless book the customer was looking for. I’m not sure I buy it. But overall this store is gem. It would be fun on the mainland where there were other bookstore choices, being alone on Kaua’i, the western most bookstore in the United States, it is like an oasis in the desert.

Oh, and by the way, the name “Talk Story” refers to a pidgin phrase that essentially means to tell stories, or even just chat. The Hawaiian equivalent of chewing the fat, or having a chin wag. As in “Auntie came over and all we did was talk story…”

I love the way the letters are on the laundry. Especially the ‘S’

12 thoughts on “Should male and female authors be segregated?

  1. Teresa February 4, 2012 / 9:52 am

    That does look like a charming shop (I have a weird affection for bookstores that just has boxes and things piled up). But I'm with you that I don't buy his gender segregation argument. Seems likely to just help people stick to their prejudices.


  2. rhapsodyinbooks February 4, 2012 / 10:30 am

    How totally bizarre. And what about books with authors by a male and female combo?


  3. StuckInABook February 4, 2012 / 1:15 pm

    It is a lovely little edition. And how I love the phrase 'talk story', which I'd never heard before.

    As for m/f author divide… well, if it were an academic library I'd be totally against it, but I quite like a gimmick in a bookshop, for some reason. Unless authors are shelved by nationality, because I never know where authors are from – e.g. Scottish authors often have 'Scottish authors' sections, and people like Muriel Spark end up there, who rarely write about Scotland and don't seem to me to be of especial Scottish interest.

    Look how quickly I can get completely away from the point.


  4. Desperate Reader February 4, 2012 / 5:10 pm

    I quite like the idea of dividing books like this – it's gimmicky but I can see it working in a smaller bookshop.

    Re Simon's point about local interest authors – fear not Simon, as well as finding Spark in the Scottish section you'll generally find her in fiction as well. I like those national writer sections as an easy way of finding mood reading for local colour on holiday.


  5. Jules February 4, 2012 / 9:54 pm

    It's a neat gimmick, but not sure if I like the idea of an entire collection organized like this. Although the idea highlighting select authors by gender or nationality is interesting to me, as I'm always searching to expand my horizons and read books from around the world, which can be hard to find,


  6. Jim Murdoch February 5, 2012 / 5:31 am

    And what about the female science fiction writers? Or the black, female science fiction writers? Or the black, lesbian science fiction writers? (There must be one or two out there.) And if there are where do their books go? On the Science Fiction shelves or the LGBT shelves or the Black Literature shelves? It gets silly after a while. I think it’s an interesting claim that readers remember an author’s gender before they remember the name. What I’m curious about though is the ratio of male to female books in that shop.


  7. Amy February 5, 2012 / 9:41 am

    What an odd way to shelve. Sounds interesting but I can't help but think it would make it easier for people to stick to their prejudices as Teresa said above.


  8. Karen K. February 5, 2012 / 11:09 am

    That is an adorable edition but I agree with the author segregation, it's a little questionable. I knew a young woman in college who became a successful writer of African American fiction. Some of it is horror and some is historical, where would she go? And I have read a time-travel book by an female African American author?

    We could talk story about this all day long!


  9. SarahA February 7, 2012 / 5:50 pm

    What a charming edition of Cranford. Can you tell me the publication year?


  10. Thomas at My Porch February 8, 2012 / 9:44 pm

    Teresa: Had I not already been loaded with books I would have enjoyed really exploring.

    Jill: They cut the book in half…

    Simon: I think it would be crazy in any kind of library.

    Hayley: There used to be a great travel bookshop here in DC that interspersed novels amongst the guide books for the author's country of origin or book subject matter. That is how I stumbled on Boll's The Lost Honor of Katarina Blum, which I love.

    Jules: I think good display tables could do the same thing.

    Jim: it could get very crazy. I didn't look specifically at the ratio but it seemed to be pretty equal to me. Of course I headed straight for the female section.

    Amy: I think you and Teresa are right.

    Karen K: It could get quite convoluted.

    Sarah A: It oddly doesn't list a date, but it is Donohue and Henneberry out of Chicago.


  11. C.B. James February 8, 2012 / 10:13 pm

    They used to split the fiction into books by men and books by women at Green Apple Books in San Francisco. I always found it annoying because it's just not how I browse. Where would you put George Eliot?

    But whatever works. I admit, I miss the gay/lesbian sections which were sometimes hard to find since they were smallish, but it did make it easier to find new books about gay/lesbian people. You can't always tell from the covers and the titles anymore.


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